Last year we had a dream. In that dream were rows and rows of perennial vegetables, fruits and herbs. That dream turned into a plan on paper. Â That, paper became a section of field. That section of field got plowed and tilled……….AND NOW……. it’s almost a reality. squeeeeeee! But there’s one problem, we did our homework and in all our research it was kinda difficult tough to find exact information on how to build a perennial garden/mid-size berry patch/herb garden/ or anything! Sure, there’s info on how to grow a a few plants here and there. And I can see pictures of huge U-Pick orchards and such but what about us in between dudes? Hopefully this will help be a guide for anyone else wanting to plan a mid-size perennial garden and berry patch.
Last year when we had this idea of a perennial garden, we sectioned off a rough 100’x100′ size garden space. We figured it’s better to start out small and then expand later if we want to, so we picked a spot that has room around it for an expansion or extension of rows. We solarized the area, then planted sorghum sudan grass as a cover crop. Then this spring we plowed and tilled and used the bed shaper/blade on our tractor to make the rows. We’ll get into specifics a little bit later. Cool, so now we’re all caught up.
First of all, we had to decide on what we were wanting to grow. In addition to our awesome tea/herb garden we have going on, we wanted some perennial vegetables and berries. One thing we knew we wanted was a couple rows for asparagus. Check. Then what else is a perennial vegetable? Rhubarb? None of us are real crazy about rhubarb but there’s not a whole lot of other perennials that grow in our zone (5b). So maybe just a tiny little bit of rhubarb. But we could do something like sunchokes. Sunchokes are cool. So there we go, we have about three rows we wanted to save for perennial vegetables.
Next were the berries. At first, we had wanted to do a variety of berries. A few rows of strawberries, a few rows of raspberries and a few rows of blackberries. However, that would pose a few problems. Let me elaborate. In doing some research, strawberries would be a huge pain for us to grow a medium size amount. They’re easier to grow in a small raised bed or in a HUGE strawberry field (forever). The deal with strawberries is that they will shoot out a bunch of runners and will completely take over a section. And you have to till them under every year or every other year. And they’re not super disease/pest resistant. It seems that if I want strawberries, I’m going to have Dave make me a small raised bed so that I can contain them and keep a closer eye on them. So no strawberries in the perennial garden. That’s a bummer but there’s a good reason for not doing them. Then we were talking about raspberries. Or blueberries. But blueberries need super acidic soil. So changing just a portion of the garden’s PH when we don’t know for sure how this whole berry patch thing will work out doesn’t seem like a very worthwhile plan.
Basically it came down to what we want to harvest; do we want a small amount of different types of berries? Or do we want a large amount of one type of berry? It makes more sense for us, since we’re selling to restaurants, to have a large amount of one type of berry. And in the future, if we want to expand to do more, we can. But for now with this size, we’re going to stick with one type of berry: Missouri Native Blackberries.
Plus, blackberries are awesome because they’ll grow anywhere (and around here, they do). They’re not picky about soil, sun, shade or what have you. And besides, we’re really into growing as many Missouri heirloom or native plants as possible (we have a few Missouri heirloom melons in our vegetable garden right now!). It’s settled. We’ll be growing 5-6 rows of Missouri blackberries!
Now for the nitty gritty stuff. We planned our or perennial vegetable and berry rows to be 4′ wide with 5′ walking paths. This way, when the plants are centered in the beds, the rows will be 9′ apart. AND it just so happened that 5′ will be just wide enough for us to drive our zero turn mowerÂ through so we can mow the walking paths. Or drive the Polaris through the paths to make harvest and maintenance easier. Or to have a picnic amongst the blackberries. That would be nice. To start off, we plowed, tilled, then string plotted the rows and marked them with marking paint much like our vegetable garden. Then Dave ran the tractor blade down the walking paths to push half of the tilled soil into the bed, then ran the blade down the other side to push the other half of soil into the other side of the bed. Once the beds were made, well, we had a lot of other stuff to do so we weren’t able to finish the beds for a few weeks. So it got a little overgrown. But that’s ok.
We had a little more planning to do before finishing the prep work for the berry patch. Although it’s a few months too early, we had to decide on what type of blackberries to get! There are many different types of blackberries (erect, semi-erect, thornless vs. thorns) and each of those have pros and cons. We’re going with an erect thornless variety because 1) we don’t want to get pricked when harvesting but will have to take more precautions to keep birds or predators away and 2) erect cultivars will require less vigorous trellising. Some of the semi-erect thornless blackberry varieties that will perform will in Missouri are Navaho, Apache, Ouchita and Arapaho. These varieties can be placed in rows 8-10 feet apart (perfect for our 9 foot spacing). Semi-erect varieties take up more space and will need 10-12 feet row spacing. Within the beds, erect varieties can be planted 4-6 feet apart.
We used marking paint to mark a spot every five feet in the bed. Then, we added a hefty amount of compost on top of each mark. After we laid out the compost, we used a small roto-tiller to till the compost into the soil. Once that was done, we stretched weed cloth which is four feet wide over each bed. We made sure to mark the weed cloth where the composted spots were at five foot intervals. This will help us do a couple of things: it’ll make the planting process next spring a lot faster since we did all of our prep work now and it’ll also help solarize the soil and prevent weeds from coming up through the beds.
So with that, our berry patch is prepped! In between now and next spring we’ll maintenance the berry patch, keep it mowed and trimmed and continue to do a lot of research on blackberries. We couldn’t find much information on the interwebs about planning a large berry patch so we hope that some of this information has been useful to you!