The Home Acre by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter V. The Raspberry
The wide and favorable consideration given to small fruits clearly marks one of the changes in the world's history. This change may seem trifling indeed to the dignified chroniclers of kings and queens and others of high descent--great descent, it may be added, remembering the moral depths attained; but to those who care for the welfare of the people, it is a mutation of no slight interest. I am glad to think, as has been shown in a recent novel, that Lucrezia Borgia was not so black as she has been painted; yet in the early days of June and July, when strawberries and raspberries are ripening, I fancy that most of us can dismiss her and her kin from mind as we observe Nature's alchemy in our gardens. When we think of the luscious, health-imparting fruits which will grace millions of tables, and remember that until recent years they were conspicuous only by their absence, we may not slightingly estimate a great change for the better. Once these fruits were wildings which the vast majority of our forefathers shared sparingly with the birds. Often still, unless we are careful, our share will be small indeed; for the unperverted taste of the birds discovered from the first what men have been so slow to learn--that the ruby- like berries are the gems best worth seeking. The world is certainly progressing toward physical redemption when even the Irish laborer abridges his cabbage-patch for the sake of small fruits--food which a dainty Ariel could not despise.
We have said that raspberries thrive in partial shade; and therefore some advice in regard to them naturally follows our consideration of trees. Because the raspberry is not so exacting as are many other products of the garden, it does not follow that it should be marked out for neglect. As it is treated on many places, the only wonder is that even the bushes survive. Like many who try to do their best in adversity, it makes the most of what people term "a chance to get ahead."
Moreover, the raspberry is perhaps as often injured by mistaken kindness as by neglect. If we can imagine it speaking for itself, it would say: "It is not much that I want, but in the name of common-sense and nature give me just what I do want; then you may pick at me to your heart's content."
The first need of the raspberry is a well-drained but not a very dry, light soil. Yet such is its adaptability that certain varieties can be grown on any land which will produce a burdock or a mullien-stalk. In fact, this question of variety chiefly determines our chances of success and the nature of our treatment of the fruit. The reader, at the start, should be enabled to distinguish the three classes of raspberries grown in this country.
As was true of grapes, our fathers first endeavored to supply their gardens from foreign nurseries, neglecting the wild species with which our woods and roadsides abounded. The raspberry of Europe (Rubus idaeus) has been developed, and in many instances enfeebled, by ages of cultivation. Nevertheless, few other fruits have shown equal power to adapt themselves to our soil and climate, and we have obtained from foreign sources many valuable kinds--as, for instance, the Antwerp, which for weeks together annually taxed the carrying power of Hudson River steamers. In quality these foreign kinds have never been surpassed; but almost invariably they have proved tender and fastidious, thriving well in some localities, and failing utterly (except under the most skilful care) in others. The frosts of the North killed them in winter, and Southern suns shrivelled their foliage in summer. Therefore they were not raspberries for the million, but for those who resided in favored regions, and were willing to bestow upon them much care and high culture.
Eventually another process began, taking place either by chance or under the skilful manipulation of the gardener--that of hybridizing, or crossing these foreign varieties with our hardier native species. The best results have been attained more frequently, I think, by chance; that is, the bees, which get more honey from the raspberry than from most other plants, carried the pollen from a native flower to the blossom of the garden exotic. The seeds of the fruit eventually produced were endowed with characteristics of both the foreign and native strains. Occasionally these seeds fell where they had a chance to grow, and so produced a fortuitous seedling plant which soon matured into a bearing bush, differing from, both of its parents, and not infrequently surpassing both in good qualities. Some one horticulturally inclined having observed the unusually fine fruit on the chance plant, and believing that it is a good plan to help the fittest to survive, marked the bush, and in the autumn transferred it to his garden. It speedily propagated itself by suckers, or young sprouts from the roots, and he had plants to sell or give away. Such, I believe, was the history of the Cuthbert--named after the gentleman who found it, and now probably the favorite raspberry of America.
Thus fortuitously, or by the skill of the gardener, the foreign and our native species were crossed, and a new and hardier class of varieties obtained. The large size and richness in flavor of the European berry has been bred into and combined with our smaller and more insipid indigenous fruit. By this process the area of successful raspberry culture has been extended almost indefinitely.
