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Berries can be a good choice for our area

Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, shown Thursday in Jamestown, are common types of berries people eat throughout the year. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Warmer weather always seems to promote better eating in all of us. Not necessarily because food can tend to be a little cheaper in the stores and more flavorful, but more so because we can get fresh produce directly from our gardens. Fruits and vegetables are clearly the leader in healthy living; the more we eat of them, the better our overall health becomes.

With the numerous fruits and vegetables that we grow in the garden, let’s not forget those nutrient-packed morsels known as berries. Many of the berries grown in our region are high in flavor, anti-oxidants and vitamins. Many of them are easy to grow and produce a bountiful crop throughout the growing season. Berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, Saskatoon berries, gooseberries, black currants, red currants, black chokeberries and even elderberries are widely available to grow in our area.

Strawberries are by far the most grown berry in our area, with the U.S. leading in the world’s production. With the large red heart-shaped berries that become ripe around the Fourth of July, they are just packed with juice and flavor. You may have self-control and pick a few for eating fresh out of the patch, or you may be like myself and eat them until all the ripe ones are gone. Either way, they are very good for you. Strawberries grow in mounded plants that reach about a foot high by a foot wide. They send off runners through the growing season that produce new plants, which directly root into the surrounding soil, creating quite a patch within a few years. There are two types, either the June bearing (which produce near the end of June) or the ever-bearing (which produce all season). Try the “Jewel,” ‘”Northstar” or “Evie” selections for good production in our area.

Raspberries are the next favorite in our area. They produce berries after the second or third year and once established, produce a good crop every year. Also high in antioxidants and vitamin C, these berries are full of great flavor and are great fresh off the stems. They typically grow in rows or thickets and produce new plants by suckers. The canes are quite thorny, therefore grown in rows is the best way to make room for an easy harvest. Good early selection for our area would be “Boyne” or “Killarney.” For late season harvests, try the “Caroline” or “Heritage” selections.

Blackberries are very similar to raspberries in growth habit and production, but are less hardy in our area. Many are only hardy up to zones 5. If you are in that zone or want to test try them out, try the hardiest selections of “Darrow,” “Chester” and “Triple Crown.” Blackberries are very high in fiber and vitamins C and K.

Gooseberries and Saskatoon berries both grow well in our area. The gooseberries produce small fruits that ripen as green or red depending on the variety grown. This is a small shrub that can reach about 3 to 8 feet tall with the berries ripening at the end of June to the beginning of July. “Pixwell,” “Captivator” and “Hinnonmaki Red” are great selections that produce flavorful berries.

Saskatoons are large shrubs to small trees that grow their berries in clusters along the stems. The berries ripen in their clusters about the same time to a shade of blue to deep purple and have a nice sweet flavor. Good selections to try are “Northlinee,” “Honeywood” and “Parkhill.” All are quite hardy for our area.

Currants grow in compact shrubs of about 3 to 5 feet tall and about as wide. They bloom in late May and early June and produce clusters of tart berries that ripen in July to either a brilliant red or rich black color. The “Red Lake” and “Cherry Red” selections produce a wonderful crop of berries that are loved by both humans and birds alike. Good black selections to try would be “Crandall American” and “Consort.”

Elderberries have been around for years and also produce red or deep purple colored berry clusters. More on the tart side, they are used more for wines and baking products. “York,” “Black Beauty” and “Sutherland Gold” do very well in our area.

Black chokeberry or Aronia berry has been around for years but has just recently become a staple in the garden of producing excellent berries. Studies have shown that these berries have some of the highest amount of antioxidants of the berry family. Bushes can reach about 5 feet by 5 feet and when mature can produce up to 40 pounds of fruit per bush. Not only good for berry production, but in the fall their foliage becomes a brilliant orange to red shade, also making it a great landscape specimen.

Many people love the taste of blueberries and always want to grow them in our region. Even though they are hardy, they do not grow well in our area as they require highly acidic soils, something our soils do not possess. Regardless of the techniques you use to make the soil acid enough for blueberries, the bush will always remain under stress, retain yellowed leaves and produce little if any fruit. These are meant for areas more to the north in Minnesota or further east where soils are more acidic. Do not waste your time or money trying to grow these, here as you will be very disappointed. Honeyberry or Haskaps would be a better choice if you are looking for something similar to blueberries, but are much easier to grow in our area.

Berries can be eaten fresh, or preserved by drying or freezing. They can also be used for desserts, jellies, jams, syrups and even wines that taste quite nice after they have aged. Start the season off early this year and make a selection of berry choices that will work in your landscape. Not only do they make great specimen plantings in the yard, but they produce one more product that you can enjoy within the garden. A bowl of fresh berries … makes you want to run out and pick some right now … in about three months, you will be able to.