1 Sep 2015

Re-evaluating raspberries



Oooh, I do love raspberries, don't you?  But, if you're going to go to the bother of growing your own, you'd hope that the end result will be better than (or at least as good as) anything you could buy in the shops, yes? Despite recent heavy rain which has perked up my raspberries no end, I can't help thinking (again) that Autumn Bliss aren't quite hitting the spot for me.

I've written before about my disappointment with the quality of the Autumn Bliss raspberries that I'm growing here; I could also add confusion to disappointment as I read online that Autumn Bliss, bred in the UK, have large, firm fruits with an excellent flavour. That doesn't sound anything like mine. In past summers, the fruits on my Autumn Bliss canes have been small, squishy and slightly tart; sighting of a large plump and firm fruit would cause great excitement, so rare was it.  So I can only assume that it's something to do with my soil. Dig down about 12-15 inches and I'll find clay - but raspberries are shallow rooted. I confess to having never tested the pH factor of my soil and raspberries apparently like a slightly acidic soil.  I wonder if mulching with coffee grounds would help. (The lack of regular watering is probably another huge factor.)

Last year I was tempted to rip them out and start again. They take up a fair bit of veg patch space (not as much as summer fruiting canes though) and I want those big fat raspberries that you see in the shops.  (Don't we all?)  I started looking.

I made a start at replacing the canes by buying a few Polka canes early 2014 but couldn't quite bring myself to dig up the old canes until the new ones were established.  So I now have a patch of Polkas and a line of Autumn Bliss. Time for a comparison.

Polka on the left, Autumn Bliss on the right.

I've been picking a bowlful of raspberries from each patch every couple of days throughout August. I've probably got about 8 Autumn Bliss and 3 Polka canes but the Polka raspberries fill the bowl more quickly, being consistently much larger and firmer than the Bliss berries. Their taste is better too, being slightly sweeter.

The Bliss canes, however, usually start fruiting earlier in mid-July.  They're cut down in late November, leaving just one or two canes per plant at 40cm.  I've pruned like this every year and have found that this is a method that works for getting a small but earlier harvest. The Bliss canes were still fruiting in early December last year while the Polkas had all finished by then.

There are other considerations.  I find that Polka hold their shape better and for longer on the cane than Autumn Bliss and the latter fruits occasionally have a slightly musty flavour.  And why am I finding slug trails on fruit at the top of the Bliss canes? Now that's determination for you.

I think my decision is made.  Roll on with the replacement programme.  I'm also thinking of trying Joan J and perhaps some gold raspberries.


What about you?  How do you grow yours?
Have you got any favourites or have found a variety to be particularly successful? I'd love to know!  
And do you mulch and net your raspberries? 


More Polka berries on the way …. 


28 Aug 2015

Sow-now Know-how to improve your soil

~ Bees adore Phacelia! 


While you're thinking about your spring and winter garden (you were thinking about what to grow over winter, weren't you?), spare a thought for your poor, depleted soil. It's served you well all summer in providing food and flowers, now it's time to return the favour.

I'm currently re-reading Charles Dowding's book on growing winter vegetables so I suspect that I won't have much bare soil as autumn blends into winter. However, there are several (currently unused) areas in the larger community garden that defeat my planting because the soil is overused or poor and dry.

One such space is the north bed containing a few rose bushes.  These bushes have been there for at least a couple of decades. Whatever was planted on the other side of the border has long since gone and even weeds struggle to survive here.  (Surely a bonus!) If I want to make the best use of this space, I have to think about soil improvement.

I was reminded of this when I saw Phacelia tanacetifolia growing at the Skip Garden recently. It's a pretty plant with dainty purple flowers and ferny leaves. It has an extensive root system that puts nutrients back into the soil and helps to break it up thus benefitting the garden. Bees absolutely love the nectar laden flowers and it's gaining popularity as cut flower with a vase life of 5 days. Well known as a green manure, the leaves will bush up to crowd out weeds and provide ground cover shelter for beetles and other beneficials. (Possibly also slugs and snails, something to watch out for.)

Phacelia can be sown up to the end of August. The seeds should germinate within three weeks, then let the plants grow for two to three months. The decision then will be whether to dig the plants into the soil  in late November or let them overwinter for earlier flowers the following spring.  (If your soil is heavy, it will be hard work trying to chop and turn the plants into the soil in spring so best done in early winter.)

I'm going to assume that, like me, you'd want a green manure that wasn't going to make your garden or allotment look like a farmer's field or that the grass needed cutting. So, the other green manure that I would use is clover, either Crimson or Red, both of which can be sown up to the end of September. These are brilliant at drawing nitrogen from the air and dumping it in the soil via their roots. They also have a bulky growth that smothers weeds and pretty flowers in the spring.

As with all flowering green manures, if you don't want them taking over, it's best to dig the plants in before any flowers set seed. It may seem like hard work but just think of the benefits next year!

Seeds of both should be readily available from garden centres or online.

PS. If you're heading to the coast this weekend, seaweed also makes a great fertiliser. I collect washed up* seaweed from the beach after the tide has gone out, pop it into a bucket; back home, wash to remove the salt water, then chop it up and use to mulch around fruit trees and heavy feeders like brassicas.  If you don't want it on your beds, add some to your compost where it will add tons of micro-nutrients to the heap.
* NEVER take seaweed out of the water or from rocks. Once it's been washed up, mid-beach tideline, it's ethically okay to use this.
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