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 …. 


45 comments:

  1. I have both Autumn Bliss and Joan J in the garden and the Joan J win every single time (although this year the wasps have eaten more of them than we have!!!). Sadly I will be ditching the Autumn Bliss this year. Not worth the space for me!

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    1. Hi Julia, thanks for leaving a comment! I feel very much the same way, everything in the garden has to really earn its space and A. Bliss just aren't living up to the hype. I'm wondering why they seem to be the go-to raspberry for beginners! Good to hear you rate Joan J and, yes, haven't wasps suddenly become a pest!

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  2. I have Joan J as my autumn fruiting raspberry. We also have summer fruiting varieties too. We have some All Gold raspberries but to be honest I don't think I would grow them again. They spoil too quickly on the plants especially if it is wet or windy. Our soil is heavy clay and we don't mulch.

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    1. Very interesting to hear your opinion of All Gold, Sue. I briefly looked at those on the Thompson and Morgan website and recall that they were developed from Autumn Bliss. My Autumn Bliss spoil quickly on the plants so it seems that that particular gene has been passed over. Thanks for that as I did think that gold raspberries might be worth a try. Now changing my mind a bit! Also noteworthy that you don't mulch yet still get good yields - are you able to water your plants regularly or are they left to whatever water nature provides?

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    2. No, I don't water mine either, Sue. We've had a lot of rain over the past month and the it's had a really beneficial effect on all the raspberry canes - far more bigger and fatter berries than I've had previously.

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  3. I have Autumn Bliss and have had mixed results. Sometimes the berries are weak and malformed, but sometime I get some real beauties. I think it is mainly due to weather conditions. The good ones develop when the canes have had plenty of moisture. The best ones often appear late in the Autumn. Actually, I am also planning to rip out my Raspberries and start again!

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    1. I've seen a difference in the quality of fruit after all this rain, Mark. My canes don't usually get watered but this summer, with the help of neighbours, they've had slightly more hosepipe watering than I've given in the past. The A. Bliss berries have been very variable, unlike Polka which are consistently good. If you do go ahead with ripping out your raspberries, I'll be keen to know which variety you replace them with!

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  4. Hi Caro..my hands down favourites are Tulameen (red and July ripening) and Fallgold. They are both delicious!!

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    1. Hi Erin, good to hear from you! I like the sound of Tulameen but am trying to avoid planting summer fruiting floricanes as they need staking. Fallgold will be duly investigated, they sound goooooood! Thanks for the tip!

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  5. Interesting - I only have summer-fruiting canes, but I was less thorough with the watering this year and it definitely had a significant impact on the taste.
    Love your blog by the way, first-time commenting, but won't be the last. :-)

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    1. Hi Jo, aww thanks, v kind of you to say you like the blog, much appreciated! :o)
      I think a large part of the problems with my autumn canes is the lack of water especially as the wind funnels over the garden between blocks of flats. I wish I had more space to extend the season with summer fruiting canes but it would be at the expense of flowers and beans and that would never do!

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  6. We used to grow Autumn Bliss on the allotment. We did get a good crop but we must have had about 20 bushes. We bought a few bushes home when we gave up the allotment and the crop was not very good. Sarah x

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    1. Interesting point, Sarah, about the raspberries not cropping well after you moved them. I had thought to replant a couple of the autumn bliss plants after moving them. (Am thinking about replanning the layout). Do you still grow raspberries or are you struggling on with the moved Autumn Bliss canes?

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  7. The problem with raspberries is that they take up so much room. I am trying a patio raspberry in a pot - it is only its first year, so I won't be able to comment on it until next year (when I hope to be harvesting fruits). I have changed from Autumn Bliss to Zeva. I have never had any problems with Autumn Bliss - I just fancied a change. So far, so good with Zeva.

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    1. Thanks for this, Sarah. A patio raspberry sounds useful and I'm interested to read how you get on with that. I haven't heard of Zeva so I'll look it up. How did you decide to grow this particular variety, I wonder?

