How to grow common fruit
Follow these tips to grow the most common fruit grown on British allotments.
How to grow apples
Growing apples from seed is impractical for most people, and you’ll be much better served by buying a young tree from a nursery to transplant in your allotment. These trees come in two types: bare-root stock, which have exposed roots when you purchase them and should be planted from late autumn to early spring, and container trees, which can be planted all year round.
The ideal place for an apple tree is a sunny and sheltered site well away from frost pockets. Plant your tree in a hole no deeper than the roots, but three times the diameter. Break up the surrounding soil with a fork before planting, and refill the hole by placing soil around the roots of the plant and gently compressing it with your feet to eliminate air pockets.
Once established, apple trees require very little upkeep. Simply water them during droughts and when the fruit starts to form, and sprinkle a general fertiliser around the base of the plant in early spring. The tree should also be pruned back when the tree is dormant.
The apples are ready to pick when they come away from the tree easily with a gentle pull and slight twist. Store your picked apples in a cool, dry place. It’s important to keep them well ventilated, so storing them in slatted wooden crates is ideal. Check them frequently and remove any apples showing signs of disease or rot, and they should store well for months.
How to grow gooseberries
Bare-root gooseberries should be planted between late autumn and early spring, while container-grown plants can be planted at any time. Avoiding waterlogged or frozen soil, and plant your gooseberry bushes 5 feet apart. Mulch around the roots of the plants to help them conserve water, and water them about once a fortnight during dry spells.
To encourage a good yield, prune gooseberry bushes when they’re dormant, and in late winter feed them with a balanced granular fertiliser.
Gooseberries will be ready for harvest from the beginning of July, and should be picked gently, as they’re soft and prone to burst. Cover the plants with netting to discourage birds, and only remove it when you’re picking the fruit.
How to grow pears
Bare-stock pear trees should be planted in the winter while they’re dormant, while container-grown plants can be planted at any time of the year. Place the tree in a sheltered site that gets lots of sun, well away from any frost pockets that form during winter.
Plant your pear tree in a hole as deep as the root system of the tree and three times the diameter. Refill the hole with loose soil, being careful to eliminate any air pockets by gently compacting the soil as you go.
Prune your pear tree every winter and spread fertiliser around its roots in early spring to encourage a greater yield. You should also water it during any particularly dry spells.
Pick the fruit just before it’s fully ripened, when it’s still firm. Ripen the pears on a windowsill until soft, which will usually take a week or so.
How to grow raspberries
Whether you choose bare-root or container plants, raspberries should be planted during the dormant season, between November and March. Choose a sheltered and sunny spot with a slightly acidic soil that is well-drained and weed free. Space the plants around 45–60cm apart in rows that are about one-and-a-half metres apart, then cover them in a 7.5cm thick layer of mulch.
Raspberries are climbing plants, and should be trained up a post and wire system. Tie emerging shoots to the support wires as they grow to encourage strong growth.
For the best results, apply slow-release general fertiliser followed by a layer of compost to the plants in early March. You should also prune the plants when they stop producing fruit, cutting back the fruited canes to ground level and selecting the strongest young canes for next year’s growth, tying them around 10cm apart up the wire supports.
Pick raspberries as soon as they turn deep red, preferably on a dry day. Once picked, eat the fruit within a few days, or alternatively open freeze them for later consumption.
How to grow strawberries
If you’re growing your strawberry plants from cold-stored runners, you should plant them between late spring and early summer, and they’ll fruit 60 days after planting. Container-grown plants can be planted at any time of year.
Plant your strawberries in a sheltered site that gets lots of sun and has fertile, well-drained soil. You should avoid planting them on soil where you’ve previously grown potatoes or tomatoes, as they are all susceptible to the disease verticillium wilt.
Plant your strawberries about 30cm apart in rows, and leave 75cm between each row. If you’re planting container-grown plants, ensure that the crown of the plant rests on the surface of the soil. Water each plant well, and then cover the surrounding earth with black polythene, cutting holes for your plants to grow through. This will stop the fruit from rotting on the soil, as well as supress the growth of weeds.
Water the plants frequently while they’re establishing, as well as during dry periods while it’s the growing season. Make sure to water the surrounding soil rather than the plant itself, to avoid rotting the crown.
Feed your strawberry plants with liquid tomato feed every week during the growing season, and add a general fertiliser to the plants in the early spring. After the growing season is over, remove all of the old leaves from the strawberry plants and the black polythene from the ground.
Strawberry plants will produce a successful yield for three years, after which you should replace them. Rotate your next crop to another bed to allow the nutrients in the soil to replenish, as well as to minimise the build-up of pest and diseases.
Pick strawberries when they are bright red all over, and eat them as soon as possible, as they don’t keep well.