Within recent years a third step forward has been taken. Some localities and soils were so unsuited to the raspberry that no variety containing even a small percentage of the foreign element could thrive. This fact led fruit-growers to give still closer attention to our native species. Wild bushes were found here and there which gave fruit of such good quality and in such large quantities that they were deemed well worthy of cultivation. Many of these wild specimens accepted cultivation gratefully, and showed such marked improvement that they were heralded over the land as of wonderful and surpassing value. Some of these pure, unmixed varieties of our native species (Rubus strigosus) have obtained a wide celebrity; as, for instance, the Brandywine, Highland Hardy, and, best of all, the Turner. It should be distinctly understood, however, that, with the exception of the last-named kind, these native varieties are decidedly inferior to most of the foreign berries and their hybrids or crosses, like the Cuthbert and Marlboro. Thousands have been misled by their praise, and have planted them when they might just as easily have grown far better kinds. I suppose that many wealthy persons in the latitudes of New York and Boston have told their gardeners (or more probably were told by them): "We do not wish any of those wild kinds. Brinckle's Orange, Franconia, and the Antwerp are good enough for us." So they should be, for they are the best; but they are all foreign varieties, and scarcely will live at all, much less be productive, in wide areas of the country.
I trust that this preliminary discussion in regard to red raspberries will prepare the way for the advice to follow, and enable the proprietor of the Home Acre to act intelligently. Sensible men do not like to be told, "You cannot do this, and must not do that"--in other words, to be met the moment they step into their gardens by the arbitrary dictum of A, B, or C. They wish to unite with Nature in producing certain results. Understanding her simple laws, they work hopefully, confidently; and they cannot be imposed upon by those who either wittingly or unwittingly give bad advice. Having explained the natural principles on which I base my directions, I can expect the reader to follow each step with the prospect of success and enjoyment much enhanced.
The question first arising is, What shall we plant? As before, I shall give the selection of eminent authorities, then suggest to the reader the restrictions under which he should make a choice for his own peculiar soil and climate.
Dr. F. M. Hexamer, the well-known editor of a leading horticultural journal, is recognized throughout the land as having few, if any, superiors in recent and practical acquaintance with small fruits. The following is his selection: "Cuthbert, Turner, and Marlboro." The Hon. Marshall P. Wilder's choice: "Brinckle's Orange, Franconia, Cuthbert, Herstine, Shaffer." The Hon. Norman J. Colman, Commissioner of Agriculture: "Turner, Marlboro, Cuthbert." P. J. Berckmans, of Georgia: "Cuthbert, Hansel, Lost Rubies, Imperial Red." A. S. Fuller: "Turner, Cuthbert, Hansel."
In analyzing this list we find three distinctly foreign kinds named: the Orange, Franconia, and Herstine. If the last is not wholly of foreign origin, the element of our native species enters into it so slightly that it will not endure winters in our latitude, or the summer sun of the South. For excellence, however, it is unsurpassed.
In the Cuthbert, Marlboro, and Lost Rubies we have hybrids of the foreign and our native species, forming the second class referred to; in the Turner and Hansel, examples of our native species unmixed. To each of these classes might be added a score of other varieties which have been more or less popular, but they would serve only to distract the reader's attention. I have tested forty or fifty kinds side by side at one time, only to be shown that four or five varieties would answer all practical purposes. I can assure the reader, however, that it will be scarcely possible to find a soil or climate where some of these approved sorts will not thrive abundantly and at slight outlay.
Throughout southern New England, along the bank of the Hudson, and westward, almost any raspberry can be grown with proper treatment. There are exceptions, which are somewhat curious. For instance, the famous Hudson River Antwerp, which until within a very few years has been one of the great crops of the State, has never been grown successfully to any extent except on the west bank of the river, and within the limited area of Kingston on the north and Cornwall on the south. The Franconia, another foreign sort, has proved itself adapted to more extended conditions of soil and climate.
