July is a busy month in my garden, which is bursting with fruit, all ripening in a sudden sun-soaked rush.  The challenge of bringing in the harvest around work and family commitments is daunting at the best of times, but managing this with fibromyalgia is worse.  I’ve tried to approach the picking season with as relaxed an attitude as possible, reminding myself that it’s not the end of the world if the birds get the majority of this year’s crop.  Who am I kidding?  This is the only time of year when the blackbird is my mortal enemy and I can be seen rushing out of the back door, flapping and shrieking to drive her away from my precious blueberries.  

Last year this was a particularly bad idea, considering that sudden adrenaline rushes like this had a tendency to leave me flattened for some time afterwards.  My adrenals were no longer able to respond to my body’s call to arms and Fight or Flight had sunk into more of a Crash and Burn.  

At least this year I am considerably stronger and no longer employed, so I can manage my time much better.  I spend a few minutes here and there to cover the crops and do a little picking each day when it suits me.  I time myself to manage my energy better rather than aiming to complete a whole bush in one go.  Some considered reflection on both the birds’ need for food, and my own need for calm, has helped a little too and I am getting better at delegating.  Top and tailing the gooseberries has become a regular job for my daughter, giving her an excuse to sit and watch a film as she works through the enormous bowls.

The fruit is not just a burden though; it brings me a great deal of joy and satisfaction.  Last week I was glorying in the scent of the hot, ripe strawberries that surrounded me as I wrote at my patio table.  Wandering around the garden in search of lunch, I found tiny alpine strawberries nestling under their corrugated leaves, rich blackcurrants and a handful of raspberries in the wilderness.  This year their bed is notable more for the enormous, self-seeded mullein flower and foxgloves than for neatly tied in canes.  I mixed the berries in with a salad of lettuce, sorrel and herbs, so that each mouthful would be a surprise, topping the bowl off with a sprinkle of marigold and borage petals, also self seeded and flourishing everywhere.

My fruit ladened garden is now an important source of essential nutrients, which are helping me to rebuild my body.  Blueberries and blackcurrants in particular are heralded as super-fruits, packed with vitamin C and antioxidants, but all of my fruit are super-foods, each offering a different delicious package of fresh goodness.  

How much more nutrition do they contain than the plastic packaged supermarket offerings, travelling as they do directly from bush to mouth or to freezer?  There is no lengthy storage, no plastic packaging, no food miles.  I know too that they have never been touched by chemicals and have grown slowly and naturally in rich, composted soil, not forced into unnatural, impoverished, watery turgidity through fertilisers and intense irrigation.  Add to this the knowledge that these are my berries, which I have watched grow, from bee-heavy flower through swelling, hard, green bobble to rich, scented juiciness.  

People often assume I have a huge garden because of the number of fruits I grow, but it’s  comparatively small; a long thin triangle behind an ex-council house.  I have blueberries in containers, apple trees on dwarfing root stock and gooseberry and redcurrants trained along wires as a screen, to take up minimal space.  This means I can pick them easily without ripping my hands to shreds as I reach into the middle of a gooseberry bush.  Strawberries are squashed into awkward corners and rhubarb fills a dark, damp area that will grow little else.

Two gooseberries and a redcurrant produce so much fruit that they fill my freezer with bowls left over, so I taught myself to make wine. They make more wine than we can drink so I learned to make vinegar.  This proved to be a serendipitous move, since my nutritionist advised me to eat as many fermented foods as possible and to drink a tablespoon of live vinegar with each meal.  Easy peasy!  I also have an enormous sense of satisfaction looking at my rows of beautiful bottles maturing in the utility room.  Looking at the price of live fruit vinegar lifts my spirits even further, considering that my stash cost pennies not pounds.  Really, these berries are super-foods in more ways than one and well worth the challenge of the harvest.

Do you have space for a blackcurrant in the ground or a large container?  For some guidance on how to grow and harvest them, without  exhausting yourself, see my activities pages.