MULBERRY

It is unknown when the mulberry was introduced to Britain, but it was certainly established long before Shakespeare’s time. Some authorities claim that we owe the invention of the table fork to this fruit. Considerable numbers of trees were planted by James I who attempted to establish the silkworm industry, and he is said to have expended £935 on the trees planted near the Palace of Westminster. Mulberries are renowned for their longevity, and tradition associates the famous mulberry tree at Christ’s College, Cambridge, with the poet Milton, who was admitted to the college in 1625. The only mulberry grown in Britain is the black mulberry (Morus nigra). The white species is preferred by silkworms. The mulberry has the almost unique advantage among hardy fruits of delaying the opening of its blossoms until risk of frost is past. The foliage is completely destroyed by the first autumn frost.

Cultivation. Mulberries are best grown on their own roots as bushes, standards or wall-trained trees. A warm, well-drained soil with a good moisture-holding capacity is the ideal and a south aspect is always desirable. In the north this fruit should be planted against a wall. February is a very good month for planting, autumn planting usually proving less successful. The thick, fleshy roots do not take kindly to transplanting. It is related of a certain Mr Payne Knight in the last century that he removed long branches from a mulberry tree to make standards for his clothes lines, with the result that each standard subsequently developed into a flourishing mulberry tree. Do not cut back the long roots when planting or they may ‘bleed’ and cause the tree to die. Once established, the mulberry demands little attention in the way of pruning or feeding. Mulberries are some years before they come into bearing, although planting in grass seems to hasten cropping. They fruit mainly on the previous year’s wood, hence most of this should be retained. On young trees the leaders may be reduced to rather more than half their length, and laterals pruned to about 6 leaves in July. Wall-trained trees should have their branches trained about 15 in. apart. Reduce the laterals to about 6 leaves in July, but leave the leaders unpruned. Established mulberries require very little pruning, beyond the removal of overcrowded shoots. Mulberries are seldom troubled by pests or diseases, though birds are very fond of the fruits!

How to Pick Mulberries:

Mulberries for dessert are ready to pick when purple-black in colour. This is usually in late August or early September. If intended for culinary purposes, and the mulberry makes excellent jam and tarts, gather when the berries are red. The fruits are poor keepers.

It may not be generally known that very good wine may be made from the fruits. Mulberry gin, made like sloe or damson gin, is considered by connoisseurs to be far better than either! In Anglo-Saxon times a popular drink known as morat was made from mulberries flavoured with honey.

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