Growing Concerns: Growing berries not as thorny as you think
Do you love the taste of fresh, locally grown berries during the summer? Of all the fruits and vegetables I have grown over the years, fresh raspberries rank as my favorite. I enjoy growing them as much as eating them. With fruit born at a comfortable picking height, it is relaxing to meander along the row of bushes with bright colored fruit to add to the evening meal.
As a youth we had a small commercial patch of raspberries about the size a football field. Well, now I am down to about a 30-foot row of raspberries and a 20-foot row of blackberries, which is plenty for fresh eating and an ample supply for the freezer.
Like with all garden ventures, I encourage people to start small and expand as they gain experience. This is especially true with brambles, which includes raspberries and blackberries. Both of these reproduce new plants by suckers which can be dug up and replanted to expand a patch quickly.
Brambles are easy to grow, but many people find it difficult to keep them contained to one area and under control. They do require annual pruning to keep them productive and tillage to keep them contained to a row. I will touch a on few key points for aspiring bramble growers but recommend you visit the Indiana Berry Company (indianaberry.com) for a treasure trove of information on growing all kinds of berries. I have found them to be a very dependable supplier of quality stock plants and a great source of information.
There are two basic types of brambles: floricane (summer bearing) and primocane (fall- or ever-bearing). The floricane produce fruit on the previous seasons canes, with the canes dying after they produce fruit. They need to be thinned each fall when done fruiting to remove all old canes that had produced fruit. New canes should be thinned to 3-5 per foot of row.
The primocane berries will produce a summer crop on previous seasons' canes and a fall crop on current season canes. They can be thinned the same as floricane so they produce two crops or can be cut all the way to the ground each fall so they only produce a fall crop. Rows should be kept between 18 inches to 2 feet wide.
I prefer to grow the floricane and thin them so I get a small summer crop for fresh use and a more prolific fall crop for fresh use and freezing. My preferences for raspberries are the red varieties "Autumn Bliss" and "Heritage." I also like the yellow variety "Anne." Black and purple raspberries are also available.
For true blackberries, the only recommended varieties for this area are "Prime-Ark" and "Prime-Jan." I have grown these for three years and had very little fruit reach maturity before frost. The taste and quality has also not been to my liking. I will be removing my blackberries and using my limited garden space for something more desirable.
If you decide to try brambles for home use, limit your orders to 10 plants of a variety and one or two varieties to start out. You will find the patch will grow with your experience to make it a rewarding and tasty gardening adventure. If you have a location with full sun and well-drained soils, you might consider giving brambles a try in your yard.