Jan. 2012

Oh, yes, for me the Pacific Northwest and berries just go together, a perfect match. We have such amazing berries, from the common (and invasive) Himalayan blackberry to the evergreen huckleberry to the salal berry and even the not so tasty salmonberry. In their season, these native berries can add so much to many food preparations coming from your kitchen. Many of these berries can be frozen easily and used well into the winter. When spring comes, remove the frozen berries rom your freezer and create interesting jams and syrups, thus leaving space for the new berries of late spring and summer. Berries are very high in anthocyanin, and recommended for their cancer fighting properties. It is not just in the juices, but in the seeds too. Eat lots of fresh berries this year for your health and to support the local economy. I think the best berry for our region is the raspberry.
Right now it is cold and wet outside. What can I do in the garden that will allow me to reap great benefit next summer? I think I’ll tackle that raspberry patch. I probably should have done it a month ago, but I have the fall bearing type and so I delayed working on them till after I finished planting the garlic.
Firstly, I’ll go through the rows and remove the dead, diseased or mis-shapen vines. If you have the traditional raspberries, remove the old flora canes. These are the canes that bore fruit last season. The prima canes are the new canes that grew up during last summer and these may need to be thinned. Good air circulation will help prevent diseases so don’t allow too many canes. You will want to dig out some of the runners and try to keep your rows about a foot wide and two feet apart. Go ahead and pot up some of these runners and share with friends. My own patch of raspberries began at my mother’s house in Oregon many years ago. Protect your canes from the winter storms by tying them to a trellis system. Remove all the weeds, especially any persistent perennial weeds like grasses, dock and thistle. Raspberries do not compete well with weeds. You’ll need to weed again in the spring when the annual weeds show up. But mulching with a weed free compost should help.
I am enjoying the fall bearing raspberry (aka ever-bearing). For this type, the prima canes grow up tall and produce berries in the fall. After they are harvested, prune just the top one third of the canes. Then in the late spring, the lower portion will bear a smaller, but delicious early crop. In the summer, prune out the old canes and allow the taller new canes to fill in. These will bloom in late July and set fruits in September to October. Though I love having fresh raspberries twice a season, the early rains can make a mess of the larger, late berry harvest. More small growers are planting this variety of raspberry in large hoop house to prevent the fall rains from rotting the berries.
What are the pests to be aware of for raspberries? Well, as with most gardening, give the plants the best growing conditions and you may not see many pests. Raspberries need acidic soils, which we have lots of here in the rainy Northwest. Using a rotten manure mulch may give your cane fruits most of the nutrients they need. My grandmother used to sprinkle Epsom salt in the spring as a fertilizer though I don’t remember why except that she also used it in her baths too, as well as in the garden. Supposedly, it will improve the photosynthesis. Epsom salt will maintain a low pH and give the plants more magnesium and sulfur, unlike other forms of magnesium and sulfur.
Bees are important for good berry production and many gardens are suffering from lack of bees. It makes you want to go out and get some hives started. In fact, I plan to get bees this spring. And I am excited to report that the SW Tilth annual meeting on Jan. 14th will feature Tim Lawrence, our Island County extension agent, who will speak on beekeeping. I look forward to hearing his wisdom on bees.
The next to consider is adequate irrigation. Raspberries should never get dry. But also, do not plant in a low lying, soggy soil. They need well-draining soils. Using drip irrigation works best. Overhead watering can affect the berry quality and promote disease problems on leaves and canes. Raspberries thrive in full sun. I like to have them on a south facing slope in rich soil, formed into raised beds. If you see any aphids or spider mites, you may need to water more often. I think lack of consistent water is the main problem causing small, crumbly berries.
Surprisingly, birds have not been a problem pest with raspberries, like they are with blueberries. I think that the birds get enough of the native raspberries and blackberries, so they aren’t bothering my two little raspberry patches. I imagine that the larger growers need to control bird damage.
The thing about raspberries is that they are only good when they are picked fresh. Buying them from a store where they have been shipped and then sat on a shelf really degrades quality and taste. They are definitely either a home grown or a farmers’ market item. What a special summer treat. They need to be picked every two or three days for maybe 3-4 weeks, depending on your varities. They freeze easily on trays and then just slide them into a ziplock type freezer bag for winter use. Of course jams are a good way to enjoy your berries too.

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