Bush and Cane Fruit—Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries

The following information on bush and cane fruit comes from Five Acres and Independence by M. G. Kains. Five Acres and Independence is also available to purchase in print.

Bush and cane berries offer better opportunities to a larger number of people than do any other lines of fruit growing. Everybody is hungry for them. They furnish a great range of flavors and a wide variety of uses—dessert, canning, jam, jelly, juice, wine, etc.

By proper selection of varieties and the application of simple methods of culture their season may be made to extend from June until October. No other fruits except the strawberry begin to bear so young—the second season after planting. Some bear more or less even the first year and reach full bearing the third or fourth. Under good care all continue productive for 5 to 10 years or even longer. They need comparatively small space, are of simplest culture and are therefore specially adapted to limited areas. Still more important, they are the fruits that should be chosen first to supply the home table and to sell locally because they may be allowed to reach the perfection of full ripeness before being gathered. The ease of their culture often encourages those who start with them to branch out and grow grapes and tree fruits, so that in due time the family will get most, if not all its fruit, from the home place and during most if not all the year.

Finally, when once the start with berries has been made the grower need expend no money when he desires to enlarge his plantation or make a new one. By the same token, when the plants have become established he may give away or sell plants to the neighbors, at no disadvantage to himself or the plantation. No other fruits offer opportunities that compare with these.

When a choice of site for a berry patch is possible, give preference to a northern exposure and an elevation above surrounding ground. The former is less affected in summer by the direct rays of the sun and the latter is less likely to be frosty than lower ground while the plants are in blossom. But if one has little choice of site, then select the spot that will be most convenient, never fearing that feeding and care will offset possible disadvantages of site and location. Gentle slopes are generally better than level and low lands, so should be preferred.

With reasonably good care berries do well on practically all soils, especially deep, strong, moist but well drained ones. When possible avoid the lightest sands and the heaviest clays, though dewberries thrive well on the former and currants and gooseberries on the latter, especially when the surface is kept loose by frequent shallow tillage or by mulching. But don’t let a somewhat adverse soil prevent planting, for it is surprising what cultivation, fertilizing and mulching will do. When a range of soils may be had red raspberries and blackberries should be placed on the lighter soils and the black caps on the heavier. But since varieties differ somewhat in their requirements those that normally grow rank should be placed on the poorer soil and the weaker ones on the richer land to offset and correct these habits.

Ability to retain moisture during dry times is the main point to secure in a soil for berries. This may be improved in any soil by maintaining the supply of vegetable matter through manuring, mulching and cover cropping. (Chapter 29.) Never use rye or vetch in the berry patch, unless strictly confined to the center half between the rows. The former is dangerous because it starts early in spring and grows rapidly, uses great quantities of moisture and if left too long becomes woody. In this condition it is slow to decay. The objection to vetch is that it is almost sure to clamber upon the berry plants.

Where the growth of the berry plants is lusty, nitrogen is not needed so no legume should be sown nor any nitrogenous fertilizer applied. In such cases it is better to use buckwheat, barley, oats, rape or some other crop sure to be killed by winter. Where a winter legume such as crimson clover or hairy vetch is not desired but nitrogen is needed soy beans are good to sow during June. Though killed by frost they add abundance of nitrogen to the soil.

Red raspberries won’t stand soil acidity. They are benefited by dressings of wood ashes or applications of hydrated lime once in four to six or seven years. Black cap raspberries are almost the opposite; they prefer slightly acid soils. Blackberries, currants and gooseberries are much the same, though each may be helped by lime if the soil is very sour.

Though most berry planting is done in spring as soon as the ground can be worked, currants and gooseberries are best planted in the fall after their leaves have dropped because these plants start to develop new roots very early. Probably 95% of the failures in spring setting them is due to planting late. Blackberries and red raspberries may be planted in either fall or spring but black caps and dewberries should not be planted in the fall because being “crown” plants and shallow rooted they will likely be heaved out of the ground by alternate thawing and freezing during winter.

Where horse or garden tractor cultivation is to be done in only one direction the popular distance for setting plants of all but blackberries is 3′ x 6′; where cross cultivation is to be done, 4′ X 4′ or 5′ X 5′. The latter is decidedly the better distance because it reduces hand work. Blackberries being large growing are generally set 5′ X 7’· Currants, gooseberries, dewberries and black cap raspberries, which do not propagate by means of suckers, make “stools” or “bushes” and “stay put.” Allow 5′ or more between bushes.

