Simple care produces raspberries year after year

The raspberries outdid themselves this year. We ate them principally fresh, occasionally with ice cream, and then in pieces. Who says only strawberries go with rhubarb in a pie! We also juiced much of the excess for jelly and for just plain drinking.

The best way of all, we found out, was to eat them fresh off the bushes, a practice that often distracted me from more important gardening activities.

Raspberries are among the most expensive berries you can buy, not because they are hard to produce but because they are hard to ship and almost impossible to store for more than a few days. Those we picked today would be fresh tomorrow, make acceptable pie fruit the next day, but be suitable only for juicing thereafter.

When harvesting, we also found that fruit at the bottom of that pile was readily crushed by the weight of the berries on top -- one reason we made so much juice this year.

Just how productive a raspberry patch can be illustrted in my yard.

I have three 15-foot rows and, because they are planted closer together than convention says they should be planted, they take up less than 200 square feet. Yet my wife, who harvested them every other day during the three-week-long season, often came in with two heaping trays of the crimson fruits. We frequently saw birds visit the patch, but their inroads were not enough to affect the harvest to any noticeable degree.

The question is, what steps can be taken now to encourage similarly satisfying results next year. Pruning is the first step and it can be started right away.

Raspberries each year send up new canes, which winter over and then produce the fruit on short side stems the following season. At that stage they have served their function and begin to die off. It will benefit the new canse (next year's producers) if the old canes are removed now.

Cut them off at ground level. They're easy enough to recognize as they have the short side stems on them. It is generally recommended that the old cans be hauled off and burned (to destroy possibly harmful organisms within them) and the ashes used as a fertilizer wherever they might be needed in the garden.

Removing the old canes frees up the new ones and lets them benefit more fuly from the direct rays of the sun during the remaining weeks of the present growing season. Many of them may be spaced too closely and wil need thinning.But leave that until the spring. Some canes may be winter-killed and those will be the first ones you remove in the spring.

Next, cut out the weak, spindly canes, those less than the thickness of your little finger. Finally, thin out the remaining canes. I leave them 6 to 10 inches apart.

Mulching, I believe, is one of the keys to any good fruit-growing program. I mulched heavily last fall, principally with leaves, but I also used other garden residues as well. In the spring a sprinkling of fertilizer, moderately rich in nitrogen (say 10-10-10), is beneficial, but be careful because too heavy an application of fertilizer can encourage massive growth at the expense of the fruit.

For my part I use a product called Winterise, designed to be added to the soil when organic matter is plowed in during the fall, but I find it works well when sprinkled on mulches early in the spring.It is put out by the Ringer Corporation, Eden Prairie, Minn. 55344, and while it contains some nitrogen, it is principally loaded with bacteria that start converting the mulch into humus the very moment the weatehr warms up. The bacteria did a good job, judging by the harvest and the fact that the mulch is now only paper thin.

The soil beneath the mulch is black and crumbly in appearance, loaded with nutrients which the decaying mulch has released. No wonder the raspberries did well in that type of soil. But to stay that way, the soil must be fed again with more mulch.

I'll address myself to that need as soon as the old fruiting canes have been pruned out.

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