One of my fondest childhood memories was the thrill of finding fat,
ripe blackberries growing wild on a hot summer day. Warmed by the
sun, they were sweet, juicy, and delicious. As an adult, I’ve had
sticker shock at the price of the tiny clear boxes of berries in the
grocery store. Despite such a price, their flavor typically pales to
that of the wild berries of my youth.
Bramble fruits, or raspberries and blackberries, are among the
easiest of edible crops to grow in the home garden. Forget their
premium price in the grocery store. Grow your own berries and
enjoy their superior taste at a fraction of the cost.
What kinds of Raspberries to grow?
One of the most important considerations in growing brambles is
choosing what variety to grow. Choices include red, black,
yellow, and purple raspberries. You can select thornless
brambles. Berries can be June-bearing or ever-bearing (primocane)
few of the tried-and-true Raspberry varieties that grow well in our region
Triple Crown (thornless)
A good local nursery should offer raspberry and
blackberry plants in the spring. You can also order them from
online/mail-order suppliers such as Miller Nurseries (www.millernurseries.com)
or Stark Bro’s (www.starkbros.com).
Cultivation of Raspberries
Brambles require full sun; at least eight hours per day is
needed to produce a good crop. They will thrive in average
garden soil, but good drainage is essential.
Traditionally they are grown in rows that are a
foot or two wide and are trained on a trellis system, which
keeps the canes upright and permits easy access to ripe fruit.
If you choose not to train your plants on a trellis, allow space
for the canes to arch to about five or six feet. Another option
is to grow them along a split rail fence.
Plants need regular watering the first year to
become established, at least an inch of water per week. After
the first year, supplemental watering is rarely needed.
Pruning is the only real chore in growing
brambles once they are planted and established. Correct pruning
is important because bramble canes die after they bear fruit
(the primocane varieties are the exception, they fruit a second
summer on the buds below those that fruited the summer before).
Left unpruned, the thicket will become choked with dead canes,
making it hard to find and pick fruits, and fruiting will wane.
Prune red raspberries and blackberries in early
spring while canes are still dormant. Brambles are suckering
plants, so first remove any canes that are growing outside the
one- or two-foot growing row. Next, cut the oldest canes to the
ground—these are the ones that are a grayish-white color,
sometimes with peeling bark. These canes have already fruited
and are dead. Thin the remaining thicket so there are six inches
or so between canes. Lastly, top the canes that are left to a
height of four to five feet.
Black and purple raspberries require a slightly
different pruning regime. In early spring, remove all damaged,
dead, and weak canes, and thin the remaining canes to about five
per plant. Top these canes to three feet. Canes should be topped
again to three feet in early summer to establish lateral
fruiting branches and strengthen the cane, which curbs flopping.
Pests & Diseases
Brambles are host to a number of pests and
diseases, but they are also tough plants and do not succumb
easily. The most common pests are Japanese beetles, which
unfortunately arrive just as the fruits ripen. Control beetles
by hand-picking and dropping into a shallow container of soapy
Your efforts in establishing and pruning brambles are paid back
every year with delicious berries that you can pick at the peak
of ripeness. June-bearing varieties produce all their fruits
over the span of several weeks. Ever-bearing varieties produce a
large crop in summer and a smaller crop in the fall.
Once you start picking berries you’ll understand
why they are so expensive—they are fragile and must be handled
carefully to keep them from being crushed. A wide flat box or
basket is ideal for holding berries as you pick them. Do not
wash berries you don’t intend to eat right away. Store them in
the refrigerator, covered loosely with a paper towel or plastic
wrap. Use within a day or two as they do not keep well.
If you find yourself with a bumper crop of fruits and are afraid
some will go bad before you can eat them, freezing is the best
option to handle the excess berries. Wash berries then gently
roll them onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with several layers
of paper towels. Let them dry a bit, and then pull the paper
towel out from under the berries. Place the baking sheet in the
freezer. Once berries are frozen solid, remove from the sheet
and store in zippered plastic freezer bags. Fruits will not
retain their shape after being frozen but are still delicious.
Jams and jellies are classic uses for bramble
fruits, but try making cordial wine or a refreshing fruit
vinegar for a change of pace:
Bramble fruit cordial wine
3 cups sugar
1 cup water
12 ounces fresh berries
3 cups vodka
Stir water and sugar together in a saucepan. Let
mixture come to a boil, then remove from heat and cool. Crush
berries and add to cooled syrup. Stir in vodka. Pour mixture
into a glass gallon jug, cover, and leave for four weeks. During
that time, shake every three days. After four weeks, strain the
cordial through cheesecloth to catch the seeds and skins, then
store in a glass decanter.
Bramble fruit vinegar
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups fresh berries
Combine fruit and vinegar in a saucepan and bring
to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for three minutes. Cool
mixture and pour into a lidded jar. Let steep for one week.
Strain through cheesecloth and store in a glass container.
Bramble fruits are a perfect example of the
superior taste of home grown food. Whether enjoying the simple,
delicious berries of your youth or sipping an adult cocktail
made with the harvest, brambles fruits are well worth growing.
Rose Geranium Jelly
Pickling the Harvest