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  8. I've heard good things about Joan J as well. I have Glen Ample and Autumn Bliss, and my Autumn Blisses are exactly like yours - small, a bit squishy and just generally not great. The only year they did well was when it was a really wet summer. I would happily replace them. I took out all the raspberries at the allotment - not sure what variety they were - as I never got a harvest from them. At home, my Glen Amples have dwindled as well, they used to be excellent, the past two years - rubbish. I'm not sure if raspberries need replacing every so often like strawberries? I mulch them with grass clippings whenever I have them, and with some homemade compost in spring. I have a Dobies voucher, so I may look at getting some new canes. CJ xx

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    1. You shouldn't need to replace your canes, CJ. Dr Ken Thompson who is a plant biologist teaching at Uni of Sheffield says that he's had his canes for over 20 years and they're still going strong! I usually dig up all the runners but this year I just cut them back without disturbing the roots of the main plant, plus we've had lots of rain, both of which seem to have made a difference to the quantity and quality of the A Bliss fruit but it's still a bit squishy, doesn't hold well on the plant and fruits are on the small, round side. I'm certain I can do better.

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    2. PS. Using grass clippings as a mulch will add a layer of nitrogen and potassium to your soil as it breaks down. Nitrogen and Potassium are two of the essential minerals needed for plant growth. N (nitrogen) promotes shoots or leafy growth; K (potassium) will encourage a plant to fruit (or flower). It depends what kind of soil you have but it may be that too much nitrogen is encouraging leaf at the expense of fruit. Otherwise, sounds to me like you're doing all the right things, CJ. Oh, one other thing, my raspberries are surrounded by plants to attract bees and the fruits are constantly buzzing with bees pollinating the plants.

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  9. Your raspberry looks so yummy, and it must be so healthy

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    1. They are indeed, Endah! Yes, I think all fresh grown garden produce is good for health, although in winter I defrost raspberries to add to meringues and cream so that's possibly not so healthy!

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  10. I was given an unknown summer fruiting raspberry by one of the plot holders. It's ok but taste wise 'Polka' beats it hands down and the fruits are much bigger. 'Polka' produces fruits from July to November here although they do loose some taste late in the season. I don't net raspberries as every time I try to net anything I usually end up netting myself. I will be interested to read about which varieties you might try in the future.

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    1. My Polka canes were new last year which may be why they fruited for a shorter period. They're certainly still going strong in this rather dull August/September so I hope you're right, Anna, and I get raspberries for another month at least! I haven't netted raspberries as I'd get in a tangle too and it would be a battle to pick the fruit. So far the birds don't seem that interested - possibly too many worms here to bother with raspberries! I certainly be writing about new varieties I plant after I've done some more research. xx

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  11. We planted new canes in the spring – Autumn Bliss (big sigh) and Joan J (hurrah). They've put on a massive spurt since August and both seem to have loads of fruit coming. The ones we've picked so far have been delicious on both. But it's still early days. I'll let you know how it goes... Btw, I volunteered at Wisley for a couple of years and one of my jobs was to weigh crops of fruit from the raspberry trial – Tulameen was a stand-out, from what I can remember.

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    1. Joan J is a name that keeps coming up, Sam. I've looked up Tulameen - thanks for the suggestion - and it's a summer fruiting cane which needs more staking and room than I can provide. I'll bear that one in mind though for when/if I ever get an allotment!

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  12. Yes I do too. I have a mix of unknown varieties which are mostly summer fruiting ones. Although they generally do well they didn't this year so I think that I'll give them another year then consider replacing them. Flighty xx

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    1. It was a very dry summer, Flighty so your raspberries may have suffered as a result. The autumn ones are doing well this year because of all the rain, otherwise I fear we'd have been in the same boat! How about growing half summer and half autumn raspberries and see which works well for you?

