Go native with Nevada-friendly berries.
WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA NELLEMANN
For gardeners who want plants that do double or even triple duty, good ol’ berries should be on the list. Berry bushes, shrubs, and canes fill in a garden with chaparral, bloom for insects, and produce fruit for both birds and humans. However, in Northern Nevada, the best types of berries are not what you might expect.
Beyond the raspberry
“Chokecherries, elderberries, serviceberries, and golden currants — I’m a big fan of all four of these and use them a lot,” says Nathan Rosenbloom, a permaculture specialist, designer, and owner of Loping Coyote Farms in Reno.
The chokecherry is a stone fruit and not technically a berry, but Rosenbloom says it acts more like a berry and is a great addition to any Nevada garden.
“Loping Coyote’s berries have been way more successful than the tree fruit; they are the most productive,” he says. “Most of it is because of timing. Berries flower at a different time than fruit trees and avoid the later frosts.”
Rosenbloom’s other choice berries to grow on his lush farm include Nevada natives such as bright red buffaloberry, blue elderberry, Russian hawthorn, highbush cranberry, and crimson star goji, and European favorites, black chokeberry and black elderberry. Plants he has struggled with include gooseberries and blueberries.
“With gooseberries, you have to have the right one in the right spot,” he says. “Serviceberries like to grow here; blueberries don’t. I would plant serviceberries and grapes before I would plant blueberries.”
What is it with those serviceberries?
“[Serviceberries] are maybe my favorite berry to eat,” Rosenbloom says. “They’re delicious and unique tasting. They’ve got a wild vitality taste.”
For other delicious flavors, try the sweet mulberry. Botanically, the mulberry is a collective fruit rather than a berry, but these deciduous trees add shade to a garden. And, of course, you can’t forget the trifecta of berries: raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries.
“Raspberries and blackberries are what everyone is familiar with, and they should be the staple fruits for our area,” Rosenbloom says.
He recommends planting ever-bearing raspberries, such as fall gold, and blackberries, such as triple crown and chester thornless. For strawberries, buy the June-bearing type to enjoy an entire crop all at once and take advantage of the multiple runners sent out by the plant. For some diversity, try the Tayberry, which is a cross between a blackberry and a red raspberry.
Most berry bushes like plenty of water and thick mulch made of broken-down materials. Wood chips create a berry-friendly, forest-edge ecology but tend to attract earwigs. Most berries take several years to become established, but for nearly instant gratification, go with raspberries and blackberries.
Sweet fruit, Sweet Farm
Our sunny climate also is good for luscious grapes. Just be ready to do some pruning and maintenance.
Terri and John Sweet own Sweet Farm in Fallon, where they cultivate more than 150 table-grape vines. They sell their crops (as well as their sweet Rainier cherries and apples) on their farm and at the Dayton Farmers’ Market, and they turn much of it into jam and jelly. The raspberry-grape jam is one of their best sellers.
“Grapes are a fabulous crop for Nevada,” Terri says. “They can be quite forgiving.”
The Sweets grow a rainbow of flavors: Thompson seedless, glenora seedless, flame seedless, jupiter, delight, fredonia, neptune seedless, concord, black monukka, and ruby seedless.
She admits that their grapes need a lot of water and six to seven hours of sun a day, but the only soil amendments the Sweets add is manure. All of their grapes are trellised, and the couple nets their berries to protect them from the birds.
Terri fan prunes the grapes to make them more productive. Instead of one stalk per grapevine, fan pruning creates multiple stalks. If spring frosts kill off one of the stalks, the other two could still grow and produce grapes for the summer.
“With the weather we get, it makes the grapes a lot more flexible,” she says.
Raspberries will be a new crop for them this season, and John is trying his hand at duke blueberries.
“I like to grow things that people say you can’t,” John adds with defiance.
Christina Nellemann is a writer and designer living in Washoe Valley. She’s looking forward to trying her first serviceberry this summer.
Where to buy berries
Loping Coyote Farms/RT Permaculture • http://www.Rtpermaculture.org/nursery
Nourse Farms • http://www.Noursefarms.com
Sweet Farm • http://www.Sweetfarmfallon.com
Classic Elderberry Syrup
(courtesy of Nathan Rosenbloom, owner, Loping Coyote Farms in Reno. Makes 30 ounces)
“This is a recipe everyone should know how to make,” Rosenbloom says, explaining that elderberries are high in vitamins A, B, and C. “It can be used for juices and cocktails or as a natural remedy for colds. I use the syrup as a medicine and take a daily dose all winter.”
4 cups cold water
2 cups dried elderberries
1 organic cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ginger root or oshá root, freshly grated
1 tablespoon raw honey (add more to taste)
Combine berries, cinnamon, and ginger with cold water in pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and mash berries in liquid mixture. Strain berries and herbs through cheesecloth and squeeze out juice. Add honey. Gently heat honey and juice for a few minutes until well combined. Store in glass bottle in refrigerator.