Wilderness Underfoot: The red raspberry

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114426696732720.jpg’, ”, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114426701628460.jpg’, ”, ‘The red raspberry – Rubis strigosus. Once picked, the raspberry has a short shelf life. Most of the 110 million pounds of raspberries harvested annually in the U.S. are sold as preserves, juices and prepared foods. A small portion of the harvest makes its way into wine. Raspberry and other fruity wines are produced at small wineries right here in Illinois. In fact, a gold medal winner in the INDY International Wine Competition was Honey Raspberry by Von Jakob Vineyard of Pomona, Ill.’);

This tasty fruit is enjoyed by people and wildlife alike

The pleasantly sour and delicately sweet raspberry has a long history of cultivation, stretching back at least 2,000 years to when the fruit was first harvested by the people of Asia Minor. After the Romans got hold of this plant, it was only a matter of a few centuries before it was domesticated and widely distributed throughout all of Europe. By the time of the American Revolution, domesticated varieties had reached New York—but native raspberries were already widespread throughout North America.

Raspberries—like their close cousins, the blackberries—grow on prickly shrubs called “brambles.” They can be found in wild areas and on the edges of farmland throughout our state. Look for them in meadows and on slopes with lots of sunlight. They’re ready to pick and eat from June to July. Of course, you’ll have to get to them before they’ve been eaten by wildlife. These short-lived treats are enjoyed by birds such as robins, cardinals, orioles and thrashers; and by mammals such as mice, chipmunks, squirrels, foxes and raccoons.

Raspberries are easy to grow, whether you’re planning on eating the fruit yourself or using the plants in natural landscaping to attract wildlife. These are hardy plants, tolerant to temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Choose from gold, red, purple and black domesticated varieties, bearing fruit between mid-spring and autumn.

Because their roots are shallow, raspberries don’t require deep soils—but this also means they’re somewhat sensitive to drought, so they may need watering during dry spells. The plants bear fruit in the second year. As second-year canes die off (at which time they should be cut back to the soil), first-year canes are establishing themselves.

Raspberry root stock is available from most nurseries. The University of Illinois Extension recommends these commercial raspberry cultivars for our region: Boyne, Latham, Heritage and Ruby for the red varieties; Goldie for the yellow variety; Brandywine and Royalty for the purple varieties; and Jewel for the black variety.

Use any kind of trellis or wire frame to support the trailing canes. The young plants can be fed with 5-10-5 fertilizer through spring and early summer.

Pick the fruit from second-year canes as soon as they have turned the proper color. By then, it should be easy to pop the fruit free of the branch.

From the April 5-11, 2006, issue

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