Growing your own organic soft fruits is easy and once established they require very little care, are highly productive in a short period, have many nutritional benefits and will save you lots of money. You will be able to harvest fresh soft fruits, many of which are unavailable to purchase in Cyprus, when at their prime to eat fresh, use in puddings or produce jams or wines.
Traditionally Cypriots grow very few soft fruits but the climate is ideal. The availability of plants may be limited and expensive but with propagation a few plants will expand to many. Alternatively, you can transport plants or seeds, as long as they are for your own personal use, not intended for trading and are free of pests and diseases, from one EU country to another.
Locate a permanent site in your garden which meets the soil and other needs of each plant and prepare the site well before planting. Most soft fruits will benefit from a rich, moisture retentive soil which has had well rotted compost or manure added. All soft fruits require regular watering and a drip feed system in the hot summer months will ensure they do not dry out. Mulching will also help retain moisture and if you use comfrey leaves as a mulch you will at the same time provide essential nutrients. To benefit from your own organic soft fruits, try and buy virus resistant varieties which will reduce the possibilities of disease. You may also need to net fruits to stop birds stealing all your fruit.
The following soft fruits can be grown, depending on your soil and climatic conditions.
Blackberry: Harvest June to September and regular picking will encourage the development of more berries. Prefers a pH in the range of between 5.5 and 7.0. The blackberry is self-fertile and just one plant will produce lots of fruit and spread, if allowed, to cover a large area. Blackberries, once established, need very little. They are very drought tolerant but will need watering in very dry periods and weekly watering from May to September will assist in a larger harvest of berries. It is also worthwhile mulching with straw during the fruiting period to retain moisture and keep down weeds. Blackberries benefit from being fertilised annually in late winter with well rotted manure or compost. Remove weak suckers as they appear and prune out any broken or dead canes. Blackberries can be propagated by layering, insert a growing tip about 10cm deep into the soil pointing downwards and rooting takes place quite quickly. Detach from the parent plant and move to a new location either in the spring or winter.
Blackcurrant: Harvest in May. Prefers a pH from 6.0 to 6.5. Water deeply on planting, after which the blackcurrant should be watered weekly except during the dormancy period between mid-October and mid-February. Benefits from a deep mulch to assist in retaining moisture and controlling weeds. Reduce the main branches by 30% each December for the first four years and remove any overcrowding. Blackcurrants fruit on the previous years growth. Once established, after four years, remove some branches every December to stimulate new growth for fruiting.
Blueberry: Harvest June to September, blueberries are packed with antioxidants. Prefers a pH in the range of 4.0 to 5.0. Space blueberries 1.5m apart in all directions. Newly planted bushes can take 3-4 before producing any significant amount of fruit. Growing different varieties together will help with cross-pollination and fruit production. Benefits from a good draining but nutrient rich soil. Grow best in a position with full sun. Blueberries are very shallow rooted and do not like to be too near trees or shrubs and their area needs to be kept weed free. Do not fertilise for the first year. Water weekly and mulch to retain moisture. The biggest pest is birds who will remove all the fruit, so netting may be necessary.
Carrisa (Natal Plum): Blooms and fruits all year round producing plum shaped red berries about 5cm long which taste like cranberries. The fruit is the only edible part of the plant and the rest of the plant is poisonous. Each plant produces between 3Kg and 5Kg of fruit. The fruit can be eaten raw or turned into jam or jelly and is used as a condiment in Indian cuisine. Can be planted from seed which takes between 10 and 21 days to germinate. Plants established from seed will fruit in two years. The plant is fast growing and can reach a height of 2m with a spread of 3m. Prefers a pH in the range of between 5.5 to 7.8. Plant 1.5m apart and requires a well drained soil but will grow in most soil types. The plant is drought tolerant and only require moderate and irregular watering. but benefits from a feed of well rotted compost or fertiliser every three months.
