Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Easiest Fruit to Grow

 I’ve just come back from picking the last of my Fall Gold raspberries.  Are you familiar with these melt-in-your-mouth berries? They are so much sweeter than red raspberries. They are yellow, with a blush of pink when fully ripe, and taste like pure sugar.

Long before I discovered this scrumptious variety of raspberry, Hank and I put in a large bed of a red variety called Latham.  That bed was the inspiration for submitting a column to the local newspaper and started my writing career when it was accepted.   It began this way –

“Growing raspberries is about as tricky as growing a beard. I speak from second-hand experience, I hasten to add.  Beginning a beard or a raspberry bed can be tedious, but once established, both require little pruning and much pleasure.  I assume not having to scrape one’s face every morning must be as delightful as having fresh raspberries on one’s breakfast cereal.”

Raspberries are definitely one of the most rewarding fruits to grow.  Fruit trees - apples, peaches, plums, etc. - all require spraying to produce good fruit, an expensive proposition unless you do it yourself, which is a major job.  Grapes require fancy supports and several years before the vines produce their handsome clusters of grapes.   

Before we had a raspberry bed I picked wild blackberries to make my jam, a very thorny ordeal, and a very seedy jam.  Raspberries have neither problem.  Both their thorns and their seeds are inoffensive.  The plants don’t need to be sprayed and most varieties don’t require staking. 

Raspberry plants reproduce by sending out underground stolens to make new plants.  We made our second raspberry bed by using these healthy children that pop up each year, sometimes in undesirable places.  The year I bought a dozen Fall Gold plants I made the mistake of planting them in a newly prepared bed about six feet away from the beds of reds. 

The next spring many red children invaded my planting of Fall Gold and within a few years had overpowered them, taking  firm possession of their bed.  I needed to find a new home for the gold, far away from the reds.

I tied colored yarn around the stems of the Fall Gold so I’d be able to tell them from the interlopers, and in the spring transplanted them to their new home along the south side of Hank’s shop.  It wasn’t an ideal place, a quarter mile down the hill from the house, and had limited sunlight, but it was the best I could do.

Pruning your raspberries is done in the fall.  The plants are perennials, continuing to live for years and years, but their canes are biennials. In their first year all they do is grow.  In their second year they branch, put out flowers, produce fruit, and exhausted by all that heroic effort, they die.

Each fall when the new canes are still green, the old canes look and are dead. If you don’t remove them you will end up with a briar patch even Br’er Rabbit can’t get in. Of the five or six  new canes, you should choose the best two or three and remove the rest.  The weird photo below, a back to back double view,  shows the few little piles that I removed this fall, hardly an exhausting task.

Mulching to keep down the weeds is also done in the fall.  I used to mulch our beds with left over haybales, easy to spread and full of nutrients as they decompose.  They’re also full of hay seeds, however, and after twenty years the beds were a hopeless mess of grass.  Last year I redid one bed and mulched it with wood chips, free from the town dump.  It was such a major job that I eliminated the second bed, giving away many of the plants to friends.

Some raspberries produce fruit just once a summer, usually in July, but other varieties have berries from late July until frost and are called “everbearing.”  These varieties are pruned differently since the first year’s cane produces the fruit and at the end of the season can be cut as the following spring a new cane will grow up to replace it. 

My Fall Gold are supposedly the everbearing type, but they don’t behave that way. They only start offering me ripe berries in mid-September, probably because they get so little sunlight.    Unlike most red varieties their canes grow very tall and need staking, but because “Out of sight” is “Out of mind,” I never got around to pruning or staking mine until this year when I needed a good photo for this column. 

Raspberries get moldy very quickly after a rain and need to be picked as soon as possible.  My reds did fine as they are harvested in July, but there was just too much rain this fall and so most of those sweet yellow berries got too moldy to eat. 

I recommend this variety, however.  And I’ve just gone on the Internet and read about a Fall Gold BUSH that sounds much easier to maintain.  It’s everbearing, providing fruit from June until frost.    

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My Report Card has a "D"

I know there are far more weeds than wisdom in my columns, and unfortunately this summer the weeds totally dominated my life.  As a consequence, the annual Report Card on my garden’s successes and failures is mostly on that subject.  The photo above, a small bed in the vegetable garden bordered by railroad ties where I’ve always planted melons, gives you an idea of the weed problem.   

Having been sick for most of May and June, my stamina was limited so I decided I’d just weed the bed and scatter all my leftover flower seeds there, letting them do their thing without any fuss from me.  Well, that’s what I did.  The new crop of weeds that quickly appeared allowed exactly 2 brave zinnias to fight their way up into the sunlight.

Daughter Trum, who always has new and helpful garden ideas, has handled this sort of problem with rugs.  Last year she laid them down right on top of an area of lawn she wanted to use for a raspberry bed and didn’t remove them until this past June.  It worked beautifully, so I thought I’d try it.  My weeds were so easy to pull, I did that first, a total of 8 buckets’ worth and then laid down my old rugs.  I’ll let you know next June how well it worked.  

I’m not happy using poisons, but finding a large bucket labeled Round-Up in the cellar this summer I used it to kill the thistles and nettles in the sheep pasture.  Hank loved to buy things in quantity, but he’d bought that Round-up so long ago it had lost its power.  Nothing died. When I priced a 25 gal. container at Lindell’s, I found it costs $84.95. 

I do use poison on the driveway. It’s called Ground Clear, and prevents anything from growing for up to a year. The driveway was turning into a field of weeds, since I hadn’t used the 2 gal jug of Ground Clear since Hank died in 2005.  I filled the sprayer with the proper mix of water and poison and sprayed a large area of driveway.  Nothing died.  Obviously that poison was as old and tired as the Round-up, but I then tried using more without mixing it with water and had a bit more success.     

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after using those two ancient  products, but it never occurred to me that the large bag of grass seed in the shed could be equally dead. I think I told you about all the roots in the lawn that were being chewed by the mower.  I’d spread a lot of beautiful compost over the roots, sprinkled each area heavily with the seed and even bothered to water each area. 

When no tender blades of grass appeared, eventually the compost washed away.  I have now bought fresh grass seed and re-done the areas and am happy to report the roots are fully  protected.

Remember the bed of day lilies just beyond the pond that I planted back in 2003?  I tried to enlarge this photo and I'm afraid it got terribly fuzzy., but it still shows how when the lilies bloom each summer they are reflected in the pond’s mirror of still water.   Below is what the lily bed looked like last spring, such a mess of weeds I couldn’t even find the lilies. 

I just didn’t have the energy to tackle those weeds, and sadly facing the fact that I have too many flower beds,  I decided I must give that one up.   Well, day lilies are one of the easiest and hardiest plants to grow, barely giving any sort of trouble to the gardener, and all those determined day lilies buried beneath a mess of weeds popped up and bloomed anyway. 

Probably half the reason I garden is so I’ll have something to write about in Weeds and Wisdom, but this column wasn’t much fun to write.  I hope you got a laugh out of all my stupid mistakes.  I also hope your summer was more rewarding than mine.