raspberriesAnother guest article by one of the participants in the ‘Grow Your Own Food’ course I ran recently in Foulsham, Norfolk.

Raspberries – A superfood that tastes better than spinach-what’s not to like?!

by Chris Richmond

Health

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in Raspberries may have anti-cancer benefits and assist in the management of obesity, though possibly not if eaten with oodles of cream.

However, raspberries are among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating raspberries.

So…everything in moderation, even raspberries- unfortunately.

Varieties

There are two types of raspberry available to the kitchen gardener. Summer-fruiting varieties will crop at any time from the beginning of July to early August on stems of last season’s growth; autumn-fruiters bear their berries over a longer period – from mid-August to the first frosts – on the current season’s growth. Both are similarly easy to care for but require slightly different pruning techniques. As long as you know how to wield your secateurs around them there is little mystery to growing these accommodating fruits and their length of service – up to 12 years – means they give a lot back in return.

‘Glen Ample’ AGM – Delicious, large fruit produced in mid-summer on this extremely heavy-yielding summer cultivar with vigorous, upright, spine-free canes. The berries are produced on long, upright stems, making picking easy.

‘Glen Moy’ AGM – This early summer raspberry bears heavy crops of medium to large berries, which have a good flavour. It may also produce a small crop on the new canes, in autumn. The spine-free canes are compact.

‘Leo’ AGM – This cultivar is one of the latest summer raspberries to ripen, producing large, firm fruits with an excellent flavour. The stems are very long, so harvesting is easy. Site in a sheltered position.

‘Malling Admiral’ – A summer raspberry bearing good yields in mid- to late summer on strong-growing, tall canes, which are best sited in a sheltered spot. The flavour is excellent, and the large berries ripen to deep red.

‘Autumn Bliss’ AGM – The short, sturdy canes of this popular autumn cultivar produce high yields from late summer to mid-autumn. The fruit is large and deep red with a firm texture and excellent flavour.

‘Polka’ – This new autumn cultivar ripens two weeks earlier than ‘Autumn Bliss’, bridging the gap between summer and autumn. It produces very high yields of large, well-flavoured fruit.

A Golden Raspberry Variety
A Golden Raspberry Variety

Preparation

Like most edible crops, raspberries produce a better yield when grown in full sun. However, thanks to their woodland origins, they can be grown in a degree of shade too, as long as they receive at least a few hours of direct sunshine each day. They prefer slightly acidic soils, which is great news for gardeners who struggle to grow plants in these conditions. They like it to be moist as well, so be prepared to water the plants as they establish – but beware of waterlogged winter ground.

Be prepared to put in a bit of effort to get soil conditions just right before planting: thoroughly dig down to a spade’s depth along a row 90cm wide. Turn it over and remove any weeds, especially perennial types (such as bindweed and horsetail) and their roots.

Raspberries are shallow rooted, which means there won’t be much of an opportunity to weed as meticulously once the plants are in place, for fear of damaging their root system. They are also heavy feeders, so for every plant you intend to grow incorporate a bucketful of well-rotted manure or compost while digging, turning it all into the soil. Ideally soil preparation should be complete a month before planting; at the very least you should allow two weeks to give the earth time to settle.

They might play second fiddle to their Wimbledon-associated cousins on shop shelves but on the plot there should be no such bias – raspberry plants crop reliably year-after-year and ask for little in return. They even thrive in partially-shaded areas where few fruit or vegetables would grow. And such is their hardiness that they will produce a bumper crop of their sweet, mildly acidic fruits even in disappointing summers – a valuable trait given the last few we’ve experienced. They’re a great choice for those gardening in cooler, northern climates – as they flower late in the spring there is little danger of them being damaged by unexpected late frosts.

