Raspberries - get 'em while you can

We have about an acre of raspberries canes on our new patch of land and taming these long neglected plants is our latest family activity. Admittedly, we’re coming “late to the party”, as this is raspberry season and we should have done the work we’re doing now weeks ago. But, it all needs doing and now is when we can get to it, and if we get to enjoy some raspberries in the process this year, we see it as gravy.

Research has revealed to us the we have Pathfinder raspberries, a modern berry developed in the 1970s whose parentage consists of “two third-generation seedlings developed from wild northern Wyoming plants that were crossed with the variety ‘Augustred'” (quote from the American Pomological Society). As the land we now own once was home to a berry farm, it’s safe to assume that Pathfinder was selected for its long growing season and general hardiness in northern climes. I’d love to source heirloom raspberries and add these to our land, but all in good time.

For now, we’re faced with the task of recovering the existing raspberry canes from the wildnerness that has enveloped them, starting new plants where needed (plants typically only fruit well for 5 to 7 years) and getting to grips with caring for them. From what we’ve read, it seems that standard raspberries fruit on last year’s canes whereas Pathfinder fruits early on last year’s canes and then fruits more substantially later in the season on the current year’s growth.

This past weekend we spent a good chunk of our day amongst the raspberries, first scything paths around the plants (guess who got to do that?), then culling old canes and weeds from amongst the newer canes, and finally taking a gander at how much pruning we’ll have to do of the new growth. (And as raspberries send out suckers indiscriminately, they end up all over the place, well outside the boundary of any existing hedgerows.) We only tackled a row less than 20 feet in length, so the amount remaining to be done is still quite epic.

It was hot yet compulsive work. None of us wanted to stop for lunch and ended up eating at about four in the afternoon. My older son got right into the pruning exercise and his younger brother quite enjoyed carting off huge piles to a compost heap (I still don’t know how he managed to keep from completely scratching up his face – raspberry canes are nasty!). Shortly before we finally tore ourselves away for lunch, my oldest said “Well, this is quite a fun way to spend a day!”. Not a trace of sarcasm. Really. (I was shocked, frankly, as I felt that we had to get on his case at several points about overly zealous pruning and that we were gradually sucking the “fun” out of the whole exercise, but obviously I got that wrong.)

I’ll post an update later in the season, when hopefully we will have learned yet more about our raspberry crop and – very hopefully – will have made good progress with it. I’ve got my freezer recipe for raspberry jam ready and waiting, but we’ll see how this first year goes first, won’t we…

Oh, and if anyone reading this has suggestions to make of heirloom raspberries that would do well in Eastern Ontario, please let me know!

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