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Grow your own small fruit – raspberries

Raspberry bushes are hardy plants with perennial root systems and biennial stems, or canes. The fruit is absolutely delicious, and the quantities of fruit plants are able to produce is phenomenal in relation to the space they require. There are varieties with a multitude of spines, or thorns, and varieties with few to none. If you need a reason to grow raspberries other than relatively easy maintenance and huge flavour, you might be tempted by the health benefits they contain. You won’t be disappointed!

Choose your plants

The choice of raspberry cultivars is done primarily according to the hardiness zone of the location where they will be planted. Raspberry bushes have a two-year growing cycle.

Fruits vary in colour: varieties of red raspberry plants produce pale red to dark red berries, and black raspberry plants produce purple to black berries. More recent varieties are able to produce yellow fruit. Generally speaking, raspberries are sweet-tasting with a touch of acidity. There are two types of raspberry plants: summer-bearing and fall-bearing (also called ever-bearing):

Summer-bearing raspberries

Summer-bearing plants produce new growth, or canes, every year; these go dormant in the winter, produce raspberries the following summer, then die back. Fruit is harvested in July-August. Fruit buds will appear in the autumn and will remain dormant through the winter, then in the spring when root systems come alive, flowering takes off.
A few summer-bearing varieties: Festival, Nova, Killarney and Boyne, and Tulameen (for container-growing)

Fall-bearing raspberries

Fall-bearing, or ever-bearing plants produce new canes called 'primocanes'in the summer and fruit on them later in the fall of the same year, generally from mid-August to late-September. These canes also produce fruit the following year, for a first lighter crop earlier in the summer.
A few fall-bearing varieties: Prelude, Pathfinder, Autumn Bliss.

How to grow raspberry plants

Raspberry bushes are traditionally grown in fields, but there's nothing stopping you from planting your bushes (as many as you want) in flowerbeds, fruit gardens or vertical gardens trained to a trellis. Aside from pruning, which takes some practice and varies according to the variety, summer or fall-bearing, raspberry bushes are easy to grow.

Exposure: full sun to partial shade.
Soil: fresh, rich in humus, loose and well-drained.

Steps for planting in the garden

Spring is the best time to plant bare-root raspberry bushes, once the risk of frost has passed.

  1. Choose a sunny location (the more sun, the more fruit!)
  2. Verify that your soil is fertile, rich and well-drained.
  3. Loosen the soil and dig approximately 50 cm to be able to set the plant so that the crown is level with the soil.
  4. Add an organic soil amendment with mycorrhizae.
  5. Spread out the roots.
  6. Cover with earth and pat down.
  7. Water thoroughly, since raspberry roots are very sensitive to dryness.
  8. Space plants 30 to 40 cm.
  9. Cut back red raspberry plants to 15 to 20 cm from the ground after planting.
  10. Add straw or mulch.

Steps for planting in containers:

Container growing is suitable for non-hardy summer cultivars, such as the Tulameen and Heritage varieties. Growing in containers reduces the risk of root disease as well as frost-related problems.

  1. Choose a sunny location where plants will receive 6 to 8 hours of sun per day.
  2. Plant when there is no longer any risk of frost.
  3. Choose a dark and well-draining container at least 30 cm deep. Geotextile pots, such as Smart Pots, are excellent options.
  4. Prepare a half and half mix of soil and compost.
  5. Delicately spread out the roots.
  6. Cover with earth, pat down, and water thoroughly.
  7. In the fall, either leave your plants in their geotextile bags or transplant them into the garden.

Maintaining raspberry plants

Once your raspberry plants are well-established, annual pruning will help to maintain your plants and ensure good production. Remember: these are bramble bushes, so protect yourself from nasty pricks!

Watering: Ensure regular watering throughout the first year.

Mulching: Spread a natural mulch, such as ramial wood or buckwheat hulls, to discourage weeds. Use a contact herbicide during the summer.

Protection: Put netting over your plants to keep the birds from feasting on your crop!

Fertilizing: Once per year, spread compost or natural fertilizer at the base of your plants. Add mycorrhizae.

Pruning: Cut back the first time when young stems are 15 to 20 cm high. Re-do before you start to harvest.

Pruning: summer-bearing varieties

  • After harvest - in August if the plant is sick, or in November if plants are healthy. Prune back old dry wood at ground level.
  • In the spring - remove broken canes after all risk of frost. Mow excess suckers.

Pruning: fall-bearing varieties

  • After harvest - cut back to the ground in late fall or early spring. However, to get both the fall and smaller summer crop, do not cut back the primocanes.

Trellising: Use twine or cloth strips to maintain stems vertically straight so that fruit-laden canes do not collapse.

Diseases: Anthracnose, Spur Blight, Yellow Rust and Verticillium Wilt.

Insect Pests: spider mites, raspberry cane girdler, spotted-wing drosophila, and aphids.

Raspberry harvest and health benefits

Pick raspberries when they are fully ripe and come off their stems easily. Note that once they have been picked, raspberries will not continue to ripen. Eat as quickly as possible!

Red, black and purple raspberries have a very high antioxidant content. Rich in Vitamin C, dietary fiber and in quercetin, berries are also a good source of carotenoids, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus and potassium - all key to maintaining healthy skin.

There are several ways to enjoy strawberries:

  • Fresh
  • Prepared (coulis, sorbets and smoothies)
  • Cooked (jams, jellies, pies)
  • Processed (juice, liqueurs, wine)

Preserving raspberries

Nothing beats the taste of fresh raspberries! And for even more flavour, take them out of the fridge an hour before eating. To extend both the season and the pleasure, you can freeze raspberries - choose firm berries - and enjoy these delicious small fruits in the middle of winter.

Refrigerated: Not more than 2 or 3 days. Put a paper towel on the bottom of a sealable container, then a layer of berries.
Frozen: Spread berries out on a cookie tray and put in the freezer. Put frozen berries in sealed bags or containers.
Dried: Rinse blueberries in a strainer. Spread out evenly on the dehydrator sheet. Set to 48ºC and dry for a minimum of 6 hours.