Jack E. Lewis of Alpine likes to include tasty berries and grapes in his garden. What more delectable treat could there possibly be than fresh raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, currants and others?
These are called small fruits because they grow on shrubs or vines rather than trees.But there is certainly nothing small about the taste.
Lewis said he spent 25 years on the West Coast working for Chevron Oil. "Everywhere we moved, we planted fruit trees. We were always transferred before they got big enough for us to harvest anything. I wanted to plant something that would produce before we moved again. The berries and grapes fit that category."
Lewis said the currants were actually planted because of childhood memories. His wife had a grandfather who lived in the Millcreek area. He had black currants, which she loved as a child.
"I grew up along the shores of Utah Lake and spent time with my mother picking golden currants. She made wonderful currant pie, which we loved as a family dessert. It was natural for both of us to want some of these wonderful treats that unfortunately have become rather rare in typical gardens," Lewis said.
He said he's tried several different currant varieties and has eliminated some of them.
"Several of the English black currants are a little too bitter for our tastes. The two we like the best are Crandall, which is a nice large black currant, and Redlake, which is a wonderful red currant with large clusters."
Lewis said growing currants is just as easy as growing pfitzers and much more rewarding.
"We have all of the black or red currants we can possibly eat as well as enough to share with friends and neighbors. The red currants are a particular attractive landscape shrub and do very well for us here in our area."
Lewis recalls that as children he gathered native blue elderberries in the mountains. Since there are not as many available in this area now, he decided to try some in his garden. They make a wonderful jelly. The two varieties the Lewises have settled on are Johns and Kent .
"I love the fall-bearing raspberries. Besides the spring crop, they start producing in the late summer and will produce until winter. I love wandering out and picking a few handfuls for cereal, desserts or for fresh eating. They are so easy to take care of. I simply cut them down to the ground to let them grow out and produce a wonderful fall crop," Lewis said.
For many years he grew the Heritage berry but had to take it out when the planting became diseased. He is now trying a new variety called Summit. It is a nice large berry with an excellent flavor and it looks like it's going to do very well in his garden.
Alpine is a great place to grow plants that like it cooler, such as the raspberries. It is higher and colder than the rest of Utah County.
For that reason many more tender fruits including certain varieties of peaches will not make it there. Gardeners also have to choose their grape varieties carefully if they want them to mature properly.
Some of the new varieties of small fruits are not available locally. Lewis has had success ordering from Raintree Nursery in Washington. (The address for Raintree Nursery is 391 Butts Road, Morton, WA 98356; their Web site is www.RaintreeNursery.com)
Another reason for growing these instead of fruit trees is that they need far fewer sprays to keep the pests out.
"I've never had a problem with currants, and I have never had to spray the plants. This year, for the first time, I had a spider mite infestation. Since the berries are producing right now, I have not sprayed them with anything. I'm hoping it is a temporary problem and I will not have to deal with it. The raspberries have had almost no pests."
The only serious problem other than the inevitable diseases that eventually destroy the patch is thrips. These tiny insects get inside the fruit and don't appear until you process them or pour cream on them. Treating them with Malathion seemed to be the easiest way to take care of the problem.
Most small fruits are highly perishable. The berries are particularly soft and succulent. The best way to enjoy these is fresh off the vine or after chilling them for a few hours in your refrigerator.
Those picked in distant areas and shipped in are never the same quality. This helps account for their popularity as a backyard crop.
Small fruits are an excellent choice for gardeners in Utah. They take less room than fruit trees and start producing sooner. Remember that they require fewer pest-control sprays than tree fruits.