Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oh, Rathp-berries

Our patch of raspberries isn't large, only three rows measuring about 14 feet long each, but they are well-established, vigorous and healthy and provide us with more than enough berries for eating fresh, sharing with friends and family, and preserving for the winter months. And, omigosh, they are in dire need of pruning. Happens every spring, just like clockwork. You can prune raspberries in the fall after they are done bearing for the season, but for me it's easier to do in the spring.

This is a shot of two of our rows of raspberries as they looked yesterday morning.

For many years, I was chief-in-charge of pruning and it usually took me two days to complete the job. Then a couple of years ago, I wasn't feeling too perky around the time for pruning, so I asked my husband for help. Wow. Did it go faster with two people! We were able to do it in one day easily with time left over.

This is how the same two rows looked yesterday afternoon.

When I did it myself, I would crawl along on my hands and knees cutting out the old canes close to ground level, from my kneeling position try to pull the 5-6 foot tall severed cane out and away from the neighboring canes (who didn't want to let it go) and then lay the cane in a stack on the ground between rows where there wasn't a lot of room to begin with. (You think this sentence was awkward, you should have tried to do what it described!) Periodically, I'd have to get up, gather the stack of cut canes and carry them on down the row and place them in the garden cart to be hauled away to a burn pile.

Roy using the pruners to cut off old canes at ground level.

Now when the two of us attack the task, one person does the bending over snipping off dead canes while the other, in an upright position, easily grabs a couple/few lopped off canes, takes a few steps to the end of the row where the garden cart is stationed, deposits the canes there and is back in a matter of seconds to take more dead canes from the person cutting. Much, much, much easier . . . she says with a huge sigh.

Piling the old, dead canes in the garden cart.

We still want to build the ultimate, visually attractive trellises to hold up our skyward-growing raspberry plants, but until we get to that item on our To Do List, the simple system we've devised works well.

At both ends of each row, we've pounded two tall metal stakes into the ground. From stake to stake on either side of the row, I string baling twine (good, strong stuff) along the raspberries at three different heights. One about 18" off the ground, another perhaps 18" above that and then, one more near the top of the metal stakes. If I manage to get these lengths of baling twine nice and tight, they do a good job of holding the raspberry canes upright so they don't droop onto the ground, and it makes picking the berries much easier.

This shows two rows with two stakes at each end.

I do have to take the baling twine supports down when it's time to prune, but once the patch has been cleaned up and all the remaining canes cut back to about 4 or 5 feet high, I restring the twine and the canes are ready for the growing season.

Restringing baling twine for support on each side of row.

Next my little tiller gets brought to the raspberries and I till around the perimeter of the patch and inbetween each row to discourage any volunteer, wayward shoots that tend to pop up outside the delineated rows, being careful not to get too close to the canes within the rows because they are very shallow rooted and great damage could be done by 'root-pruning' the main crop.

Then I mulch, mulch, mulch quite heavily with rotted straw or new bales of straw that have been left out in the rain long enough for any weed seeds to sprout and die. This usually smothers the bulk of the weeds in the patch for the whole summer. If conditions exist that allow some weeds to push through the mulch, I pull them out and sometimes supplement the straw mulch with grass clippings throughout the summer.

Pruned, tied, tilled, mulched and ready for summer.

Compare the time I put into our raspberry patch to the time needed for a weed-free strawberry patch and it's no wonder I love raspberries so much. They're simply much less labor intensive than strawberries. But seeing as how the man I live with is somewhat of a strawberry freak, it seems only fair to do what needs to be done to maintain our strawberry patch as well. (I'm nice that way . . . big grin.) So strawberry patch, watch out! You're next.


  1. What a great visual lesson! Thank you! My godfather gave me a bundle of raspberry canes (var. "Caroline") last year, and this year they'll be big enough to tie up and trellis. Now that the snow is gone I need to think about mulch, too.

    Oh, and then there's the bag full of strawberry sets I got at the tree sale... need to come up with SOME way to plant them and foil the voles so we get more strawberries than they do, for once! (I'm tempted to try those hanging planter bags, but we don't have much to hang them from.)

  2. Hi, MaineCelt - Bummer about your pesky voles! Don't think we've ever been bothered by them. Every now and then we'll see a robin in the strawberry patch and the chipmunks love to eat HALF a strawberry and then leave the rest but that's all the critter problems we have. Seems it would be a shame to have to go to the hanging planter bags because how would you winter them over?

  3. You're right about the overwintering problem. I'm leaning towards using the same tactic I use to protect potato plants from the voles: build a 12" raised bed frame, then use heavy duty staples to attach metal hardware cloth (1/2" or 1/4" grid to the base before laying it down and filling it with soil. After everything's planted, I cover the entire thing with row-cover fabric and lay rebar or heavy boards along all the sides to hold the fabric in place and further limit vole entry points. It's a lot of fuss, but it's the only reliable method I've found to ensure a decent harvest of potatoes. Now, I'll see if it works with strawberries!

  4. (BTW, the frame is 12" deep. The sides are four feet long.)

  5. MaineCelt - Holy moly, what a whiner I am to complain about a few half-eaten strawberries. All the work you have to go through for your berries AND potatoes! I guess it just shows to go ya that ALL gardeners wage their own personal little battles depending on where they live.

    I'm sending anti-vole vibrations to you and your garden!