If you’re a berry lover like I am, I’m sure you’ve had many times of frustration in the grocery store when you’ve seen the prices of raspberries. When I started my garden, I decided that I was going to grow my own raspberries so that I’d have an annual supply of my favorite berry without all the cost. You’d be surprised just how easy it is to grow raspberries in your back yard.
The raspberry is actually a member of the rose family and is dual branched. The native European cultivar is named Rubus idaeus, while the native North American cultivar is named Rubus strigosus. Many common cultivars known today are hybrids of the European and North American varieties. Although the raspberry comes in purple, black, yellow, and white varities, I’ll be discussing the most common red variety.
Discovered by the ancient Greeks, the raspberry name, idaeus, refers to its presence on Mt. Ida, near Troy in Turkey. Historians believe the Romans cultivated the raspberry in Europe because seeds of various varieties have been found in Roman fortifications in England. The raspberry was first written about in the fourth century BCE and was used as a medicine, as well as a fruit, in the Middle Ages. European colonists brought the European variety of raspberry to America where they found the North American variety growing wild here.
The raspberry is not actually a berry, but a fruit made of numerous drupelets around a central core. This fruit contains one of the highest amounts of dietary fiber per total weight of any known whole food (32% of the daily recommended value per one cup)! The raspberry is also low on the glycemic index (as are all berries). And you can’t beat the nutrition. Based on recommended daily values, one cup of raspberries contains 54% vitamin C, 12% vitamin K, and 6% folate, among other vitamins. One cup also contains 41% manganese, 7% magnesium, and 6% copper, among other minerals. The raspberry packs a powerful nutritional punch with its sweet-tart goodness.
Raspberries come in two main types: summer-bearing (bearing one crop of fruit around July) and everbearing (bearing two crops of fruit, one around June and another around September). Planting and caring for the plants are the same, regardless of the variety. The only difference is in the timing of pruning.
Raspberries are a perennial plant with biennial woody stems that will grow in Zones 4-8, producing fruit for ten years or more. They grow best in well-drained, slightly acidic (pH 6.0-6.5), loamy soil in full sun. Moisture is essential to their health, and they need one to two inches of water per week.
Raspberry canes are best planted in the fall but can be planted anytime before the spring. When you get your canes from the nursery, cover the roots with no more than three inches or so of soil. Then cut back the canes to about six inches. (I didn’t know to do this when I planted mine last year, as you can see in the picture above; but the canes still did well.) Do not plant your canes near other brambles (such as blackberries), else you will chance spreading viral diseases. Also, to avoid verticillium wilt, do not plant canes in soil where eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, or strawberries have grown in the past five years. (Now that I know this, I’m going to pull up my strawberries, which are growing in front of the raspberry canes, and move them elsewhere – just in case.)
Because raspberries do not do well in alkaline soil, do not apply mushroom compost unless your soil is quite acidic, as mushroom compost can raise the pH of the soil. Mulch the raspberry bed with manure compost in February each year. Then, in the spring, add a 10-10-10 fertilizer (one pound per ten feet of row).
Raspberry canes can grow rather long and, though not necessary, can be staked or trellised. A good system is stringing heavy gauge wire between posts – one at 30 inches above the ground and another at 4-5 feet above the ground. Train the lateral side branches along the wires. (I put heavy line between posts at about three feet. It worked well for a while last year, but it’s not sufficient this year. I’m going to have to get some wire.)
During the growing season, you’ll notice suckers (new growth) growing up in various places around your canes. I’ve even had some come up outside the raised bed where my canes are planted. To keep your berry bed neat, just pull those suckers up.
To keep your raspberries healthy, they need to be pruned every year after the first year. See tomorrow’s article on pruning for more information.
Raspberries are ready to harvest when they turn a deep red. They’ll turn more burgandy when over ripe. A good way to tell if they’re ready is if they come off the plant easily. If you have to tug to get the fruit off, the raspberry is not yet ripe enough.
Once the raspberries start ripening, you’ll be harvesting every day! Don’t leave them on the plant too long; the berries can become overripe in just a day or two.
FROM GARDEN TO KITCHEN:
Raspberries do not have a long “shelf life,” but they do freeze well. I freeze my raspberries in plastic Chinese food containers, saving them for making raspberry preserves. Another good way to use raspberries (besides eating them fresh) is to freeze them, defrost them, then crush them and spoon over pound cake. Yummy!
You can try these raspberry recipes, too:
Raspberry Sherbet (no need for an ice cream maker with this recipe)
Swirled Raspberry-Chocolate Cheesecake (I don’t even like cheesecake, but I may try this recipe anyway!)
Are you growing raspberries in your garden?