I have grown successfully nearly every well-known raspberry, and perhaps I can best give the instruction I desire to convey by describing the methods finally adopted after many years of observation, reading, and experience. I will speak of the class first named, belonging to the foreign species, of which I have tested many varieties. I expect to set out this year rows of Brinckle's Orange, Franconia, Hudson River Antwerp, and others. For this class I should make the ground very rich, deep, and mellow. I should prefer to set out the plants in the autumn--from the middle of October to the tenth of November; if not then, in early spring--the earlier the better--while the buds are dormant. I should have the rows four feet apart; and if the plants were to be grown among the smaller fruit-trees, I should maintain a distance from them of at least seven feet. I should use only young plants, those of the previous summer's growth, and set them in the ground about as deeply as they stood when taken up--say three or four inches of earth above the point from which the roots branched. I should put two well-rooted plants in each hill, and this would make the hills four feet apart each way. By "hills" I do not mean elevations of ground. This should be kept level throughout all future cultivation. I should cut back the canes or stems of the plants to six inches. Thousands of plants are lost or put back in their growth by leaving two or three feet of the canes to grow the first year. Never do this. The little fruit gained thus prematurely always entails a hundred-fold of loss. Having set out the plants, I should next scatter over and about them one or two shovelfuls of old compost or decayed manure of some kind. If the plants had been set out in the fall, I should mound the earth over them before freezing weather, so that there should be at least four inches of soil over the tops of the stems. This little mound of earth over the plants or hill would protect against all injury from frost. In the spring I should remove these mounds of earth so as to leave the ground perfectly level on all sides, and the shortened canes projecting, as at first, six inches above the surface. During the remainder of the spring and summer the soil between the plants chiefly requires to be kept open, mellow, and free from weeds. In using the hoe, be careful not to cut off the young raspberry sprouts, on which the future crop depends. Do not be disappointed if the growth seems feeble the first year, for these foreign kinds are often slow in starting. In November, before there is any danger of the ground freezing, I should cut back the young canes at least one-third of their length, bend them gently down, and cover them with earth to the depth of four or five inches. It must be distinctly remembered that very few of the foreign kinds would endure our winter unprotected. Every autumn they must be covered as I have directed. Is any one aghast at this labor? Nonsense! Antwerps are covered by the acre along the Hudson. A man and a boy would cover in an hour all that are needed for a garden.
After the first year the foreign varieties, like all others, will send up too many sprouts, or suckers. Unless new plants are wanted, these should be treated as weeds, and only from three to five young canes be left to grow in each hill. This is a very important point, for too often the raspberry-patch is neglected until it is a mass of tangled bushes. Keep this simple principle in mind: there is a given amount of root-power; if this cannot be expended in making young sprouts all over the ground, it goes to produce a few strong fruit-bearing canes in the hill. In other words, you restrict the whole force of the plant to the precise work required--the giving of berries. As the original plants grow older, they will show a constantly decreasing tendency to throw up new shoots, but as long as they continue to grow, let only those survive which are designed to bear the following season.
The canes of cultivated raspberries are biennial. A young and in most varieties a fruitless cane is produced in one season; it bears in July the second year, and then its usefulness is over. It will continue to live in a half-dying way until fall, but it is a useless and unsightly life. I know that it is contended by some that the foliage on the old canes aids in nourishing the plants; but I think that, under all ordinary circumstances, the leaves on the young growth are abundantly sufficient. By removing the old canes after they have borne their fruit, an aspect of neatness is imparted, which would be conspicuously absent were they left. Every autumn, before laying the canes down, I should shorten them in one-third. The remaining two-thirds will give more fruit by actual measurement, and the berries will be finer and larger, than if the canes were left intact. From first to last the soil about the foreign varieties should be maintained in a high degree of fertility and mellowness. Of manures from the barnyard, that from the cow-stable is the best; wood-ashes, bone-dust, and decayed leaves also are excellent fertilizers. During all this period the partial shade of small trees will be beneficial rather than otherwise, for it should be remembered that sheltered localities are the natural habitat of the raspberry.
By a little inquiry the reader can learn whether varieties of the foreign class are grown successfully in his vicinity. If they are, he can raise them also by following the directions which have been given. Brinckle's Orange--a buff-colored berry--is certainly one of the most beautiful, delicate, and delicious fruits in existence, and is well worth all the care it requires in the regions where it will grow; while the Franconia and others should never be permitted to die out by fruit connoisseurs. If the soil of your garden is light and sandy, or if you live much south of New York, I should not advise their trial. They may be grown far to the north, however. I am told that tender varieties of fruits that can be covered thrive even better in Canada than with us. There deep snow protects the land, and in spring and autumn they do not have long periods when the bare earth is alternately freezing and thawing.
In the second class of raspberries, the crosses between the foreign and native species, we now have such fine varieties that no one has much cause for regret if he can raise them; and I scarcely see how he can help raising them if he has sufficient energy to set out a few plants and keep them free from weeds and superabundant suckers. Take the Cuthbert, for instance; you may set it out almost anywhere, and in almost any latitude except that of the extreme Southern States. But you must reverse the conditions required for the foreign kinds. If the ground is very rich, the canes will threaten to grow out of sight. I advise that this strong-growing sort be planted in rows five feet apart. Any ordinary soil is good enough for the Cuthbert to start in, and the plants will need only a moderate degree of fertilizing as they begin to lose a little of their first vigor. Of course, if the ground is unusually light and poor, it should be enriched and maintained in a fair degree of fertility. The point I wish to make is that this variety will thrive where most others would starve; but there is plenty of land on which anything will starve. The Cuthbert is a large, late berry, which continues long in bearing, and is deserving of a place in every garden. I have grown it for many years, and have never given it any protection whatever. Occasionally there comes a winter which kills the canes to the ground. I should perhaps explain to the reader here that even in the case of the tender foreign kinds it is only the canes that are killed by the frost; the roots below the surface are uninjured, and throw up vigorous sprouts the following spring. The Cuthbert is so nearly hardy that we let it take its chances, and probably in eight winters out of ten it would stand unharmed. Its hardiness is greatly enhanced when grown on well-drained soils.
