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Bramble Fruits

Save money by growing your own Raspberries & Blackberries

By Martha Swiss ©2013
Penn State Master Gardener


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) varieties.

red raspberries

A few of the tried-and-true Raspberry varieties that grow well in our region include:

Red Raspberries

  • Latham
  • Taylor
  • Heritage (primocane)

Black Raspberries

  • Jewel
  • Bristol
  • Allen

Yellow Raspberries

  • Fallgold

Blackberries

  • Chester (thornless)
  • Triple Crown (thornless)
  • Darrow

 


Buying Plants

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 Raspberries

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.

raspberry canes
Raspberry canes


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 water.

The reward—fruit!

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.


Extra raspberries?

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.


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