(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 27, 2008. Your comments are welcome but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
I remember being sent out to the old clearing first thing in the morning to pick a cup of raspberries for breakfast. The long grass would be covered in dew, the sun just starting to burn away the morning fog. It was mid-July, but the mosquitoes went unnoticed by me. So did the thorns. I still tackle Raspberry picking while bare foot, wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, but this is not recommended.
One for the bowl, one for me, one for the bowl, one for me. My mom would put them in pancakes or muffins to start our day off right. Raspberries are best picked later in the day unless you plan to use them or freeze them immediately. They are a more delicate fruit than a blackberry and hard to keep from becomming mushy, especially if damp or wet.
The sandy soil felt wonderful on my bare feet. Only once did I step on a snake, well, myaybe twice. Any snakes I encountered were an added bonus. All raspberries prefer sandy, well draining soil and full sun to partial shade. The raspberries I picked then, and the ones I pick now, were juiciest where they were shaded by the forest canopy. Those of you in the hotter southern states should bear this in mind and provide your raspberries with afternoon shade from the sun. If your soil is too heavy and wet they will develop root rot. Take heart in the knowledge that raspberries do very well in raised beds. Plenty of composted organic matter is a helpful addition.
There were years when the raspberry crop failed. I'd go trotting merrily to the clearing and find nothing but shriveled berries. Crop failure is mainly due to dry weather conditions. Water is a must for the developing raspberry fruit. This and some cool evenings. Raspberries are hardy to Zone 3 and do well up to Zone 9. Warmer than Zone 9 and they don't stand much chance of surviving. It is possible, but difficult.
Before I was allowed to forage for berries on my own, I was taught the difference between a raspberry and a blackberry. The blackberries would just be starting to set fruit in July and would be red enough to mistake for a raspberry. The two kinds grew close together in the area where we had our cabin. Raspberries have little hairs on the fruit. Blackberries are smooth and shiny. A ripe raspberry, when picked, separates from its core leaving a hollow berry. Balckberries pick with the core attached.
Wild and cultivated raspberries spread rapidly by basal shoots, or suckers, and can quickly take over an entire garden if left unchecked. I bought one plant and after only 3 years I had an 8 by 8 foot patch!!! Commercial producers plant them in rows. I let them go where they want, up to a point. New shoots can pop up several feet from the main clumps. Any wayward shoots I find can easily be dug up.
New cultivars make it possible to enjoy raspberries almost all season long. The ones in my garden bear fruit right up until frost. They can be harvested daily and when conditions are right I can pick 2 or 3 cups a day on my small raspberry patch. This gives us enough to munch on and plenty for the freezer.
Black raspberries, or blackcaps, as we call the wild version, are just as tasty as the red ones. They bear a slightly larger fruit. I learned to distinguish them from a Blackberry by the milky colouring between the seed sections. This is shown in the photo to the right.
It is not recommended to plant raspberries in an area where tomatoes, potatoes, etc, once grew. These vegetables are known to cause wilt on raspberries. Technically, you should wait 3 years. I didn't. Raspberries happened in my vegetable garden and I left them there. I get wilt on the tips. I cut off the infected areas and destroy the cuttings. It does not effect production for the amount I have.
Pruning raspberries is easy enough. Mine are everbearing, which means they produce berries on the previous seasons canes in the spring, and a fall crop from the canes that grow during the summer. Rather than try to figure out which canes are 1 year old and which canes are on their second year, I just sit back and wait until a cane dies, then cut it off as close to the ground as I can. That is the beauty of raspberries: the canes conveniently die when they are finished producing.
Raspberries can be used in a multitude of ways, including jams, jellies, pies, and dessert toppings. Sprinkle a few on yoghurt for a nutritious boost. Blend them into a shake or a delicious smoothie.
Everybody should have their own secret patch of wild raspberries. Even if you grow the cultivated ones, the taste of wild berries can't be beat. Although smaller, the flavour is every bit as strong.
Many thanks to ocimum_nate, Kooger and NatureWalker for the raspberry photos..
For more information on berry cultivars click here.