Autumn, or fall to my North American cousins, is the season of mellow fruitfulness. The sun sits lower in the sky, mists spill out over the landscape and fruiting plants give one last burst of glory before it's shutters down for winter.
This is also the very best season to plant new trees, bushes and canes for future years of fruitfulness. The soil is still warm from summer, allowing some root growth but little if any top growth – the perfect balance if new plants are to quietly settle into place ready to race away next spring.
The loganberry and jostaberry are two fruits that are often overlooked. These somewhat unusual berry-producers share something in common – they're both the result of an interspecies cross. Breeders have produced these curiosities by cross-pollinating related fruits; the loganberry is a raspberry x blackberry hybrid, while the jostaberry is a hybrid cross between a gooseberry and a blackcurrant. The pleasing outcome is two new fruits that combine the taste of both their parents, deliciously different and well worth growing!
Loganberries were developed in California more than a hundred years ago. These tart tempters are excellent for cooking, mellowing out into a rich summer fruits combination. Jostaberries hail from Germany. The berries are larger than a blackberry but smaller than a gooseberry, with a very deep purple colour and similarly dynamic taste. Cook them or eat them raw once the berries have fully ripened.
Loganberries, like all blackberry derivatives, can ultimately be traced back to wild brambles, which makes them both exceptionally vigorous and easy to grow. Once they are underway it is more a question of taming the canes rather than coaxing them along! Nevertheless, a position that enjoys full sun will reward you handsomely with the most flavoursome berries. Jostaberries also need a deep, rich soil that's been improved with the addition of plenty of well-rotted manure or other organic matter, plus a suitable horizontal wire support system to keep the canes in order.
Create your support system by straining heavy-gauge wire between strong, upright posts. Space wires about 40cm (16in) apart. You will need four wires, positioned so that the top wire lies 160cm (5ft 4in) above the ground. With the wires in place you can plant your jostaberries, setting them at least 3m (10ft) apart to allow for the rambunctious canes. Water in to settle the soil then top off with an organic mulch. Your new plants may appear to be little more than rather pathetic-looking single canes but new shoots will appear by next summer promising their finger-licking berries.
Training the canes is simple. Fruiting canes are fanned out across the wires and tied into place as they grow. Once these have fruited they are cut right back to the ground in autumn The new canes that will have appeared during the growing season can then be fanned out onto the supporting wires the following spring, repeating the process.
In order to avoid confusion new canes are left to grow vertically with the fruiting canes either side of them. In this way you will always have two sets of canes: fruiting canes fanned out onto the supports and new canes waiting in the wings for the following season.
Berries should be picked as late in the season as you dare in order to guarantee a flavoursome experience.
Jaunty jostaberries are grown just like gooseberries – and gooseberries are the classic choice of the first-time fruit grower thanks to their salt-of-the-earth persona. Like loganberries they'll appreciate a well-drained, rich soil that's been further improved with organic matter, though as a cool-season crop jostaberries are able to cope with partial shade.
The options for training a jostaberry are varied: as a cordon (a single stemmed plant), against a wall or fence as a fan, as a free-standing bush or as a lollipop-style standard. Bushes are the most straightforward form. Plant bare-root or container-grown bushes around 1.2m (4ft) apart.
Jostaberry bushes are a doddle to keep in shape. Congested growth can be thinned by pruning out up to a quarter of the oldest stems, along with any other badly placed branches, in late winter. The remaining branches can be pruned to leave half of the previous year's growth, cutting to an outward-facing bud to ensure a good, open structure. A follow-up pruning session in summer cuts back all new sideshoots to five leaves.
Protecting Your Fruits
Both jostaberries and loganberries should be kept well watered in dry weather, particularly as the fruits develop. Even soil moisture is a must for jostaberries – wild swings between bone-dry and wet can cause the berries to swell too quickly and split.
Feed your plants in late winter to prepare them for the new growing season. Use a general-purpose fertiliser then top off with more organic mulch, keeping it clear of the stem/canes. Keep on top of any weeds that make it through by hand pulling them, as hoeing poses a threat to shallow roots.
You may need to protect your berries from birds. Netting or a fruit cage is ideal for this purpose, though I take the view that a few fruits shared with our wild neighbours is fair game for the work they do during the rest of the year in helping to keep pests down.
So, if you are in the market for something a little bit different and certainly very special, the loganberry or jostaberry is for you. Enjoy exploring their curiously mixed flavours!
Photographs courtesy of: Suttons Seeds, Paul Albertella, DT Brown, fonticulus.
By Benedict Vanheems.