Friday, March 5, 2010

Question: Berries

I loved learning from you all about our broody chicken (who went "un-broody" before we could get a separate pen built - but we are ready now if it happens again!) and thought I'd ask another question!

With our growing children and their love of fruit, we decided to try to grow more of our own fruit. Tree fruits scare me but berries seem within our capabilities. Last year we planted a few blueberries. Now we are thinking of adding raspberries and blackberries.

I would love to hear of your experiences with any kind of berry. Do you have any recommendations on good varieties for the northeast? Is there anything we should be aware of as we prepare the soil? What kind of support system have you used for raspberries (black, red or yellow)?

We also want to plant more strawberries. Right now we only have one variety. We would like to expand our patch to have several varieties which ripen at various times. Any hints on good ones?

What supplier have you used? We will probably order from Berlin Seed unless you have a better idea!

Thanks so much for your help!


  1. A great resource for all kinds of fruit trees and plants is Miller Nurseries, . They are located in Western NY and have been in business for a long time. I look forward to reading about what you decide to get! :)

  2. We have strawberries and raspberries. I would love to try blueberries! I will be interested in hearing how yours go.

    We have more than enough strawberries for our small family and to spare for friends and neighbors. It will take you a few years to see a good yield. Our raspberries are overtaking us! We never have trouble unloading any of those, either. They are both fairly easy to care for or they wouldn't have survived long here!

  3. First - I love your blog, even though you don't know me and I'm on the opposite side of the country. I got started on Peter Reinhart's books because of your blog.

    Second - I grew up on a berry farm here in the Northwest, so while the varieties around here may not be available or grow in the East, some of the techniques we used might be useful.

    Our primary crop was red Willamette raspberries. We planted them in straight rows, aiming for 10-12 strong canes in each "plant". The idea was for each group of 10-12 to be within about a 1' area, with each group 2 - 3' apart.

    Every 12 plants, we had a post about 6" thick (we used posts cut from small tree trunks) about 10 feet long (4-6' underground, 6' above, if I remember correctly). At the ends of the rows, the final posts were anchored to cement "dead men" about the size of a 5-gallon bucket, buried 2' out from the post and 6' down (hence the nickname).

    We had wires strung on the outside of the posts, both sides, at about 2' high, 4', and across the top. The top wire was stapled on, but the lower wires were supported by long nails so that we could take them down when we needed to prune, and only fastened at the ends of the rows. Each wire had a loop at either end, and hung on a nail at the end of the row, so as to be removable. We used pretty thick wire - about the width of wire clothes hangers - because a lot of weight was put on it as the season progressed. It was pretty windy in our area, so a thinner wire would have broken.

    In the dead of winter, we'd remove all extra canes, leaving the 10-12 strongest, and trim off any branches that those might have on them. We' tie them together in a bunch, twice in the middle (high and low), then at the top (tied directly to the top wire.) This meant that all branches in the spring would grow OUT from the bundle, which makes picking a lot easier. We trimmed them off at the top about a foot past the top wire.

    In the spring, we'd whack off all the starts - raspberries send up little starts to propogate themselves - until about May. At that point, we'd allow them to grow. Every month or two, we'd take down the wires, drag them under the developing thicket, and scoop everything back into the inside of the row to keep it contained. As they got taller, we'd tilt the new growth to the inside (between the old bundles) so that we could access the fruiting canes.

    Once the canes bearing fruit were done for the season, we'd prune them off at the ground, prune off any new growth that was spaced too far from a 'grouping' for next year, and anything that looked weak and spindly. We took that out of the row and let it dry for a few weeks, then burned it. Raspberry thorns don't compost well, and burning the old growth also gets rid of any larvae/eggs of pests.

    We'd do the wire 'scooping' again to contain all the unbound canes, and straighten anything bent over up, to prepare it for bundling.

    Then, mid-winter, we'd start the whole process over again.

    We averaged 3-5 ton per acre per year, with 30 rows of 72 plants each.

    We also grew marionberries - I don't know the variety - with a similar technique. Marionberry vines fruit at the end of the vine, instead of all along it like raspberries, so instead of whacking off the tops we stretched the bundles along the top wire (4' tall for marionberries), tying it to the wire about every 2 - 3'. Sure beats trying to wade through a thicket to pick berries!

    Rows for everything on the farm were spaced widely enough to get the Kubota tractor in between to rototill. I'd guess rows were spaced about 6' apart.

    At any rate - hope that helps! Keep up the great blog!

  4. Carmen -
    Thanks so much for your help! I am thinking of visiting a pick-your-own farm near here this spring to observe how they grow their berries.

    Did you have any disease problems? And do you have any hints on avoiding disease? I've heard that black raspberries are the worse for disease - and they are our favorite!

  5. The two biggest pests we dealt with weren't diseases, exactly... they were cane borers and spider mites.

    The cane borer beetle lays its eggs on the cane, and the larva burrows in and eats out the middle of the cane. The leaves and cane tips start to wilt; while the cane doesn't usually die, its always puny and never fruits well after that.

    Cane borers like roses, too, so we made sure not to plant roses anywhere near the field.

    Spider mites lay their eggs close to the tip of the cane, sometimes on the underside of the leaves. We usually spotted the problem by looking for leaves that were curled under and crispy; there was usually a web full of spider babies underneath.

    In retrospect, I suspect that the problem was aggravated by my parents' use of Malathion, which is now known to make the problem worse by killing off the mites' natural enemies. One year we had to raze the field to the ground to get rid of the problem. (This won't kill raspberries; they grow right back. It just destroyed the spider habitat.) I've read that keeping plants moist, especially during dry conditions, helps fight mites. They like it dry. We were on the desert side of the mountains, so dry conditions prevail!

    We had some black raspberries; those are my favorite, too! Most of the domestic supply apparently gets purchased by the meat industry to stamp meat with... at any rate, those seemed to have the same problems with mites and borers as the raspberries did, but I don't recall any diseases.

    Blackcaps, as we called them, do not like getting watered from above. We watered them at ground level with a drip system, and they loved it. We trained them up like the red raspberries on wires, a bit taller - I think they went 7 feet. If you go much taller, then you need a ladder to pick them!

    Hope that helps,

  6. Wow, looks like you've gotten some really great advice. I know a little about raspberries from my experience growing them. We had thornless red raspberries which I think are very nice, especially when you have children and pets. I also know that chickens will kill them because they love raspberry greens. And as others have said, pruning is so important.
    I did not grow mine in rows because they sere thornless the grew in a huge bed. I had lots and lots of raspberries and they were so sweet and yummy. When we moved we brought some of the canes with us and I am hoping they will do well here too.

    Blueberries need companionship. At least some varieties do, in order to produce fruit. We also had beautiful high bush blueberries, but had to leave them behind. We have planted new ones, but they are quite small still. I hope you will grow lots of wonderful fruits on you land. It's hard not to succeed with berries.

  7. Thanks so much for all your help! I placed an order today for some raspberries- so the adventure begins!


  8. Gina -

    I posted the original "Anonymous" response last year about tending raspberries. This year - I started a blog - and I just finished a post with pictures detailing the winter maintenance for raspberries. I don't know if you're still interested... but if you are, here I am:

    I'd be thrilled if you took a look!


I love to hear from you.


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