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  13. I have one Polka plant. The majority of mine are Autumn Bliss & I enjoy them, I don't think I've had any trouble from them. They get a couple of sprays of seaweed through the summer & sporadic feeding & watering. I don't bother netting them but I top the bark up every other year. I do have some All Gold in another spot & am hoping for great things off them, they seem to be much slower fruiting so I haven't had a taste yet xx

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    1. I was happy with my Autumn Bliss raspberries until I saw how much bigger and firmer other people's raspberries were. I also used to eat my lunch in one of the Capel Manor gardens while training there and sat next to a delicious raspberry called 'Brice' which came a close second to Joan J in Which? trials. The Brice fruits set me off questioning the quality of the A. Bliss fruits I was getting. Yes, I've read that gold raspberries are much slower to fruit than normal red ones. I hope you enjoy your gold raspberries when they appear! x

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  14. My Autumn Bliss are wonderful & award winning and my allotment's limestone clay. November isn't the time to cut them down, it's February and if you give the old canes a light prune at that time instead (Feb that is), you get an even earlier crop (a trick I learned via Gardening Which?).Only the truly dead canes need to be removed. In answer to CJ's question, raspberry canes usually last 10-20 years. I also have Autumn Gold and a mystery variety that self-seeded itself!

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    1. Ah, you're in contention with Ken Thompson then VP over the time to cut down raspberries. I've done both, cutting down in February as first advised to me then last year I cut most of my canes down in November as I was fed up with looking at a row of untidy gangly brown stems. We had a mild winter and the November cutting doesn't seem to have had an adverse effect on my canes at all. I can't remember where I first read of leaving a few canes at 40cm when pruning but I've found it a valuable tip. Pruning in November is fine but February pruning will ensure that canes are not destroyed by harsh winters. I generally don't have harsh winters here due to being in an urban environment.

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    2. PS. My reference to Ken Thompson and his raspberry growing techniques came from this Telegraph article: http://bit.ly/1M1jSwY

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    3. I see I'm not that much in disagreement with Ken. I actually like leaving them until February as it's great to have something positive and gardeny to do at that time of the year. But then, I don't have to walk past them every day like you and your neighbours do.

      I also use the canes to make a weed supressing mulch, which I find is better to do in spring too.

      I've just been to the raspberry trials beds at East Malling, so I'll be blogging about it soon and carrying on some of the conversation you've had over here :)

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  15. Eeek - I think I said Autumn Gold, but can't check. It should be Fall Gold of course. xxx

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    1. Another one for my list of fruits to research - thank you!

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    2. Fall Gold was a sport of Autumn Bliss. The yellow varieties don't have the anthocyanins of the red so tend to be milder in flavour.

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  16. Another vote for Joan J – we really like ours.

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    1. Thanks Matt - it does seem like the popular choice for autumn fruiting raspberries. It's going on my list!

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  17. I only grow loganberries now as they are so much sweeter and bear fruit through the summer and autumn, they've been brilliant apart from this year where I've hardly had anything from them.xxx

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    1. Ah yes! Loganberries! It's a long time since I tasted those - a neighbour used to grow them when I was much younger. I think that's where my love of large sweet raspberries comes from, come to think of it! I might have to check out loganberries to see if it's possible to grow some here - thanks for the reminder, Dina! xx

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  18. the only thing I can contribute to this very interesting conversation is that you've made me very envious - raspberries here are a good four or five months away here in Tassie! they look so juicy and delicious. I must see if I have some stashed away in the freezer... :-)

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    1. Ah, but you've made me envious that you're moving into spring time while everything is just starting to fade over here in UK! I always put the best raspberries aside for the freezer - it's just so joyous to have your own summer fruits in the middle of winter! Hope you've found some stashed away, if not summer isn't too far away for you! x

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  19. I can't fault Autumn Bliss on my free-draining flinty allotment soil. I never feed or water autumn raspberries (unlike the summer ones which I find need a lot of wetting with comfrey tea to produce a decent crop) but I do mulch thickly with leaf mould just before they start into growth in April. In between cutting down in January and mulching I try and keep them weeded. The other thing I do in a futile effort to stop them taking over the plot is to re-plant the canes every 5-7 years in fresh soil so they are now in their third location in 15 years. This also helps with controlling the bindweed which grows like knitting on my plot!

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Caro x

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