This is a bumper summer for soft fruit – the first really good year since the garden began. Despite the soaring temperatures and almost total lack of rain the currants and berries have produced amazingly well. One of the blackcurrants was groaning with fruit weighing most of its branches down to the ground and the jostaberries, whitecurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries were almost as heavily laden. The raspberries too have been fruiting for weeks and show every sign of continuing.
I really do not like to see fruit in a cage and nor do I think it is necessary. The currants and berries in my garden are all in polycultures with perennial vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit trees. The raspberries grow along the hedge in various places including just behind the bins! The plant nearer the front of the picture is leycesteria formosa or Himalayan honeysuckle, which is theoretically edible but actually never produces fruit.
I let the raspberries spread where they will, so some canes have come along the hedge level with the first bin and behind where I took the picture and others have gone through the hedge to the roadside verge. I cut them back when there are too many to get past but never do the normal thing of cutting them one year to fruit the next and tying them into a stake. They just get on with life and harvest very well always. At the moment we are getting a bowlful a day.
I know many gardeners use a fruit cage to prevent birds from eating the berries before they can be harvested. However I have found that generally the birds do not help themselves to very much of the harvest, at least to begin with and actually I am keen that they do have their share of what grows in the garden. One of my principles for forest gardening is about not taking all the available harvest for ourselves, but instead ensuring that there is some for others who need it – be they friends or neighbours or birds, mice and squirrels. Accordingly I have left berries behind on every bush that I have picked from for the birds to collect afterwards, apart from the gooseberries that is – and they got there first and stripped the bushes whilst I was away on holiday! Fair enough, I say. The birds had had quite a lot of the redcurrants as well whilst I was away – you can see by the gaps on the stalk on the right compared to the full stalk on the left. Good on them! I still had a bowlful.
I have made blackcurrant jam and jostaberry jam and my neighbour has made whitecurrant jelly from one of my bushes and we have plenty of frozen blackcurrants and jostaberries as well.
I have also planted bushes specifically for the birds to eat from. At the moment there is the chokeberry (aronia) that is nearly ripe and later on there will be elderberries and in future years barberry, cotoneaster and pyracantha (the last two being not edible to humans, although barberry is).
This garden is more than a partnership, it is a co-operative network. I may be nominally the gardener, nominally ‘in charge’, but I am learning more and more to defer to what nature knows and what she does best.