Thursday, August 28, 2008

Raspberry Riches

The second crop of Heritage raspberries is in full swing. What a sense of being rich one has as one nibbles around a raspberry patch!

Its past time to cut out the dead raspberry bushes (no, not by the roots), but there is no great problem if you're late. Dead bushes wait patiently. I keep thinking I've done it, and then find more. This morning three bags were taken away; in Montclair you put them out on recycling day and they go to commercial composting sites. I save the bags in which I have picked up others' grass clippings, so I always have plenty of bags available. That's not a problem. But starting a fifth bag... One was taken last week. Quite a few dead bushes were tucked away in and near the Jerusalem artichokes, with whom the raspberries compete for land. Actually, the strawberries are entering the competition; I guess they are resigned to not having much light since they surely are tiny compared to their two competitors.

Unlike roses, the thorns on raspberries are usually relatively peaceful. I believe last week was the first time in my life that one drew blood. Everything is growing with more passion than usual this year. If you don't remove last year's dead plants (raspberry plants live only one year), picking the fall crop will be unnecessarily prickly, and apparently hazardous. Leaving the roots increases the probability that another plant will rise next year.

I first got the idea of raising raspberries in the spring of 1978 when I was eating lunch in a staff lunch room. My companion was eating a container of raspberries. He told me he had raised them, and said they were very easy to raise. He didn't offer me a single berry, so by the end of lunch, I felt truly raspberry-deprived. I ordered ten plants (the minimum number) from a now-defunct mail-order source, and planted them. They all died.

They were guaranteed, however, so in 1979 ten more arrived without charge. That summer we drove to western Pennsylvania to visit my Great Aunt Ruth Nail in the home where my grandmother grew up on our way to visiting Marie Smilanich in Minneapolis. My pre-teen children picked raspberries in her yard as I had when I was a child and my father had when he was a child. His Uncle John had dug their ancestors out of the Allegheny Mountains before he went to fight in World War I. That summer (1979) Aunt Ruth insisted that my daughter and I go over old photos with her as she labeled them. At the end she said we should take them with us. She died the following January.

More surprisingly, she insisted we take some of the raspberry plants. She packed them nicely for the trip, but all the friends and relatives who were our hosts were astounded when we took them out of the trunk each evening and watered them. "You think they are going to last until you get home?!!!"

They did, and I harvested from their descendents this spring, memories of that home where my family lived for 83 years. Back in 1979, I said to the struggling Heritage raspberries, "Now if they can survive a trip to Minneapolis and back, you can certainly hang on here!" One of the ten survived, and bore some fruit the following spring. It also bore six babies before it died that summer, each of whom had at least five babies, and my raspberry crop had begun. I've given away many and sold them on behalf of various charities.

One out of twenty mail-order Heritage plants survived, and they surely taste wonderful this week. You can buy "Heritage" raspberry plants at many garden centers. Aunt Ruth's raspberries don't have a fall crop, but they are juicer and have a different, luscious taste in the spring.

Another activity which should be done now or a tad earlier is sowing seeds of collards and pak choi for fall and kale and Chinese cabbage for winter. I hope that this strange season will be kind to those of us who are a bit tardy in our planting. It's always time to plant lettuce, but this is an especially auspicious one.


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