All Stories

Ever Wonder About Raspberries?

This summer, we had a bumper crop of raspberries. Some years ago, an avid gardener across the lane gave us two plants. One remains modest, but the other has thrived. I wondered why they have turned out so differently. Here's what my research turned up: 

1. Good Breeding
My plants might be of different varieties or cultivars. Red raspberries are usually of the species Rubus idaeus and British Columbia has a native subspecies, R. idaeus melanolasius. Over the years, growers have bred many different cultivars for many different reasons, some even for the Fraser Valley, which produces more raspberries than any place on Earth. Most varieties are summer-bearing, while others are fall-bearing, also known as ever-bearing. Bearing, of course, refers to when they bear berries, not to their posture or the direction in which they are headed. I can’t tell what variety my plants are or whether they are different to each other, and we've lost touch with the neighbour since she moved away, so I don't know for sure. What I do know is, they both seem to be summer-bearing. If there is a difference, perhaps their differences are related to their life cycles in some way.

2. Raising Canes
The roots of raspberries carry on from year to year (perennial) but the canes (branches) live only two summers. New canes come from buds on the roots and can become underground stems or stolons that can spread in any direction. A first year cane is called a primocane. It is green and fleshy and grows vegetatively, sometimes taller than me. I learned that you’re supposed to provide some kind of enclosure to support them. I’ll have to do that next year. Also, raspberries need good air circulation, drainage and sun to prosper and avoid disease. This could be a clue to our plant's differences, our feebler plant perhaps doesn’t get as much light as the other one and it does seem be more crowded by other plants.

3. No Need to Be Cross
Primocanes develop a brown bark and go dormant over the winter. The following year, the cane becomes known as a floricane, because it produces flowers (in late May or early June). Ours do not seem that woody though, they seem to have more of a reddish tinge on the stems. They are self-fertile so they don’t need other plants, but our next door neighbour also has raspberries near our thriving one and I wonder if that could make a difference. Raspberry flowers rely mostly on bees for pollination.

4. Berry Good
Raspberries have flowers with multiple ovaries. Each bead-like pocket is a droplet formed around a seed. Each raspberry is an aggregate fruit with about a hundred seeds. The seeds of ours do not seem to be as hard as some commercial ones I have eaten. Throughout July, we harvested every day, sometimes more than we could eat in a day and you must pick raspberries only when they are ripe, since raspberries do not continue ripening once picked. Another thing I've noticed is, our berries do not seem to go mouldy as quickly as ones I have bought from a store.

5. Bear with Me
Summer-bearing varieties (not surprisingly) produce fruit in early to mid-summer. The ever-bearing kind produces fruit at their tips in the fall of the first year. In the second year, they can produce a summer crop on the lower part of the same canes. In colder places, however, the fall crop can be lost to freezing.

6. Taking a Cut
The summer-bearing floricanes will die off after they bear fruit, so they can be cut to the ground after harvest. Since I was previously ignorant of this, I had cut them back willy nilly, just because they were getting unruly. As a result, the floricans that survived the following spring were shorter than they needed to be. Maybe the ever-bearing type would be better for someone a novice like me, because all the canes can be pruned, later in the fall. In general, you’re not supposed to let raspberries get too thick or you’ll have trouble harvesting some of them, as we have noticed. As well, the decreased air circulation could invite disease.

7. Garden of Eating
Now that I've learned a little bit more about raspberries, I might be able to improve my crop next summer. I’d offer you some, but it would be so much more educational to grow your own. Besides, I will need the crop for conducting my experiments in jam. Sweet.

Do you have any thoughts on why one of my raspberry plants would do better than the other one? I'd love to get your raspberry-growing tips and jam recipes in the comments.