Friday, June 24, 2011


My strawberries are done, just as my raspberries are beginning to bear ripe fruit. Nice timing, huh?

I talked about growing strawberries a couple of weeks ago. They're really easy to grow here, requiring no spray at all (my usual downfall when it comes to fruit). After the strawberry season is over, I usually mow off the patch (with the mower set as high as possible), and then remove the plants from half of it, letting runners from the other half re-colonize that part.

The mowing is apparently to reduce leaf diseases. But it's usually so very, very dry here in the summer that my plants seemed to struggle afterward. So last year, I didn't bother - and one of my patches did very well, while the other did quite poorly. Yeah, right now I don't know what to think.

This year, I just took a weed whip to the poorer patch - doing pretty well what a mower would do (since I wasn't able to get the mower in there) - but I'll leave the other one alone. And since none of my plants are more than two years old, I don't think I'll renovate either patch. We'll see what happens.

At any rate, my black raspberries are quite easy, too. Heck, I didn't even have to plant them, since the birds did that for me. Some years ago, I noticed a small raspberry plant growing at the corner of my garage and my chainlink fence, where the mower couldn't get it. So I thought I'd let it grow and see what would happen.

Well, that one plant has spread to two long rows now, and the raspberries are absolutely delicious! The sweet black fruit is borne on last year's canes. After it's done, I go through the patch and cut down the old canes (since they'll just die, anyway) and tie the new canes to a couple of wires. When they get to the topmost wire, I cut the tip off, so the cane will sprout out daughter canes. Then, in early spring, I trim those back to 18" or so. That's where the fruit grows.

Unlike red raspberries, black raspberries don't spread from the roots. Instead, the tip of each cane will root where it touches the ground. When you top the canes, to cause them to sprout out daughter canes, each of those will then root where the tip bends down to touch the ground. (And yes, they'll root even in thick grass, so a patch will spread, if you don't keep it under control.)

Like the strawberries, I never have to spray them. And unlike the strawberries (which are shallow-rooted), the raspberries don't need much irrigation (but the berries do better with more rain). However, the raspberries are so thorny that I can't even think about netting them. Still, although the birds get their share, it's only in really bad years where that matters much.

The instructions usually call for topping the new canes at 30" or so, but I let them grow higher - much higher - than that, because I don't want to get a backache picking them. After all, the canes grow like crazy, and the daughter canes all grow down to the ground even from six foot high. There certainly doesn't seem to be a problem with plant vigor.

On the other hand, I've been having increasing problems with the tops of my canes dying over the winter, and I suppose there might be a connection. I really don't know.

If I had more room, I'd do things a little differently. I'd put my fence posts at a slant, creating a 'v' shape down each row. Then I'd run the wires along the top of the 'v' at each side. The old canes would lie on one side or the other, letting sunlight get to the middle where the new canes were sprouting. After the old canes were finished bearing, I'd remove them, and then tie the young canes to the wires, alternately on one side or the other.

As it is, my old canes will sometimes shade out the new ones, since they're just tied to wires running straight down the row. But I don't have the room for anything else. My yard is horribly crowded with fruit plantings as it is.

This year doesn't seem to be a good year for raspberries (or really, for most of my fruit, for one reason or another). But I'm sure I could still eat my fill, every day or two, for the next couple of weeks. And that's really how the raspberries taste their best, right from the cane.

They're a bit painstaking to pick, since they're so small (and, as I say, the canes are really thorny). So it takes some dedication to pick a big bowl of them. Still, just like the strawberries, I like to freeze some to eat with my oatmeal during the winter. (And I like to give some away, too, but I don't have as many to give as I do strawberries.)

There's another advantage to these two fruits, and that's that they ripen early in the season. By the end of summer/early fall, I'm usually so swamped with fruit that I don't even want to pick it. And by then, I'm pretty well living on bacon and tomato sandwiches, anyway. But early in the summer, fruit is really welcome.

And both my strawberries and my raspberries are really, really good-tasting. I've never found anything comparable in the grocery store.

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