Whether wild or cultivated, berries have played an important part in our civilization for centuries. From nutrition to medicinal needs, berries have always been a staple in our diets. Not only eaten for nutrition (or juiced) but leaves and berries have been used to cure many different ailments by earlier Greeks, Europeans, Mediterranean, Chinese, Native Americans, from almost every continent.
Health benefits from berries are still coming to light. Scientists are gaining new information and reasons to gobble up these perfectly plump berries continually. No matter the type of berry, they all have phytochemicals, called anthocyanins, and flavonoids. There is a vast spectrum of health benefits derived from berries. They are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, heart healthy, aide in lowering cholesterol and improve our overall well-being.
These are just a few of the pros for eating berries or drinking their juice. So lets just know they are good for us, our body, our heart and
even our mind.
Tips for Buying Fresh Berries
When buying from a fruit stand or supermarket, realize that berries stay fresh for a very short time. It is important to inspect the goods to assure that you are getting the freshest berries possible.
- Check for firmness and rich color. Make sure they are plump and not soft, mushy or shriveled.
- Inspect for mold, especially the bottom of the container, because these are the ones that get moldy first.
- Choose containers that do not show signs of color stains. Stained containers mean possible squeezed or damaged berries.
- With blueberries, shake the container to hear them moving around inside. If you do not hear movement, that could signal that they are soft, soggy and sticking together.
- When buying strawberries, make sure their caps are still attached and not moldy or dry.
- The best time to buy berries: strawberries, May–July; raspberries, midsummer; blackberries, late summer; blueberries, all summer.
- If you haven’t eaten your delicious berries within a couple of days, be sure to freeze them so as not to risk mold and mushiness.
Buying Berry Plants
Why not begin your own berry crops this season? They are some of the easiest plants to grow. Plant yourself a garden or place them in a pot and just give them sunshine and plenty of water and they will pay back your kindness by delivering succulent fruits that melt in your mouth. The best reason to grow your own berries, no need to worry about toxins or pesticides because you know where they came from. Just rinse and eat.
If you are buying from a local nursery, look for a reputable one. One that guarantees their plants to be of the highest quality and true to their name. Be leery of bargain priced plants because good growing plants do not come cheap. On the other hand, high priced plants do not mean they are good quality either. For this reason, you should buy from someone you trust to obtain the best nursery stock possible.
If you are ordering by mail, be sure to place your order early. Ordering from a large company will give you more options. You will most likely be able to specify plant variety, size, plant grade and the date your shipment arrives. Some mail order nurseries will automatically ship your plants at the proper planting time in your zone. You want the plants to arrive during the proper time to plant. When the plants arrive, inspect the root system to see if it looks moist and has a healthy appearance. If the roots are shriveled this could indicate they have been frozen or dried out in storage or transit. These plants will seldom survive. Water the healthy roots, only if they are dry. This applies to store bought or mail order plants.
If it is not possible to plant your plants immediately, they should be kept cold or heeled-in. To keep them from drying out, make sure the roots are damp. Wrap them in a garbage bag or other type of plastic and store them just above freezing. To heel-in, remove plants from the bundle and heel them in carefully into a small trench of moist soil in a shady location. Pack the roots firmly to avoid the risk of leaving behind damaging air pockets which will dry out the roots.
Starting Your Own Berry Garden
It is important to follow normal gardening guidelines when preparing to set your plants in a sunny location. Depending on the type of berry, most are recommended to be one-year-old dormant plants at the time of purchase. Preparing the soil properly to establish favorable conditions for new growth is of utmost importance. Setting/placing the plants in the soil per instructions of depth and distance is equally important. Preparation and detail at the time the plantings are established will create beneficial conditions and help your new plantings thrive.
Keep in mind, the care you show your new plantings will have an everlasting effect on how they will produce for you. You must properly prune them, fertilize and water them regularly to keep them happy. They should be weeded frequently so the roots do not compete with weeds for nutrition and all insects and diseases must be controlled at once to prevent damage. Many plants prefer mulching to keep the berries off the ground. Knowing this ahead of time will prepare you for your new adventure which in turn will deliver a flavorful healthy treat for your family to gather and enjoy.
Strawberries are the most popular small fruit cultivated in America. You will find strawberries in jellies, pies, smoothies, jams, ice cream and preserves. Eating them fresh has been a favorite past time for generations, think strawberry shortcake and homemade ice cream.
