At the Northern Berry School, one of the speakers explained that the flavor of a strawberry does not develop once the fruit has been picked from the plant. So strawberries should be picked when they are uniformly red and firm.

The best way to tell if the strawberries are ready is to eat a couple of them, Bruce Black said during the meeting. I agree 100 percent. Sampling is my preferred way to know if it is time to pick a berry.

Taste is one of many benefits of growing strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or any other fruit or vegetable on your own property.

Another advantage is choosing the strawberry variety that matches your specific taste. For example, if you are going to eat all the berries, you might choose a variety that produces a larger berry. If you are going to make jams or jellies, it might be better to select a variety that produces smaller berries with a sweeter taste.

Managing a berry patch can reduce the cost of the fruit. Although there is an initial cost to purchase the plants, over the long term, it likely will cost less to grow your own than to purchase the same amount of fruit from a grocery store.

During the meeting, I also learned the difference between berries and brambles. A berry is a fleshy fruit that is produced from a single ovary. In addition to blueberries, I was surprised to learn that other examples of a berry include banana, grape, pumpkin and tomato.

A bramble is a prickly shrub that produces aggregate fruits that contain seeds from different ovaries of a single flower. In addition to blackberry and raspberry, other examples include boysenberry, loganberry, marionberry and ollalaberry.

Selecting the site for a berry patch is an important step, just like growing any other plant. It is important for the soil to be well drained since fruits don’t like wet feet.

Taking a soil test also is recommended since most berries prefer slightly acidic soil and blueberries require an acidic soil to thrive and produce fruit.

Blueberries need a soil that has a pH ranging from 4.8 to 5.2. If the pH is too high, iron becomes unavailable for the plant to attain, the leaves will yellow and the plant will die.

If you are thinking about growing your own berries, now is the time to get your gardening catalogs out and flip through the pages because December is a great time to order plants to be shipped directly to your home next year.

Martha Blum can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 117, or marthablum@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Blum.

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