Tools and Gardening Equipment for Growing Fruit
TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
Most of the tools and items of equipment you need for growing soft fruit successfully will be familiar to you. Indeed, you probably have many of them already. But the methods involved in using them may not be so well known, even to otherwise experienced gardeners. Soft fruit growing is a very precise art and, although many of the procedures involved are similar, say, to the cultivation of flowering shrubs, the aim is, obviously, to obtain the best crops. This means that your familiar procedures and disciplines have to be followed just that bit more strictly, and you will almost certainly need some quite specific pieces of equipment.
You will, of course, be aiming to produce a fine crop of sweet, appetizing fruit and if you succeed, there may be fierce competition for the end result. Rather than letting the early bird get the raspberry, protect your crops all year round, ideally with a permanent fruit cage the sides and top of which should be formed of netting with a mesh of 1.3-2 cm (½ in). Your cage can be a home-made affair or based on a modular kit to provide exactly the size of structure you need.
Wall-trained fruits can be protected with lightweight netting draped over them, as can , but birds have been known to peck fruit through the mesh so, if possible, hold the net away from the strawberries with a system of bamboo canes topped with upturned plastic flowerpots.
Also useful for protecting strawberries is heavy gauge black plastic sheet, admittedly more functional than decorative, spread over the strawberry bed and held firmly in place with the plants inserted through small slits and planted directly into the ground below. This takes the place of straw mulch or strawberry mats, and has the further advantage of keeping thewarm and moist. This tough plastic sheet can also be used to line the sides of a raspberry trench to reduce suckering too far from the supports.
Support and training takes on a far greater importance in the soft fruit garden than in other situations. To provide the really solid structures that most cane and climbing fruit need, you will need 2.3m (8ft) wooden posts — I favour the round, rustic, pressure treated type, with a spike at the bottom — driven into the ground to a depth of about 45- 60cm (18 – 24in) with a further 1.8m (6ft) above ground. Bracing these
with shorter stakes, driven into the ground at an angle and bolted securely is worthwhile, as the additional stability it brings is tremendous. Stretched between the uprights you will need heavy-duty galvanized or plastic-covered wire, preferably 10-gauge, attached to bolts, vine-eyes or adjustable straining bolts. And to tie your canes in, make sure you always carry with you a ball of soft garden twine or raffia and a pair of scissors or a knife.
For propagation, particularly from seed, a heated propagator can be helpful although many gardeners manage perfectly well with windowsills, airing cupboards and other make-shift methods. For growing dessert grapes andin quantity, you really need a greenhouse, and a fairly sizeable one. Smaller quantities of melons can be grown quite successfully in cold frames or even plastic and glass cloches, which can also be invaluable for bringing on an early crop of strawberries.
Succulent, juicy fruit means regular and plentiful watering. The humble watering can will deliver water just where you want it, but for large fruit gardens or absentee gardeners a sprinkler or, preferably, trickle irrigation system will be extremely helpful. There will certainly be times when you want to deliver liquid feed along with the water, so choose a dilutor that allows you to do this.
TOOLS FOR PRUNING
Pruning is extremely important in getting the best from your soft fruit. A pair of sharp, well-maintained and regularly cleaned anvil-type secateurs will deal with most canes, but for tougher jobs, long handled loppers, again anvil-type, are ideal. For cutting back strawberry foliage at the end of the season, I favour a pair of single-handed shears. Blunt-ended scissors are essential, not only because they won’t cut holes in pockets, but because they are less likely to damage gooseberries or grapes when you are picking or thinning the fruit. A pair of strong, leather-palmed gardening gloves should go some way to protecting your hands from spiny stems and canes, and for pulling up raspberry suckers, they are a must. A stainless-steel spade will make site preparation easy, and is useful for preparing slit trenches for hardwood cuttings, while your border fork comes in useful for spreading an organic mulch around plants in spring and autumn. Use a hoe for shallow weeding between rows of canes or bushes, and for removing raspberry suckers. A hand trowel is needed for planting strawberries. Fruits, like Kiwi fruit, that need a little help with pollination are best served with a soft paintbrush.
In limited space, many types of soft fruit can be grown in containers, the larger the better. Wooden half-barrels, lined with plastic to minimize rotting of the wood, or large terracotta pots look best. Large plastic pots lose less water, but never really manage to look like anything but plastic, while strawberry pots, although certainly space saving, take a good deal of watering, feeding and general maintenance. Soil-based composts provide a reasonable supply of nutrients, and their weight gives extra stability to plastic containers. Container growing may be the only way to grow acid-loving fruits in an area with neutral to alkaline soil. Use ericaceous compost, make sure you irrigate with stored rainwater, and use conifer sawdust as a mulch. Mulching with well rotted organic matter or pulverized bark twice yearly, in spring and autumn, when the soil is already moist, can help retain soil water even in periods of reduced rainfall, while a straw mulch under strawberries to lift them slightly from the soil reduces the likelihood of fungus damage.
Despite preventive measures of this kind, it is almost inevitable that you will have to spray at some point. Whether with fungicide, insecticide or herbicide, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, never mix different products unless specified in the instructions, and store chemicals in their original containers under lock and key. Once chemicals have been diluted, they generally do not last long, so only make up as much as you need for one application. Clearly label your plastic sprayers, and keep one specifically for each type of chemical. Precautions for storing garden chemicals should be extended to fertilizers too. Above all, keep them dry and use them up reasonably quickly as they can loose their potency fairly rapidly.