Red raspberries and blackberries, which have the suckering habit are usually allowed to develop narrow “hedgerows” in which only the stoutest canes are kept after the spring thinning, these preferably not closer than 8″ for the raspberries and 12″ for the blackberries. When only three or four stems are allowed to remain in the black cap and dewberry stools, larger and finer fruit will usually be produced than if more are left when the spring thinning is done.

When planting black cap raspberries and dewberries always leave the bud of each plant uncovered, preferably in the bottom of a slight hollow. The other bush berries may be planted more deeply as they can stand rougher usage. In every case spread the roots out somewhat and thoroughly firm the soil about each plant, but leave the immediate surface loose. Give clean, shallow cultivation each season until the end of June, or to within a week of fruit harvest. Then sow a cover crop as already suggested.

Avoid digging or plowing close to the plants in spring because blackberries and red raspberries thus treated tend to produce forests of suckers and the roots of currants and gooseberries are sure to be more or less seriously injured by soil stirring at that season. If ever necessary to dig or plow around the former, the best season is shortly after fruiting as this results in few suckers; around the latter, mid-fall is better because the plants are then slowing down for the winter and will overcome any injuries before spring. When suckers appear between the rows or other places not wanted pull them up when about a foot high. If this is done before they become woody new ones are not likely to form at the same places. If they are allowed to become mature or woody they cannot be pulled up, so must be cut. In such cases other and often many more suckers will form at the same places and close by.

Shallow rooted, low growing vegetables, such as dwarf peas, bush beans, cabbage and spinach may be grown to advantage among the berry plants the first year and perhaps the second; but no crops such as potatoes and parsnips which demand deep stirring of the soil, nor corn, which casts too much shade, should ever be so grown.

None of the bush berries need pruning the first summer. In the spring of the second year, before growth starts, the bramble berries may have their main stems and branches shortened somewhat. Usually nothing is needed by currants and gooseberries unless their stems are spindly, when they may be shortened to thicken them up. They will need no pruning until the following spring when rampant growth may be cut back. (Fig. 52.)

Whether or not the bramble fruits are benefited by pinching is a disputed point. Some growers, depending on their preferences, pinch off the tip of each young stem as it reaches 18″ to 30″. Shoots thus checked elongate somewhat but develop stout, sturdy branched, stocky stems which need no staking or trellising to keep them off the ground. But it is claimed they do not bear quite so much fruit as the stems that develop naturally. Experiments to test this matter have given conflicting results. To do this pinching only the finger and thumb are needed—no knife or other tool.

raspberry cane pruning

Fig. 52. Diagram of raspberry cane, unpruned and pruned. (From photos.)

Cutting out the bramble fruit canes after the fruit has been gathered in July or August is better than leaving them until winter. These canes will die then anyway, they obstruct light and air, become breeders of disease and insects, and therefore are a menace to the young canes. Moreover they are easier to cut in summer because softer than in the following winter when they are dry.

With currants and gooseberries the case is different. But though the stems of these plants may live for perhaps many years they bear poorer and less fruit each year after they are four years old; so during mid-summer, after fruit harvest, most growers cut out those stems that have borne three times. At the same time they get rid of the puny young shoots that come from the bases of the bushes and leave only the two or three stoutest new shoots as renewals. The bushes thus consist of eight to ten stems each after pruning. These practices maintain the bushes in greatest vigor and highest productivity of choice fruit.

After the first year the spring pruning of all bush and cane fruits consists in removing puny shoots, getting rid of suckers and leaving only the two to five strongest canes in the black raspberry and dewberry stools, making narrow hedgerows of red raspberry and blackberry rows and then shortening the branches of all these bramble fruits.

The most important point of bramble fruit pruning is to avoid cutting branches on the canes back too far, and thus reducing the chances of fruit production. Varieties differ somewhat as to the positions of their fruit buds. Seasons also modify bearing. Therefore it is advisable to postpone the shortening until the blossom buds can be recognized as they develop. Then there can be no mistake, for one can see how much bearing wood is being left. The larger the number of blossoms that remain, the smaller the size of the fruits. For specially large fruits the number of flower buds must be reduced. This concentrates the available food in the remaining fruits. It also tends to make the new canes stronger, favors vigor and greater productiveness the following year.

