Q: I am planning my homestead fruit plots. How many blueberry bushes and blackberry bushes should I plant to provide fruit for my family of four? What are the best varieties for our area? Does it get too hot here to grow raspberries?

Answer: To provide enough blueberries for your family of four, plant four shrubs. Choose 3 different varieties of rabbiteye type blueberries to plant. For our area, Climax, Premier, Tifblue, and Powderblue are excellent choices. Blueberries will grow well in our native soils, which tend to have pH readings of about 5.5. Add composted pine bark to raised beds of well-drained soil prior to planting blueberries. For blackberries, plant four vines to provide for your family’s needs. You will want to decide whether you want all of the fruit to come in at once or over a longer period. Choose one variety if you are looking berry ripening within a short period of time. If you want blackberries to ripen over a longer period of time, plant several different varieties. Early fruiting varieties of blackberries are Arapaho and Choctaw. Mid-season ripening berries are Apache, Cheyenne, Ouachita, Shawnee, and Triple Crown. Late season berries are Navaho, Chester, Freedom, and Prime-Jan. Blackberries grow best in well drained soils rich in organic matter with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Raspberries do not grow well in hot humid climates, but there are a few varieties that seem to manage here, including Dorman Red, Mandarin, Heritage and Caroline. Raspberries also need a well-drained rich soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Definitely take time to prepare your planting areas properly, since you are hoping to only plant once for many years of fruit enjoyment. Prepare your ground now for planting in the fall and early spring of next year.

Q: Are there any organic herbicides I can use in my garden?

Answer: Yes, there are several. Organic herbicides work best on small weeds that haven’t had time to grow deep roots. The first 40 days after planting is the most important time to keep weeds at bay in the vegetable garden. After that, your crop has a jump on any newly germinating weed seeds. Vinegar, salts of fatty acids, the soap-based herbicide ammonium nonanoate, lemongrass oil, eugenol oil (clove oil), cinnamon oil, and corn gluten are chemical organic means to control weeds. Always read the label of any chemical you are using and follow the directions. Avoid spraying on windy days.

Mary Jac Brennan is the agent for fruit and vegetable horticulture for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at maryjac_brennan@ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2850.

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