This is a time for dreaming. As the days lengthen into spring, while we're pulling out the bulbs and choosing this year's lettuce varieties, it's time to dream of new adventures in food and flowers.
Which makes it a perfect time to talk berries.
If you only grow flowers, if you're a latecomer to the idea that a garden should be bountiful as well as beautiful, berries are a simple segue into food production.
In addition to being edible, berries add contrast to existing perennial beds, function as windbreaks and provide late-season food for birds.
Raspberries are ubiquitous in local yards and a good first berry for newbies. Although they do better with proper soil and cultivation, raspberries are extremely forgiving and often thrive though neglected.
Some gardeners find them a little too successful -- determined to send out runners and produce new plants in territory otherwise assigned.
Choose your planting site with control -- and good drainage -- in mind.
Raspberry plants are already on sale in some of the big box stores around town. If you buy there, be careful to choose Zone 4 or lower.
These bare root offerings are likely to be extremely dry, so soak them for an hour or so in water, then pot them up and store them in a cool dim place, like the garage. You want to keep them dormant; it's too early to give them light. Plant outside once the soil can be worked.
Local nurseries generally start selling berries in late April or mid May. Mile 5.2 Greenhouse will be offering Boyne (red) and Fall Gold (golden) raspberries next month.
Sutton Greenhouse and Alaska Mill and Feed will also have varieties proven to thrive here. (Patty at Sutton says once you try golden raspberries, you won't go back to red.)
If you already grow raspberries, why not add a second crop? Blueberries, currants, strawberries all work, but consider honeyberries (Lonicera), a low bush berry relatively new to North America.
The edible form of honeysuckle, honeyberries are native to Siberia and Northern China.
Their horticultural attributes bring joy to the heart of any Alaska gardener: Hardy down to 40 below, not fussy about soil, not especially attractive to insects or disease (but birds like them), and they produce earlier than strawberries.
The fruit is a similar color and taste to blueberries, but the berry is elongated -- maybe an inch long and pendulous. Some reports say the flavor varies somewhat with the variety.
They are good for eating off the bush, jam, pies, freezing -- all the usual indulgences. The berries don't ship well, so we're unlikely to find them in grocery stores here.
One caveat however: Honeyberries are not self-pollinating so you must plant at least two varieties if you want fruit.
Margaret at Mill & Feed says they will be offering the plants packaged two varieties to a pot.
The Alaska Botanical Garden will offer them at the May 19 plant sale that opens its season and several other local greenhouses have them on order.
You say you already have two kinds of berries thriving in your garden? Go wild and plant a couple more. Choose different shrub heights and stagger flowering and fruiting times.
Play your cards right and you can have a continuous supply of flowers and berries from late spring through snowfall next November.
Check it out
• BERRIES: For more detailed information on gardening with berries, see "Berry Success," a series of articles by Bill Yeagle in the ABG newsletter, starting with the current issue at www.alaskabg.org.
• BOOKS: Want to know more? Debbie Hinchey of the Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association recommends books by Stella B. Otto, including "The Backyard Berry Book" and "The Backyard Orchardist." Find the association at www.APFGA.org. Hinchey will give an introduction to fruit growing at Alaska Mill & Feed at 10 a.m. next Saturday. Free. Register at 276-6016.