Get fruity at the allotment

It’s not only the humble potato or common carrot which can thrive on allotments - you can also grow a cornucopia of delicious soft fruits like summer berries and blackcurrants.

What’s more, fruit bushes and trees are long-lived. Gooseberries and blackcurrants can do well for 20 years, trees can produce for decades and raspberry canes can last more than 10 years.

“Plot-holders are better off looking at soft fruit because it takes up less space than fruit trees and is easier to manage and pick,” says Mike Thurlow, horticultural adviser to the National Allotment Society, which is running this year’s National Allotments Week campaign with Kelly’s of Cornwall.

“The root run of soft fruit isn’t so expansive so it doesn’t interfere with other crops or with neighbours’ plots.”

Summer fruits are generally easier to care for than larger fruit trees. Many currants can be grown as bushes, while raspberries and blackberries need to be trained against a framework structure, usually a post and wire system.

“Soft fruit can’t be shoved away in a cold corner,” Thurlow explains. “Full sun is needed to ripen the wood rather than the fruit because it is ripe wood which gives you the bountiful harvest the following year.”

If you are growing bushes or training trees, plan them as part of the structure of your allotment, as they are likely to be permanent fixtures. Most fruit trees are pollinated by insects so you’ll need to avoid windy sites, and add plenty of organic matter to the soil, which needs to be well-drained.

Strawberries, one of the nation’s favourite summer fruits, should be placed in the sunniest border and should be moved around on a three-year cycle.

Few allotments allow trees to be grown because they shade other plots and sometimes can’t be moved when a new tenant arrives. So if you want to grow fruit trees, you may have to buy dwarf rootstocks to train, creating espaliers, cordons or fans in sunny.

“Redcurrants, white currants and gooseberries can be fan-trained and turned into espaliers and cordons. It’s a bit of fun. You could train them up the side of a shed or make make a support from stakes and training wires,” Thurlow explains.

“Fruit which is trained takes up less room and is easier to manage because the fruit has air and light around it so there are likely to be fewer disease problems.”

Be warned that blackcurrants are big plants which will need plenty of room, each taking up around 1.5 square metres of ground so don’t plant them too close together.

“You’ll often have fewer berries from two struggling plants than from one good one,” Thurlow points out.

Unless you live in a really mild area and your plot is sheltered, avoid trying to grow tender fruits such as figs, apricots and peaches on your allotment, as they will need so much protection.

All soft fruits should be planted in a sheltered spot away from frost pockets. Choose late varieties to help avoid frost damage and make sure you net the fruits from the birds. A fruit cage is essential and should be allowed on allotments as it is classed as a temporary structure.

Avoid planting soft fruit where it has been grown before as it can lead to replant disease, resulting in stunted growth. Buy stock which has been certified free of pests and disease to avoid the fatal viral disease.

As for placing your plants, Thurlow advises to keep all your fruit bushes together as a group.

our raspberries at the back because they grow tall, then plant blackcurrants, white currants and gooseberries in front and strawberries right at the front,” he advises.