February may seem like a strange time to be thinking about growing fruit, but it’s actually the ideal moment to get going if you fancy a summer full of luscious juicy berries.
There are lots of reasons to grow your own fruit. First and foremost (for me, anyway) it’s about taste. Nothing, repeat, nothing prepares you for the first home-grown strawberry you taste, properly ripe and still warm from the sun. Or the lusciousness of a plum straight off the tree, juice dribbling down your chin.
Secondly, if you care about what you put into your mouth then growing your own fruit is the very best way to make sure you’re getting the healthiest food possible. There’s good news and bad news here. The bad news is that some of our best-loved fruits are also those which, when bought from the shops, can contain the most pesticide residues: the top two most frequently contaminated are apples and strawberries, click here for more info. And the good news: these are two of the easiest fruits to grow at home.
All you need is a sunny spot and some patience. Be kind to them – this means don’t forget to feed and water them well, especially in their first growing season.
February is a good time to plant all kinds of fruit trees such as apples, pears and plums – anything that’s hardy. You can also plant raspberries, strawberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, blackberries and gooseberries.
If you’ve already got fruit in your garden, here are four top jobs for the month:
1) Rhubarb can be ‘forced’ by putting a black plastic bucket over the crowns, to exclude all light. Give it about a month and you’ll have tender, succulent bright pink stems, sweeter and more tender than ordinary rhubarb.
2) Scatter wood ash or bonemeal around all fruit plants, and fork it in very lightly (apart from raspberries, which hate root disturbance – I get good results by fertilising then spreading well-rotted manure or compost around the plants).
3) Cut down autumn-fruiting raspberries to ground level. You can leave a few canes uncut for an extra crop in summer.
4) Prune redcurrants, whitecurrants, gooseberries and blackcurrants – and don’t forget that they’re all really easy from cuttings – take pieces 6 inches (15cm) long, roughly the thickness of a pencil, push two thirds of their length into the soil. You’ll be amazed how many root and how quickly they grow away in the summer.