There are more varieties of strawberries than we could ever cover here. The most popular for Virginia are: Allstar, Delite, Delmarvel, Earliglow, Honeoye, Surecrop, Redchief, Lateglow and Sunrise. A common everbearing strawberry in Virginia is the vigorous Ozark Beauty. Which variety you choose depends on what you wish to get back from your plants. Some freeze better than others, have different degrees of sweetness or are oddly or perfectly shaped. Others are more disease resistant, produce at different times of the summer or yield a lot of berries quickly or less berries over a longer period of time. There are other varieties that may produce perfectly well in our climate also that may be recommended to you. You have the choice of June bearing, everbearing and day neutral plants and a nursery will be able to help you choose the type of plant that suits you best.
These varieties fluctuate greatly in their adaptability to fruit due to soil and climatic conditions. They also fruit more in their second and third seasons, soon after you should replace with new plants. Virus-free plants of the varieties listed are available and should be purchased to make your life easier.
The semi-erect and erect blackberries are considered bramble fruits. As well as red, black, and purple raspberries. This means they grow on plants or vines with thorns, though there are thornless variations. Erect blackberry plants have canes that will trail a little bit in the first year but by the second year they should stand more erect. Semi-erect plants are more like trailing plants and should be trained to a trellis to keep them from sprawling on the ground.
Raspberry and blackberry plants will usually produce a moderate crop the second year and a full crop the third year and can produce for seven to eight years if tended well. As with strawberries, you should plant the best quality one-year-old plants possible.
Recommended types of erect blackberries are Darrow, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Comanche and Shawnee. These plants have thorns normal to many brambles. The Navaho blackberry is a thornless erect plant. Suggested thornless semi-erect blackberries are Black Satin and Dirksen plants for Virginia. Blackberries are perennials and thrive in full sun or partial shade, if it is during the hottest time of day. These tasteful treasures are sure to tickle your sweet tooth from the moment you pick them off the bush. We are lucky to have wild blackberries growing in our region. Gathering wild berries is a magical way to build unforgettable childhood memories with your family and a fantastic way to show them the beauty of Mother Nature.
Raspberries are typically categorized by color: red, purple and black. In our area, Heritage red raspberries are everbearing and Latham red raspberries are the norm on the east coast. Virginia gardeners have better luck with red raspberries in warmer areas than with other colors.
Best used for jams, preserves, jellies and pies, purple raspberries are a hybrid of red and black varieties. Popular to plant in our region are Brandywine and Royalty purple.
Interestingly enough, black and red varieties of raspberries should not be planted within 700 feet of each other to avoid disease. Black raspberries are highly susceptible to disease and can easily catch any virus that has infected other varieties. Common black raspberry types include: Titan, New Logan, Bristol and Cumberland.
Dewberries and boysenberries are brambles also. The Lucretia dewberry and Lavaca boysenberry are cold hardy and disease resistant for our area of Virginia. These are mostly used for jams and preserves.
Blueberries are shallow rooted and acidic loving plants that do not like saturated soils but should be watered often or mulched heavily to hold in moisture. This is a must for the most luscious, juiciest berries. A notable difference from other berry plantings, it is recommended to purchase hardy two-year-old plants for your garden.
Well-known varieties of blueberry plants that do well in Virginia are: Berkeley, Blueray, Bluecrop, Coville, Earliblue, Elliott, Jersey and Rabbiteye.
A blueberry plant will take several years to grow to full production which is a little longer than other berry plants. A great payoff would be that ripe blueberries will last longer on the bush and up to several weeks longer in the refrigerator.
Birds are the biggest foe when growing blueberries because they are fairly disease resistant. A tried and true weapon to fend off hungry birds is the old aluminum pie tin on a string trick. Hang them so that they are positioned above the plants and can blow in the wind. Alas, this is a great deterrent for all berry plants to ward off pesky birds.
Berries are not only low in calories they are also excellent sources for minerals such as magnesium, zinc and iron, dietary fibers and vitamins C, K and folate. So if you want to make your body happy this summer and even year round, just eat a handful or two of mixed berries every day. Their photochemicals will delight your mind, as well as help fight cancer, slow aging, keep your heart healthy, protect your body from oxidative stress and improve your gastrointestinal system. What a luscious way to tantalize your taste buds in the process too.