If I believed there was such a thing as an aphrodisiac, I’d put my money on Carol’s wild black raspberry pie. Something about the look and taste of those shiny little beady-eyed berries really turns me on and once baked into a pie, their seediness is not so noticeable. Being encased in a lard crust doesn’t hurt the taste either. Nor does drowning it in cream.
A couple of readers recently mentioned that wild black raspberries were especially plentiful in their areas this year. That’s true here in north central Ohio too. That adds a bit of mystery to them. How can a wild berry in different states and different environments have an exceptionally good yield the same year? If ours in the garden had yielded heavily and the ones in the woods had not, I could brag about how smart I was to go to the trouble of transplanting some and babying them. But such is obviously not the case. My real purpose in transplanting to the garden was a bow to old age. Thrashing through the thorny underbrush in the woods on a hot and steamy day, with mosquitoes and deer flies singing lustily in my ears, is something I don’t want to endure anymore.
But I was also motivated by expert books that advise against transplanting wild raspberries into the garden. Being contrary I decided to see for myself. I often read advice in garden books that discourages homegrown plants in favor of purchased varieties. I suspect that the main motivation for that kind of advice is to help out the commercial seed and plant growers. The argument in this case is that wild raspberries carry diseases that will soon show up in your transplants to the garden. For the record: my transplanted wild black raspberries have had no disease problems for six years. On the contrary, tame, named black raspberries I tried to grow years ago quickly contracted orange rust, a fungal disease.
I was always drawn to the black raspberry’s shiny sparkle and started picking them when I was a kid. They were abundant in a section of the woods that Dad had cut over for firewood some years before. Why they grew so luxuriantly there is hard to say. Virgin soil and a sudden release of energy because of the influx of sunlight? Picking wild raspberries is slow and tedious, but Mom would praise me to high heaven when I brought her a couple of quarts. I loved the praise as much as the berries.
The real drawback to growing any raspberry is the kingdom of the birds. In a year like this when the berries are abundant, we get enough to gorge on because apparently the birds get all they want from the woods. In lean years, we drive iron fence posts in the ground, set plastic jugs on top of them and drape the whole with netting. That is not foolproof but we get about as many as the birds do.
Black raspberries fruit on canes that came up the previous year as I’m sure all of you know. The old, second year canes should be pruned out after fruiting and you know that too. First year canes will bend over and root of their own accord in late summer unless you cut them off when they get to be about four feet tall. The books have elaborate systems for pruning and bunching the vines for better yields and easier picking. I tried all the methods over the years but now do as little as I possibly can. I cut off some canes, others I let root for a new row, don’t do any tying or training of vines around wires or trellises. The main thing, it seems to me, is too keep the weeds out, which is not easy work in those thorny vines. With so much other work to do in the garden, I think the important thing is to keep the patch small. That is probably old age talking, but eight well-tended and protected bushes with about four canes per plant, will yield about as many berries as you want, especially if you also grow a few red or yellow raspberries. Remember, blackberries and elderberries are coming on just about the time you get tired of digging those raspberry seeds out of your teeth. A little bit of everything from the garden is better than a whole lot of a few things.