Planting

With a well-prepared growing area in place, planting shouldn’t present any difficulties. Buy in certified disease-free, one-year-old plants (usually called canes) from a reputable nursery or mail-order catalogue. They are usually acquired bare rooted, packaged up into bundles ready for planting. The best to time to plant them is in the autumn, from October through to early December, as the soil still retains a degree of warmth which will help the roots to grow and quickly settle the new introductions into place. If this isn’t possible they can, however, be planted any time up to March.

Position each cane into a shallow hole about 22cm wide and 7cm deep, spreading the roots evenly across the bottom. Backfill and firm in around them as you go, making sure that the soil mark on the canes is at least level with the surface and up to an inch beneath it – this will encourage extra root growth and quickly anchor the plants into place. Space them 45cm apart within the row, leaving 1.8m between further rows to allow room for the roots to spread sufficiently and enough space for picking.

The tall, gangly canes will need to be supported, so set up a suitable support system at planting time. The best system is a simple post-and-wire set-up – hammer in two sturdy, 2.4m-high posts at either end of the row, 60cm into the ground and 3m apart. Stretch three galvanised wires horizontally in-between them at heights of 75cm, 1m and 1.5m.

The top wire can be omitted if you’re growing an autumn-fruiting variety as they are much sturdier and require less support.

Grow your own tip- If you only intend to grow a few plants you can do away with a complete post and wire system and simply position up to two plants at the base of a single post for support. As the stems grow upwards, tie them loosely to the post using garden string.

Growing

Immediately after planting your canes, cut each one just above a bud so that they’re 30cm in height. By spring, new shoots will appear from the base of the old cane and these will need to be tied into the wires as they reach them. The original cane can be cut right down to about 3cm above ground level at this point, again just above a bud. Remove any weak shoots in this first summer and any appearing more than 20cm from the row. Be disciplined and remove any flowers that develop in the initial season too – the object of the first year is to establish a good base and allowing plants to channel energy into setting fruit will compromise this effort. In the following years pruning is simple, although it’s important to use the correct method depending on whether you’ve opted for summer- or autumn-fruiting varieties. The former should be cut right back to ground level as soon as they have finished cropping.

At this stage there will already be plenty of new growth at the base of the plant and these will be the fruiting stems for next year. Tie them into your support system using garden string, so that each stem is spaced around 10cm from the last. Cut down any spindly stems or those growing away from the row. Towards the end of the growing season, loop over and tie in place any really tall stems to prevent them falling over in the wind over winter. In early spring, before growth commences, cut them back to a bud about 15cm above the top wire so that they are uncluttered and in a good position when they start fruiting.

Pruning autumn-fruiters is much more straightforward – just cut back all of last year’s canes to ground level before growth starts in February. New shoots will appear from the base by spring and these should all produce fruit on the upper stem sections.

Crop care

Feeding and watering are pivotal to the success of a raspberry crop. Keep your canes moist and well-fed and, coupled with the correct pruning regime, you should be carrying away punnets full of berries. Watering is particularly important at flowering time, as the fruits swell, and during any dry spells.

Applying a thick layer of organic matter as a mulch in early spring will help to lock-in moisture (make sure the soil is moist beforehand) as well as feed the canes. Be generous – make it at least 5cm deep and more if you can spare it. Any well-rotted organic matter such as compost or manure will do but avoid mushroom compost – it is alkaline and therefore unsuited to the acid-loving plants. Mulches will also help to naturally nourish the soil and stifle weed growth. As raspberry roots are very shallow and can easily be damaged by hoeing, any weeds that make it through the mulch will need to be removed by hand.

New shoots that appear away from the main row or post are called suckers. It will be difficult to tie them in to the support system – instead, you should remove them by lifting them out of the soil, then use secateurs to sever them from the parent plant below ground level.

Raspberry curd quark dessert- one of many delicious sweets using raspberries

Raspberry curd quark dessert- one of many delicious sweets using raspberries

Stolen without permission from various websites including:

www.rhs.org.uk

www.growfruitandveg.co.uk

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