Currants and gooseberries being hardy require no winter protection, though a mulch of buckwheat straw, cornstalks or other loose material is helpful when the plantation has been fall plowed. In many sections the bramble fruits are more or less tender, some varieties being subject to frost, others hardy, but both affected by the character of the previous summer and fall. Mulching is a help, but in some sections protection of another sort is given. A favorite way is to bend and fasten down the canes after the leaves have dropped in the fall and to cover them with earth. When this is done the earth must be removed in spring before growth starts, otherwise the canes will suffer.

Damage from insects and diseases may be prevented to a large extent by timely attention. The currant worm which also attacks gooseberry bushes is easily destroyed by spraying the lower parts of the bushes with arsenate of lead shortly after the first leaves form. The eggs of the first brood are laid on the under sides of the leaves near the ground. For aphis nicotine sulphate or pyrethrum extract is satisfactory, provided it is applied before the leaves become much crumpled, as they do when these insects attack them. Always it is important to spray from below upward because the eggs of the former and the insects themselves of the latter are located on the under sides of the leaves. An angle nozzle is a great help in doing this work.

Gooseberry mildew may be prevented by spraying with Bordeaux mixture. Begin when the berries are as large as little peas and repeat at intervals of two weeks. The stains may be removed by dipping the berries in vinegar then rinsing in water and drying them in the wind.

Though some diseases of bramble fruits are apparently incurable no one should fear them or the insects that attack the bramble fruits, because timely attention will prevent their spread. These diseases are seldom seriously troublesome and with the few exceptions may be kept in check by spraying with Bordeaux mixture applied the first time while the blossom buds are small and the second soon after the petals have fallen or before the berries have formed. Orange rust attacks only weak plants but may be kept from spreading by digging up and immediately burning affected plants whenever discovered. These are easily recognized because the leaves become stunted and orange colored on the under sides.

The insects that attack the bramble fruits are mostly borers whose presence may be detected by the wilting of the affected parts. These should be cut off and burned at once. Occasionally the leaves are eaten by caterpillars or slugs. Arsenate of lead will kill them or hydrated lime dusted on while the plants are dewy may be used for the latter.

How many plants of each kind to order is a matter for individual calculation because people differ so much in their likes. The easiest way to judge is to reckon from known yields. Well managed red currant bushes have yielded more than 12 pounds; black ones more than 10 and gooseberry bushes 15. In commercial plantings raspberry bushes average a little more than a pound to the plant. Double this is not uncommon. Blackberries planted 4′ x 6′ apart often average 2 pounds to the plant, sometimes three times as much. For calculation these maximums had better be cut down a half or two-thirds to get probable yields.

The first selection of varieties should be among those known to be hardy and successful in the neighborhood, always giving preference to those of highest quality. But where such information is not obtainable locally the kinds that do best in the largest region should be chosen. It is advisable to test at least three kinds until the one best suited to the local conditions has been found. A dozen plants of each variety of bramble and three or four of each kind of gooseberry and currant are enough to make satisfactory tests. For lists of varieties see Appendix.

In the North and East the loganberry, a cross between the red raspberry and the blackberry, is not a safe venture because it lacks hardiness. On the Pacific Coast it is a wonderful commercial success. With occasional exceptions it has been found too tender from New England to the Rocky Mountains, but in the middle South has given promise of at least partial success. As it is a wonderful and delicious fruit and is as easy to grow as the dewberry it deserves testing wherever this fruit can be grown.

Bush and cane fruits may be grown for five to ten years or even longer in the orchard between the trees. (Chapter 43) However the plants nearest the trees will become too shaded and the soil they occupy too robbed of water and plant food as the trees grow large, so will have to be removed, a few each year after the sixth, perhaps the fifth. Such plants need not be destroyed. If dug carefully and with plenty of roots they may be planted elsewhere to form a new berry patch.

In the orchard the plants should be set in rows to correspond with those of the trees in each direction so that during the first year and perhaps the second cultivation may be given in both directions. Thus with trees set at 25′ apart and the berry plants at 5′ there will be four rows of berries between the trees each way. When the plants in the two middle rows begin to fail they should all be removed and the whole area between the trees given clean cultivation and cover cropping for the benefit of the trees.

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Bush and Cane Fruit---Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries

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