Cranberry: The only variety suitable for the Mediterranean climate is the Chilean cranberry. Prefers a pH in the range of between 5.5 to 7.0. Harvest from September to October. The Chilean cranberry is a self-fertile variety. Will tolerate most soil types and best planted in the autumn to allow the plant to become established before new growth starts in the spring. Prune to remove dead or broken twigs and to make access to fruit easier. Water weekly. Fertilise regularly for the first two years.
Goji Berry (Also known as a Wolfberry): A plant which grows in all climates and all soil types, as long as there is good drainage, and is reputedly very high in antioxidants. Harvest from August to November. Each plant will produce about 1Kg of berries in its second year. Shake the berries off the bush to prevent your hands oxidising them and making them turn black. The berries can be eaten fresh or sun dried and eaten like sweets or added to muesli. Prefers a pH between 7.0 and 8.6. A young goji berry will usually produce fruit in its third year. Best planted in October which will allow the plant time to establish itself before its first hot summer. The berry is drought tolerant but will grow faster if watered. The bush can grow to 2.5m high with a spread of 4m so prune to the desired size and shape. Provide a annual feed of well rotted compost or fertiliser every winter to keep the bush healthy. Can easily be propagated from seeds and each berry contains about 30 small yellow seeds which will germinate within a week.
Prickly Pear (babutsa or papoutsoyska): Harvest August to September but wear gloves to protect yourself whilst picking and peeling from the small but very sharp spines. Easily propagated from cuttings which should be removed using a sharp knife and wearing gloves. Cuttings should be allowed to dry out for a few days before planting and spaced about a metre apart. The cactus can grow to a height of 1.8m and a width of 2.5m. Prefers a pH in the range of 6.1 to 7.8. Very hardy plant and drought tolerant. Prune only if necessary to remove any damaged parts of the plant. Fertilising the plant will encourage growth.
Raspberry: Harvest May to November but you may need to net to stop birds removing the fruit. Prefers a pH in the range of 5.8 to 6.5. Plant new plants 5cm lower than in their original pots in October. Plant out about 40cm apart in rows 2m apart. Before planting raspberries the soil should be improved with a mulch of well rotted compost or manure and the mulch replaced every spring. Water and weed regularly. Raspberries always fruit on one year old wood, pruning of fruited canes should take place after they die off in January, taking care not to prune out any canes that have not fruited.
Redcurrant: Harvest April to May, each bush can produce 5Kg of fruit. Prefers a pH of between 5.5 to 7.0. Bushes need to be planted 120cm apart in a well draining soil and in an area shaded from the midday sun. Redcurrants are not fussy and will grow in most soils. Newly purchased bushes should be allowed to stand in water for twenty-four hours before planting. The plant has a very shallow root system and needs to be watered deeply regularly and kept moist especially whilst in fruit. Keep weed free and mulch with strawy material to help keep weeds at bay and to retain moisture. Just prune weak and crossing branches as redcurrants fruit on old branches.
Strawberry: Plant October to November. Harvest from June to September, if early, mid-season and late varieties are planted, and pick regularly as strawberries deteriorate fast. They are lovely fresh but can also be dried or frozen. Strawberries prefer a pH in the range of 5.0 to 7.0. Strawberries are tolerant of most soil types and undemanding in nutrient levels. They have a very shallow root system so will need to be kept well watered. Space plants 50cm apart in all directions. When planting it is important that the roots are covered completely but that the crown remains above the soil level. Keep the strawberry bed weed free and cut out dead leaves as they appear. Mulch with straw to prevent strawberries from touching the ground and to retain moisture. Netting may be required to protect the fruit from birds and snails, which can be picked out, can also be a pest. Runners can be potted to replace three year old plants which usually stop fruiting or to expand your strawberry bed.
Locate a permanent site in your garden which meets the soil and other needs of each plant and prepare the site well before planting. Most vine fruits will benefit from a rich, moisture retentive soil which has had well rotted compost or manure added. Vine fruits require regular watering and a drip feed system in the hot summer months will ensure they do not dry out. Mulching will also help retain moisture and if you use comfrey leaves as a mulch you will at the same time provide essential plant nutrients. You may also need to net fruits to stop birds stealing all your fruit.
