Wild Berry Picking In Your Own Backyard

Late summer and early autumn is berry-picking time across the Yukon. Low- and high-bush cranberries, soapberries, Saskatoon berries, blueberries, strawberries, cloudberries and raspberries are each a picker’s delight. In addition to foraging, you can easily cultivate berries in your garden, giving you easy and (hopefully) bear-free access to berries. Raspberries are especially easy to grow.

Raspberries are invasive. They will, given free reign, take over your garden. The good news about invasive plants is that they are incredibly easy to grow. Raspberries have evolved to spread quickly through two means of reproduction: by seed and by suckers.

Raspberry seeds, like most wild berries, are spread through scat. To grow raspberries from seed, set aside some of your foraged berries, then smush them through a fine sieve to separate seeds from the fruit. Wash the seeds and keep them dry, and indoors all winter. Growing raspberry plants from seed is best done in the spring.

Transplanting suckers is an autumn task: after the plants are done fruiting, and about to enter the dormant winter phase. Suckers are the shoots the plant sends out along its’ root system, and it’s simpler and faster to grow a fruit-producing plant by transplanting suckers into your garden in the autumn.

To transplant wild raspberries, take suckers sparingly from large healthy plants, and preferably after the raspberry is done fruiting. Carefully loosen the soil around accessible suckers, using a gardening fork or your gloved hands. Watch out for the fine thorns that line the cane (raspberry stalks), and leaves. Excavate the soil at the root level, until you have exposed about seven inches of the sucker’s roots on either side of the cane. This excavation won’t take long, as raspberries have shallow roots with horizontal spread. Cut through the sucker cane’s root with sharp gardening snips, or the head of a spade. Tuck the suckers’ root into plastic bags with the cane exposed to the air. Don’t worry if most of the soil falls from the roots in the process, but do take the cane suckers to their new home for planting as soon as possible. If you have an existing raspberry patch, use this same method for transplanting unwanted canes to other areas of the garden, or for giving them away to your friends. Cover over the soil excavated in the process of digging out the suckers, tamp it down with your foot, re-covering the mother cane’s roots.

Back home in the garden, plant the raspberry cane suckers at least 15 feet away from other plants. If you are highly concerned about the invasive nature of wild raspberry, plant canes in raised containers with at least three feet of loose, loamy, and slightly acidic soil. The soil depth is necessary for the over-wintering of the plant, as they need the depth for moisture retention through winter.

Consider lining raspberry containers with an insulating material such as three-inch thick Styrofoam, then staple food grade plastic lining over the Styrofoam before filling the container with soil. When planting cane suckers in either the ground or containers, mound the earth up around the base of the cane for support. Gently stake the transplants, plant them against a fence, or give them a trellis to lean against, as until they establish their new roots, they’ll be a bit wobbly.

Water the transplanted raspberry often and lightly for one full month after planting. This watering schedule will set the little guys up for the long winter ahead. However, do not water them deeply with each watering, as raspberries do not like to have wet feet.

The transplanted canes’ leaves will likely be droopy for a few days. These saggy leaves are normal, as transplants go into shock for a time before setting down roots. The canes will perk up eventually. Raspberries are hardy, and they love areas where the soil has been disturbed (roadsides, ditches, former mine sites, fence lines) because they like light, dry, loamy soil.

If you have an existing raspberry patch in your garden, prune the canes vigourously after they have completing fruiting. Using sharp, clean gardening snips, cut the canes down to about nine inches. Make the cut on an angle so the rain can slide off the cut, Otherwise, moisture can get trapped in the cane, encouraging rot and disease.

Prune newly planted canes in the autumn too, but wait until they are over the shock of transplanting to do so.

For the best berry yields, prune new and old raspberries again in the early spring.

Aimée Dawn Robinson began learning about gardening/farming from her family. She has worked as a professional gardener in Ontario, studied traditional farming in Japan and also studied herbalism, polyculture and permaculture in northern Ontario.

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