Fruit for the Month: April, and all-year summary

Reliable rhubarb, the earliest fruit. Photo Bridget Aleshire

This is the last of my monthly series about small fruits that grow in the Mid-Atlantic and other places with a similar climate. Here are links to each of the other posts:

March: Rhubarb

February: Blueberries

January: Grapes

December: Quince

November: Persimmons

October: Fall Raspberries

September: Watermelons

August: Grapes

July: Melons

June: Blueberries

May: Strawberries

The focus fruit for April is still rhubarb, as it was in March

The book, Rhubarbaria by Mary Prior.

I have just learned about a fascinating book, Rhubarbaria, by Mary Prior, published in the UK by Prospect Books 2009. (The book is available in the US, both new and used.)

This is the first British book devoted to rhubarb recipes through the ages, from around the world, as well as rhubarb history. Rhubarb was first grown in Mongolia, Siberia and the Himalayan foothills, for the medicinal uses of the root. Gerald’s Herbal of 1597 says that the dried root was imported to Britain for use as a blood purifier. Early culinary uses are as likely to be with fish or meat, as they are for desserts. See March’s recipe idea which combines roasted rhubarb with grilled mackerel.

As a dessert item, rhubarb became a familiar staple after the enslavement of people in the Caribbean on sugar plantations led to cheap sugar, from around 1840. The common or slang name for rhubarb in the US, is pie plant (Merriam-Webster dates this name from 1838). In England, the Victorian royal chef Charles Francatelli, included rhubarb pie in his Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (1852)

A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes

Rhubarb is slug-proof, and resistant to both drought and flooding.

Other small fruits still available in April

Dried and frozen fruits, jams, jellies, chutneys, other preserves, or even stored apples and pears are all we are likely to have, apart from buying imports. Remember that vegetables are at least as nutritious as fruit, but simply have fewer sugars. The vitamin C content of green leafy vegetables is as high as oranges.

Other fruit care in April in the mid-Atlantic

Weed and mow aisles between fruit bushes as needed. Provide 1” (2.5cm) of water each week if nature doesn’t. Finish pruning any fruit bushes and canes you haven’t yet dealt with.

If you plant strawberries in spring, you need to pinch off the flowers the first year, to strengthen the plants for a good yield in year two.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Pinch flowers off any new spring-planted strawberries. (If you planted in the fall, your plants should have big enough roots to support a harvest without stunting the plants for the second year.) Cover strawberries if frost threatens after flowering has started.

We used to have a coordinated plan of rowcover use that minimized rolling up and storing rowcovers, only to need them again soon after. We would move the rowcovers and sticks from overwintered or spring planted spinach directly to the strawberry beds before flowering. By that point, the cold-hardy spinach was better off without rowcover. We would already have moved rowcover from turnips, senposai, and early cabbage as needed for broccoli, until the end of April, when the broccoli would have hardened off and benefit more from ambient temperatures. By that point, the watermelons needed rowcover. In mid-April we would take rowcover from kale, collards, and early lettuce for the frost-tender crops.

Two rows of floricane raspberries with a willow and grapes in the background. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Thin raspberries to six canes per foot (30 cm) of row. For beds wider than 1 row, thin to 2” (5 cm) apart.

If you care about large grapes, it is time to thin the fruitlets in the bunches, we grow mostly Concord types, which make delicious juice (especially after storing a few months to mature). We don’t thin at all.

Special Topic for April: Books about Fruits

See my book reviews of

Cold-Hardy Fruits and Nuts by Levy and Serrano

Farming on the Wild Side, The Evolution of a Regenerative Organic Farm and Nursery, Nancy and John Hayden

The Berry Grower, by Blake Cothron

Pawpaws, The Complete Growing and Marketing Guide by Blake Cothron

For the Love of Pawpaws by Michael Judd

If you have a suggestion for the topic for the upcoming annual monthly series on a type of food crop, please leave a comment.