The three vine fruits grown in Cyprus, and the Mediterranean, are the kiwi, passion fruit and grape. The first two are new but grapes have been grown for thousands of years. The climate allows cultivation of most grape varieties, however, an indigenous red and white, are very widely grown.
Grape: Grapes can be harvested from July to October. Besides being enjoyed fresh, they can be pressed to make juice, wine, must roll or dried to make raisins. Vines are traditionally planted in March and at a distance of 2.4 metres apart. Grapes have undemanding soil requirements and will grow in just about any soil type. Water often, but not after fruits begin to swell or you will affect the taste.
Pruning is required in winter and summer and will depend on how you wish to grow your vine. The pruning of vines can be daunting for the beginner and can seem very complicated but it is worth remembering that vines are very hardy and it is difficult to over prune or kill a vine by pruning. Vines can be trained to grow over structures, against a fence or wall or as a bush and the type of pruning will be dependant on your choice. Most Cypriot and Mediterranean growers use the bush system. But whichever training method you choose your vines will not grow well without pruning, which acts to reduce the number of grape bunches on a vine to a level which permits the vine enough energy to ripen its fruit. It's best to allow a vine to grow unchecked until its first winter, thus allowing the root system to strengthen, and then remove all the stems at the base or as close as possible to the main trunk. In the March of the vines second year cut the trunk to the desired height and this height depends on the method training chosen. If you choose a bush system this will be at about half a metre but much higher if you are training your vine over a trellis. By the second winter you should have achieved your basic structure with a main trunk and the desired number of side branches. The side branches can vary in number from four for a bush, to two to six for a cordon and trellis. In the third winter you will leave the number of buds along each side branch required, again depending on your growing system, which will produce the grapes. This will vary from four to six buds, for every side branch in a bush system, to up to twenty buds in a cordon or trellis system. This practice of seasonal pruning to allow new growth on one year old wood will continue to produce grapes from season to season. The summer pruning is aimed at cutting out all shoots that are weak and non-fruiting on fruiting branches, which allows the vine to direct its energy to fruit production, but allow the main branches to grow to at least 4-5 metres to permit sufficient leaves for photosynthesis to provide the vine with nutrients.
Kiwi (also known as Chinese Gooseberry): Harvest from August to October and packed full of vitamin C. Prefers a pH in the range of 5.0 to 6.5. Kiwi need one male to every two female plants to ensure fruiting. Or alternatively you could plant the variety Actinidia Arguta Issai which is a self-fertile variety but produces smaller fruits. Plant in a shaded area if possible. Water twice weekly for the first year and thereafter benefits from keeping its roots damp. A deep mulch of well rotted compost or manure will assist in retaining moisture. If planting more than one, allow 120cm between vines. When the vine is mature, prune to restrict growth to the desired size and to promote the growth of side shoots.
Passion Fruit: Harvest from July to October and gather fruit daily which has fallen to the ground. The more shrivelled the fruit the sweeter it is. Prefers a pH in the range of 6.5 to 7.5. Can grow very rapidly but has a life expectancy of between 5-7 years. If you live in a very hot area a shaded part of the garden will be preferable. Benefits from a thick layer of mulch to assist in retention of moisture, as passion fruit is very shallow rooted and can dry out easily. The dried flowers can be used to make a refreshing tea. Water until well established after which the vines are very drought resistant but will benefit from regular watering to promote larger fruits. Prune in the winter to remove any dead wood and to retain the desired shape.
Other Useful Crops
Bamboo: A fast growing crop which is easy to establish and can be propagated by removing rhizomes from an established plant. Prefers full sun and a pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.2 but will grow in most soils. Feeding with fertiliser will encourage rapid growth. Water well until established and then bamboo is very drought tolerant. A very useful resource to use in the garden for stakes or to support plants.