First of all, of the fruits we've grown, raspberries are my favorite. Roy thinks strawberries come straight from heaven and can't get enough of them. Both of us could get a little crazy about Concord Grapes, but to date, have not had success growing them up here in the tundra. I've tried blackberries, too, but with limited success as I think our growing season may be a little cool and short for them. We're still struggling with getting a sustainable crop from our pear, apple, and plum trees. Our blueberry bushes took forever to start producing but have done well the last two years.
If I were going to raise a fruit for a cash crop, it would be raspberries or strawberries. Blueberries, once established, are not too labor intensive but we have a lot of wild blueberries in our area, so I'm not sure there would be a wide market for the domestically grown ones. (The wild ones have a much superior flavor, to boot.)
I'm sure we could sell as many strawberries locally as we could raise. But strawberries are a lot of work. Let me repeat: Strawberries are a lot of work. Plants only bear well for 2 or three years (and that's sometimes stretching it) and then must be replaced either by new plants or you can use runners off the present plants. It's been my experience that plants started from runners are never as vigorous or prolific as new plants.
Weeds seem to love strawberries and even though I mulch with sawdust around the individual plants and with straw inbetween the rows, I'm constantly on my hands and knees fighting to keep the weeds from choking out the plants.
In our area, strawberry plants need to be covered with a thick, protective layer of straw or hay to prevent winter-kill. If you have a patch of any size, this requires a bit of mulch material. Then in the spring when they are uncovered, the old, dead, and sometimes moldy/slimy (yuck) leaves from the previous year need to be cleaned off . . . and the whole weed patrol process starts again.
Strawberries are short, squat plants so you will be either bending over at the waist or crawling along on your hands and knees when picking. Do that for a while and you'll know you've used some muscles you don't use every day. Having said all that, I don't think we'll ever be without a good sized strawberry patch in our garden. (Some people just like hassles.)
Raspberries, on the other hand, are so easy. Once planted, a raspberry bed will go on forever unless, of course, it's attacked by some kind of disastrous disease. When the snow goes in the spring and it's easy to work outside, the old canes that bore the previous year need to be cut out. That leaves the canes that grew the year before which will bear the current year. Some people don't stake their raspberries or provide any kind of trellis for them. But we seem to have healthy canes that grow 7-8' tall and they do require support so they don't blow over. I've got all kinds of plans in my files for spiffy raspberry trellises that will get constructed someday, but currently other jobs rank higher on the Must Do list. What we have found adequate is to pound in a metal stake at the end of each raspberry row. Then I tie baling twine (you need a strong twine) from one metal stake down the row to the other end metal stake. I start with two rows of twine; one about two feet off the ground and another about four feet off the ground. As the season progresses and the canes grow, I frequently add another row as high as the stakes will allow.
After pruning the raspberries first thing in the spring, I weed the whole bed, around each cane and the pathways inbetween. (I can and do use my small tiller inbetween the rows.) Then compost is applied around the canes and I mulch (usually with straw) on top of that and heavily inbetween rows. We save grass clippings all summer to replenish the mulch that seems to decompose into the soil while enriching it . . . which is a good thing. Yes, a few weeds will grow up in among the canes during the summer, but unlike the weeds in the strawberries which can quickly smother out a plant, the raspberries are not bothered. And picking raspberries is a snap, I think. I loop the bale of a bucket around a belt I wear specifically for picking. That frees both hands for picking and I'm in an upright position 95% of the time.
Because raspberries are an extremely poor shipping fruit, their price is always high. Despite this, they seem to be in demand and would be the cash fruit crop I would opt to grow.
But back to my pie for tonight which is now out of the oven. The summer of 2007 was a bumper year for our raspberries. I made some into jams, but most of them I spread out on cookie sheets and put in the freezer until they were individually frozen. Then into freezer bags they went and I had them to use all year. Lots went into our Fruit Smoothies over winter, but because we had so many in the freezer, I was consciously trying to think of ways to use them. And that leads back to the Winter Raspberry Crumble Pie I made up. I've never tried it using fresh raspberries so I can't guarantee it would come out the same as with the frozen berries. But I thought I would throw the recipe out here; you can do with it what you will.
WINTER RASPBERRY CRUMBLE PIE
1 unbaked pie shell
5 cups frozen raspberries
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
3/4 (scant) cups sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
* * * * * * *
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 cup butter
In bowl, sprinkle flour, sugar and lemon juice over frozen raspberries and mix. Place in unbaked pie shell.
In small bowl, mix 1/2 cup flour and the brown and white sugars. Cut in the 1/4 cup butter with a pastry blender until mixture is in uniform pieces. Sprinkle over raspberry mixture in pie shell.
Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 45 minutes.
And here's the pie . . . you can have a piece if you finish all your green beans first.
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