My summer-fruiting raspberries are currently reaching their peak of fruit production, so this seems like a good time to summarise how I grow and use these wonderful fruits.
I have two types of raspberries on the allotment. Summer-fruiting raspberries, which fruit over about three weeks in June/July, and autumn-fruiting raspberries, which have a longer season, but, in my opinion, less flavour.
Summer-fruiting raspberries are slightly more labour intensive than their autumn-fruiting cousins. They fruit on the previous year’s growth, so need support for most of the year. I grow a single row of raspberries, which I tie in to four horizontal wires stretched between posts at each end of the row. Summer-fruiting raspberries can reach around 5ft in height, and in a good year the fruit can weigh the canes down substantially, so it’s important they are well supported. The canes that will fruit in June/July start growing the previous summer. At some point after the end of the previous year’s fruiting but before the worst of the winter weather arrives (so, ideally, in August-early October) I cut down all of the old canes that have fruited this year. If you wait until further into autumn to cut them down, they will have died off and it will be very easy to tell which are the old canes and which are the new growth. Once the old canes are out of the way, I tie the new canes (which, by autumn, will be almost the same height as the old canes) to the wires – not too tightly, but firmly enough to ensure they will be supported throughout the winter.
By the time spring comes, the new canes can look almost dead, but as soon as the weather starts to warm up, little buds will start appearing along the upper half of the cane. It’s so exciting to see the buds, as it means the canes have survived the winter and will reward you with a crop of delicious berries in just a few short months. At this point I check the ties and give the canes a little mulch of well-rotted manure or compost. Before long, the canes will push out leaves, followed by tiny white flowers, and soon after that, you notice the first fruits setting. Once the fruits have set, it is important the canes get plenty of water. I water mine at least every two days if the weather is very warm and dry. If they don’t get enough water, the plants will cope, but the fruit will be noticeably smaller.
Once the fruit starts to ripen, it needs to be harvested frequently – at least every two to three days. If possible, pick raspberries when they’re dry – wet berries don’t store well. If the weather has been particularly wet, the quality of the fruit may suffer, but it’s still worth picking them even if most of the crop goes straight on the ground. Taking the spoiled berries off the plant gives the berries that are still ripening a chance to ripen without damage and makes picking the next batch a much pleasanter process. There’s no better way to spend a spare half-hour than picking raspberries!
Summer-fruiting raspberries are delicious eaten just as they are. Some people like to sprinkle a little sugar over them, but I don’t think they need it. Shop-bought raspberries are often picked a little under-ripe so that they travel better. When you grow your own, you can pick them at the peak of their sweetness. At this time of year, I like to start the day with a bowl of raspberries topped with some Greek yoghurt and a sprinkling of toasted oats. It’s like starting every morning with a little bowl of sunshine! Alternatively, are great in a fruit salad, or as topping for a pavlova or cheesecake. They also work well with chocolate, and can add interest to chocolate mousses and milkshakes.
Summer-fruiting raspberries freeze reasonably well. I give mine a quick sort to remove any damaged or blemished ones (how much blemish you are prepared to put up with is largely a matter of personal taste, and I’ve become a lot less fussy over the years). Then I tip them straight into a freezer bag and pop them in the freezer. Provided the fruit is dry when you pick it, the berries stay reasonably separate in the freezer and you can defrost a handful or two at a time whenever you want them.
I’ve always loved raspberries. To me, they have a more interesting and complex flavor than strawberries, and I love how easy they are to grow. I’ve had the current canes in the same place for twelve years now, and they come up happily year after year. I guess at some point it will be worth moving them to a new location, but for the moment I’m happy to just enjoy a hassle-free reliable crop of delicious fruit.