Some of life's most exquisite pleasures are the simplest: the fragrance of multiflora roses; homemade lemonade; plump raspberries, sweet-tart and juicy. Raspberries are so delicate that they're almost impossible to transport. Sold in quarter-pint containers in the supermarket, they cost the moon. Yet they're a snap to grow.
Members of the genus Rubus, raspberries are a bramble fruit; they grow on thorny canes that sprout up in thickets. Nowadays, many of the raspberries available commercially, like Latham and Canby, are nearly thornless, which makes picking a lot easier than in the prickly wild.
Raspberries can produce either one crop per summer (Latham, Titan Thornless, Mammoth Red) or two. The two-crop varieties, known as everbearing, set fruit in July, then begin a second, usually larger, crop in September. Everbearings include such varieties as Heritage, Fall Red and Fall Gold.
Although raspberry plants don't begin to produce fruit until their second year, most nurseries offer 2-year-old plants, which means that even the first year they'll give you some berries. Richard Allen, owner of Allen Plant Co. in Fruitland, favors Heritage red raspberries for the home gardener.
"Heritage is very vigorous," he says. "The crop just comes. People don't even worry about pruning. They can just forget it."
Choosing a site and planting
Once you've put raspberries in a spot they like, you've done half the work. They require very little maintenance to produce glorious clusters of berries for years.
fTC In choosing your site, remember that raspberries, like most fruits, thrive in full sun. Another consideration is the ability to pick them easily and to mow around the patch, since once they're happily established, raspberries spread.
It's best to prepare the soil before planting with a heavy application of stable manure, but a good dose mixed in the hole at planting time also works.
If you get bare root stock, soak the canes in a bucket of water for a couple of hours before planting. To ensure room for roots to spread and thrive, use the old adage: dig a $10 hole for a $5 tree, i.e., twice as deep and wide as you need. Each plant should have about 3-4 inches of soil covering the roots. After planting, when the new green shoot develops, cut the old cane down to ground level.
Brambles' roots are shallow, so mulching helps with both moisture retention and weed reduction - especially in the first few years, until they develop a thicket that is not competing with grass or other roots. Annual applications of composted manure help produce sturdy canes and great sets of fruit. Richard Allen recommends horse manure - about 2 bushels per 100 square feet each spring. It also helps keep the ground friable (loose and open) to enable water to soak in rather than run off.
"Horse manure is a good overall fertilizer," he says. "[It] is a very slow-acting release of nitrogen."
In late fall, some people prune the 2-year wood to hip height to keep canes from beating against each other in the winter wind and opening gashes that can invite disease and pests. Any dead canes should also be carefully removed. Allen recommends bending canes to the ground and lightly covering with straw over the winter, but says many of his customers don't do either.
Whether you prune, bend or leave them alone, Allen reminds gardeners that "The July crop [in an everbearing] is borne on the preceding year's wood, and the September crop is on the present year's wood." Each cane bears twice - once in fall and once the following summer.
One of the great summer indulgences is homemade raspberry ice cream. For a quart-size ice cream freezer, crush 1 1/2 cups of berries through a sieve. Add to the resulting raspberry juice and pulp about 1/3 cup sugar, a squeeze of lemon, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, 1 1/4 cups of heavy cream and 1 cup of milk. Mix thoroughly, then freeze according to freezer directions.
We share it right out of the ice cream freezer while listening to the night peepers and giving thanks for the gifts of summer.
* Allen Plant Co., P.O. Box 310, Fruitland, Md. 21826-0310; 410-742-7122; fax 410-742-7120
* Henry Field's Seed & Nursery Co., 415 North Burnett, Shenandoah, Iowa 51602; 605-665-9391; fax 605-665-2601
* Gurney Seed & Nursery Co., 110 Capital St., Yankton, S.D. 57079; 605-665-1671; fax 605-665-9718
Pub Date: 5/03/98