Tumbledown Farm’s Raspberry Page

Raspberries: Introduction

We agree with Gene Logsdon’s 1974 coment that the raspberry is

“the proverbial ‘pearl without price.’  It is easier, in most sections of this country, to buy a Rolls-Royce than a fresh raspberry. Raspberries just ain’t for sale regularly except in places like Washington and Oregon, ...or in classy gourmet shops where you may pay as much as $1.25 a half pint for them.” (Successful Berry Growing)

Fall Raspberries

It is still true that locally grown raspberries are as rare as hens’ teeth. “Fresh” raspberries can now be had in the large food chains much of the time, but when Tumbledown was eating his plump picked-just-for-breakfast raspberries on cereal in June to mid-July 2006, Indianapolis area markets were selling their shrunken shriveled counterparts for $2.99 a half pint.

Logsdon is probably right that the reason for the lack of fresh berries in the market is “Grandfather’s old harangue” that “nobody wants to work any more.”

But Tumbledown’s experience is that the raspberry is hardly any trouble at all, especially considering the reward. No berry offers the absolute explosion of sweet tartness that a raspberry does. The raspberry crams a concentration of summer goodness into a tiny package to produce an intensity of flavor that is unmatched among berries.

The Two Families of Raspberries

Red and Yellow Raspberries (spring or fall bearing on year old canes)

Purple and Black Raspberries

Tumbledown Farmer's Raspberries photoset Tumbledown Farmer's Raspberries photoset

[Photo: red raspberries]

The green canes are canes that will bear in the fall (and next spring). The brown canes were green last year and have just finished bearing their second crop this spring. The brown canes are dying or already dead and must be removed. Red and yellow raspberries reproduce by sending new (green) canes up from their roots.

Tumbledown grows only the “fall bearing” red varieties today, so his growing advice is focused on those. (NOTE: “fall bearing” is a misnomer: they bear twice, once in the fall and once again in the spring.)

Raspberry Varieties:

Tumbledown’s varieties, both highly recommended, are Latham (sometimes listed as “summer bearing”) and Heritage (sometimes listed as “everbearing”). (The Latham were purchased on a whim for $1 “clearance” in early summer from a chain home improvement store, already mostly dead, and planted at the wrong time of year to survive. They survived marvelously; in fact their survival rate has been better than the mail order raspberries bought from reputable catalog sources and planted immediately upon arrival in the spring. Go figure.)

Raspberry Planting:

At approximately the same time as strawberries [as soon as the ground can be worked] in the spring. (Can also be planted in a wet fall, if the winter that follows is not too severe.)

Nurseries often instruct growers to dig a hole for planting, but fail to mention that the ground in which raspberries are planted should be well prepared ahead of time. Tumbledown knows from experience how many plants die (1/2 at least) when raspberries are plopped into a soggy hole fresh dug upon the arrival of the new plants. This happens no matter how good the dirt with which you fill the hole (even &rldquo;premium,” “store bought” garden soil or potting mix).

Prepare the ground ahead of time, a year ahead would be best for ground that has never been worked. Avoid planting where tomatoes or potatoes have been grown (or at least delay until you have completed a 3-5 year crop rotation on such ground). Plant the ground with a cover crop (buckwheat, rye, wheat, clover from a catalog like Johnny’s Seeds or from your local feed and seed) to be tilled or plowed under.

When the raspberries arrive, usually as a dead stem with roots attached, dig a hole big enough to hold the roots without bending or circling the roots. Create a ball or hill of dirt in the center of the hole and, centering the stem over and just touching the ball, arrange the roots around the outside surface of the ball or hill. Make sure the roots are touching dirt all around, then rake in the remaining dirt to fill the hole. Firm the soil. Plants should be 1-2 inches deep. Water thoroughly after planting. (But remember, soil should be well drained; no standing water.)

Raspberry Cultivation:

The nurseries recommend “regular, shallow” cultivation. Tumbledown doesn’t know how this is accomplished in trellised rows crammed with berries, so he has never done it. He would welcome an explanation from an accomplished reader. Tumbledown’s berries seem not to suffer greatly from the lack of scratched dirt.

Note from 2008: I still stand by the above statement, though I did experiment this year with limited cultivation and had enough success that I'll try it again next year. I thinned the canes so that they formed two relatively sparse rows in early spring and used the hoe to work the ground, slicing just under the roots of the grass and weeds. The row seemed to stay cleaner longer and the berries came on strong in the fall. Like I say, I'll do it again, so there must have been some benefit, if only aesthetic. If you've found a better way to do it, leave a comment below!

