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Raspberries
(Rubus sp.)


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About Raspberries

There are four sorts of “raspberries”, distinguished by their colors. (The quotation marks are because not all “raspberries” are of the same species.)

Regardless of color, raspberry cultivars are classified as either summer-bearing or fall-bearing (often misleadingly called “everbearing”). Red and yellow raspberries can be either summer-bearing or fall-bearing, whereas black and purple cultivars are all strictly summer-bearing—producing single crops of fruit that ripen in early to middle summer.

Summer-bearing types have biennial canes—in their first year of growth, when they appear, the canes are called “primocanes”, and in their second year, when they actually produce fruit, are called “floricanes” (which die after fruiting). Fall-bearing cultivars actually produce two crops each year: their primocanes develop flowers in middle summer, then bear fruit at their tops in late summer or early fall of the same year (after which the tops of the canes die and are pruned off). But if the rest of the primocane (the portion that did not die back) is left in place, fruit will develop on it in the following summer, at about the same time summer-bearing cultivars are fruiting. (In short: fruit first year, at the top of the cane; fruit in the second year in the middle part of the cane, the former fruit-bearing part having died off and been excised).

Because the yield at each fruiting of a fall-bearing type is less than the one-time yield of a summer-bearing type, it is not uncommon for gardeners to cut back fall-bearing types about an inch above the ground in early spring, before new growth starts; that causes the canes to bear only a single crop, in the fall, but a sizeable one. One can then plant both summer-bearing and fall-only-bearing types (fall types treated as described) to get a good harvest twice a year.

Climate is important for raspberries. Reds (and, presumably, their kin yellows and purples) prefer cooler summers, but can take winter lows down to -20°; blacks can better stand summer heat, but start to get hurt when lows go below about -5° (though some say 10°). We average about two days a year of -5° or below, and so are more or less safe, but it only takes one wicked cold snap to do the damage, and that can happen any old year. So, the low end of the scale suggests avoiding black raspberries; but how do the other sorts do in heat?

We can get pretty warm in our summers—even our average highest high is 90°, and we can get bursts of days a lot hotter. Optimal growing temperatures are around 65° or 70° to 75° F., and if the plant experiences material heat stress, photosynthesis—the process by which plants produce their energy and food—tends to shut down, which of course can result in reduced plant and fruit size, plus possibly a reduction in the amount of food that the plant stores to get through the winter. In particular, most types of primocane-fruiting (fall-bearing) raspberries do not perform well under high temperatures.

Whether our temperatures are high enough often enough to be a problem is not clear from the literature we have seen; our best guess is that since it is not much discussed in regional articles on the fruit, that absence signals that it is probably not a major problem (which it certainly is in more southerly climes), though one Washington State University bulletin notes that blackberries and other close cousins of raspberries are not recommended for our region owing to the summer heat, though raspberries proper are OK.)


Raspberry Cultivars

Despite the myriad of types and varieties within those types, it seems, to us at least, that there is an obvious choice: the purple type Royalty. What are its virtues? Let us count the ways:

You can read about home gardeners’ experiences with it at various gardening forums on line (here is one such thread).


Raspberry Culture

The growing of raspberries is suficiently complicated that we, as nonexperts, recommend that you look to other resources: some good ones appear in the list of links below. But do keep two things in mind: one, raspberry canes tend to have thorns or, worse, spines: wear thick gloves and long sleeves when picking or working on the plants! And two, they make good containewr plants if you have a little space in your home with south window exposure.

(For container growing, different issues guide cultivar selection. For that use, there are a few good choices, but we’d recommend the type Joan J: thornless, a big deal for container plants; very productive; and good flavor.)

More

Relevant Links

Besides any links presented above on this page, the following ought to be especially helpful:

(And don’t forget that we have listings of nurseries on our suppliers page.)


Odds and Ends

Biology

Raspberries are, like such tree fruit as apples, another member of the bountiful Rosaceae family.

The classic red raspberry (Rubus idaeus) is, properly speaking, not a berry at all; it is an aggregate fruit of numerous drupelets around a central core. In raspberry and other species of the subgenus Idaeobatus, the drupelets separate from the core when picked, leaving a hollow fruit (whereas with, for example, blackberries, the drupelets stay attached to the core).

Raspberries have also been crossed with other members of the Rubus genus, resulting in a number of hybrids, such as boysenberry and loganberry. Also, a “gold” raspberry (really pale yellow) has been developed by horticulturists. The black raspberry, also called a blackcap, is not the same species as the red raspberry, being a variety (usually) of R. occidentalis, a North American species. Other Rubus species also called “raspberries” include:

Fresh raspberries have a very limited period of usefulness, but the fruit freezes very well.

History

Raspberries apparently originated in eastern Asia, where they have been a foodstuff since prehistoric times (though there are also varieties native to the Western Hemisphere, probably carried across the Bering Straight during ancient times). It is said that the raspberry was one of the Eastern foods first noticed by Europeans during the Crusades, when Crusaders even wrote poems about this delightful and—to them—novel fruit. Regular European cultivation begain in the 17th century, and by the 19th century there were almost four dozen named cultivars. In North America, raspberries were an expensive luxury food till about the middle of the 19th century, when they became more commonly grown (and thus less expensive).

Envoi

For a while in the middle twentieth century, raspberries from Scotland—a major grower—were daily transported to London’s famed Covent Garden vegetable mart by a steam train known as the Raspberry Special.


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