Grow your own sloe gin

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Prunus spinosa –

I have a little Blackthorn tree, which this autumn produced two sloe fruits in its fifth year under my care, so I won’t be relying on it to make sloe gin yet – so a-sloe-hunting-I will have to go, as I want to make something warming to drink over the winter.

But I’m not giving up on my Prunus spinosa – at around four feet tall, it looks healthy and now, towards the beginning of December, has cast off its gloriously colourful foliage and will soon be dormant. I will then wrap it in a blanket or tarpaulin to avoid its thorny attack, and transplant it from its large pot directly into the ground somewhere near my veg patch.  Hoping that, by giving it extra room to spread, it will produce all the sloes I might ever need.

Emperor Moth

While they can grow up to 13 feet in height, Blackthorn can also be trained as a hedging plant, and are a good deterrent against human and smaller animal intruders such as sheep and goats. Although Blackthorn makes a prickly defence, they also benefit our natural habitat: the leaves being an important food source for butterfly and moth larvae, including Emperor and Magpie Moths.

Many species of birds nest in Blackthorn, including Nightingales – but my ambition, once moved nearer my veggies, is for the tree’s pretty little flowers to attract pollinators, which will hopefully result in a gargantuan yield of both vegetables and sloes.

 

How to grow your own sloes

Being native to the UK, Blackthorn are easy to grow, hardy (they survive in the sub-zero temperatures of Russia), and will tolerate most well drained soils apart from chalk, while also being partial to full sun. Where I live in Devon, the creamy white flowers appear from early in February, so are a welcome sign of the impending spring – and if there are plenty of them, this will mean more sloes.

Blackthorn is, apparently, easy to propagate from softwood cuttings taken in the early summer – but having waited five years to see two berries, I wouldn’t want to prolong the process.  Go onto Google, and you’ll find plenty of places to buy Blackthorn bareroot plants from 79 pence to £3 depending on size.

These can then be planted out after minimum preparation – although I would soak the roots for at least five hours before planting. Weeding your spot is a good idea, obviously, as is adding some compost or well-rotted manure; but only if the soil is exceptionally dry.  If not, just dig a hole, bung the plant in and firm with your heel; however keep an eye out for the soil opening up around the roots, especially after a hard frost.

Apparently, Blackthorn shouldn’t be grown in a pot; it is fast growing, and can achieve 40-60cm (two feet in old money) of growth each year.  The RHS reckons around eight years before a decent cropping of sloes – however, I love my little bonsai Blackthorn and am a patient gardener – I can wait another three years.

 “I soon won’t have to raid the boggy heathland up the road, as I will be harvesting my own sloes”

“I Love my veggie patch; there’s nothing like growing your own!”

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