Instead Tumbledown mulches heavily every year with straw (and compost with rabbit poop), and pulls up the weeds and grass within the rows for additional mulch. The grass is still heavy every year by mid-season, no matter how heavy the mulch.


Raspberry Trellis:

Tumbledown has a trellis but cannot tell that it helps greatly with the raspberries, which seem to stay upright very well until heavily loaded with fruit, and at that point they droop with or without the trellis. (Blackberries are another animal altogether; the trellis is a great aid in holding them upright.) Perhaps the greatest contribution of the trellis to the raspberry patch is its support of the bird netting (14X30 ft @ $12.40 from Johnny’s Seeds in 2005). The birds like raspberries every bit as much as Tumbledown and will eat the individual rows of “bumps” on a berry as that row ripens, leaving the bare stem showing with half a green berry still clinging to the bush. Nothing drives Tumbledown crazy faster than that, so out comes the bird netting over the trellis. So far that spells the end of the thievery.


Tumbledown’s trellis is modeled on one featured in Garden Gate (February 2002, “Step-By-Step: Raspberry Trellis, p. 30).

Raspberry Trellis

[Illustration: raspberry trellis post, 8ft, 4x4 cedar post, 2ft in ground in concrete.   Raspberry leaves just beginning to emerge, April '07.]

Raspberry Trellis showing approximate wire spacing

The first two off-set wires are about 8-10 inches from the ground, with each set to follow in approximately 2-ft intervals. (Notice how they are run through the post and secured to the other side with screw clamps that are fastened to the 4x4 posts.)


Water Requirements for Raspberries

Best results come from a consistent 1 inch of water weekly during the whole growing season, but water is especially important as the fruit is ripening.

Pruning Raspberries:

After the old canes have finished (the second / spring) fruiting, cut them back nearly level with the ground.


If canes are not bearing many (or big/plump) berries, then consider also thinning the number of canes or mowing the canes down after the fall picking (eliminating the spring picking, but allowing the next canes to grow without competition).


Nutrients and pH:

So far (second year), Tumbledown has only added a hay/straw mulch mixed with rabbit droppings each fall.

Update 2008: I have supplemented the rabbit poop with a "straw-y manure" (cow manure) for the past two years. The canes seem stronger than ever. I haven't been required to add any chemical fertilizer yet to continue seeing very good results. The planting seems to grow stronger every year.

Logsdon (Successful Berry Growing, p. 61) recommends pH of 6-6.5 (adds lime when necessary), manure every 3 years, and rock phosphate every 4 years. He also says to expect a decline in production after 7 years and to plan for a new planting every 7 years or so. For a full analysis of Tumbledown's soil and plans for fertilizing, see our Soil Testing, Soil Fertility, and Organic Fertilizer Page.

Raspberry Canes in the Winter Snow

[Photo:  Raspberry Canes in Snow.]

Raspberry Production:

2006 (from 4 plants purchased in 2004):

            Spring Crop was 7 ½ pints between 06/23 and 07/14, not counting the berries eaten by birds and the ones eaten on cereal.
            Fall Crop was 12 pints between 09/06 and 09/27, not counting the berries eaten by birds and the ones eaten on cereal.

2007 (same plants, same treatment):

           Spring Crop was very bad.  First, there was a killer freeze of about a week with temperatures in the low 20s after the leaves on the canes had fully developed.  Needless to say, the canes that were not permanently damages were set back considerably.  Secondly, there was a severe drought (in mid June it had already been 4-6 weeks without significant rainfall), so berries that formed were very small and didn't develop. Fall crop was a little better only because I resorted to watering.

2008 (same plants, same treatment):

            A bumper crop both spring and fall! Weather was perfect throughout most of the spring and summer. Rainfall did not come soon enough in the fall to ripen all the berries evenly, but still, who can complain about a pint of berries every other day, punctuated by days when we pick 2 quarts or more? Yum!

Picking Instructions from Pickyourown.org

Raspberry Bibliography:

Successful Berry Growing by Gene Logsdon. "The Priceless Raspberry," pp. 50-78.

Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. "Raspberry," p. 508; "Brambles," pp. 78-85.

The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening. "Raspberries," pp. 408-410.