It now has a companion berry in the Marlboro--a variety but recently introduced, and therefore not thoroughly tested as yet. Its promise, however, is very fine, and it has secured the strong yet qualified approval of the best fruit critics. It requires richer soil and better treatment than the Cuthbert, and it remains to be seen whether it is equally hardy. It is well worth winter protection if it is not. It is not a suitable berry for the home garden if no other is grown, for the reason that it matures its entire crop within a brief time, and thus would give a family but a short season of raspberries. Cultivated in connection with the Cuthbert, it would be admirable, for it is very early, and would produce its fruit before the Cuthberts were ripe. Unitedly the two varieties would give a family six weeks of raspberries. There are scores of other kinds in this class, and some are very good indeed, well worth a place in an amateur's collection; but the two already named are sufficient to supply a family with excellent fruit.
Of the third class of red raspberries, representing our pure native species, I should recommend only one variety--the Turner; and that is so good that it deserves a place in every collection. It certainly is a remarkable raspberry, and has an unusual history, which I have given in my work "Success with Small Fruits." I doubt whether there is a hardier raspberry in America-- one that can be grown so far to the north, and, what is still more in its favor, so far to the south. In the latter region it is known as the Southern Thornless. The fact that it is almost wholly without spines is a good quality; but it is only one among many others. The Turner requires no winter protection whatever, will grow on almost any soil in existence, and in almost any climate. It yields abundantly medium-sized berries of good flavor. The fruit begins to ripen early, and lasts throughout a somewhat extended season. It will probably give more berries, with more certainty and less trouble, than any other variety. Even its fault leans to virtue's side. Set out a single plant, leave it to Nature, and in time it will cover the place with Turner raspberries; and yet it will do this in a quiet, unobtrusive way, for it is not a rampant, ugly grower. While it will persist in living under almost any circumstances, I have found no variety that responded more gratefully to good treatment. This consists simply in three things: (1) rigorous restriction of the suckers to four or five canes in the hill; (2) keeping the soil clean and mellow about the bearing plants; (3) making this soil rich. Its dwarf habit of growth, unlike that of the Cuthbert, enables one to stimulate it with any kind of manure. By this course the size of the bushes is greatly increased, and enormous crops can be obtained.
I prefer to set out all raspberries in the fall, although as a matter of convenience I often perform the task in the early spring. I do not believe in late spring planting, except as one takes up a young sprout, two or three inches high, and sets it out as one would a tomato-plant. By this course time is often saved. When it is our wish to increase the quality and quantity of the fruit, I should advise that the canes of all varieties be cut back one-third of their length. A little observation will teach us the reason for this. Permit a long cane to bear throughout its natural length, and you will note that many buds near the ground remain dormant or make a feeble growth. The sap, following a general law of nature, pushes to the extremities, and is, moreover, too much diffused. Cut away one-third, and all the buds start with redoubled vigor, while more and larger fruit is the result. If, however, earliness in ripening is the chief consideration, as it often is, especially with the market-gardener, leave the canes unpruned, and the fruit ripens a few days sooner.
In purveying for the home table, white raspberries offer the attractions of variety and beauty. In the case of Brinckle's Orange, its exquisite flavor is the chief consideration; but this fastidious foreign berry is practically beyond the reach, of the majority. There is, however, an excellent variety, the Caroline, which is almost as hardy as the Turner, and more easily grown. It would seem that Nature designed every one to have it (if we may say it of Caroline), for not only does it sucker freely like the red raspberries, but the tips of the canes also bend over, take root, and form new plants. The one thing that Caroline needs is repression, the curb; she is too intense.
I am inclined to think, however, that she has had her day, even as an attendant on royalty, for a new variety, claiming the high- sounding title of Golden Queen, has mysteriously appeared. I say mysteriously, for it is difficult to account for her origin. Mr. Ezra Stokes, a fruit-grower of New Jersey, had a field of twelve acres planted with Cuthbert raspberries. In this field he found a bush producing white berries. In brief, he found an Albino of the Cuthbert. Of the causes of her existence he knows nothing. All we can say, I suppose, is that the variation was produced by some unknown impulse of Nature. Deriving her claims from such a source, she certainly has a better title to royalty than most of her sister queens, who, according to history, have been commonplace women, suggesting anything but nature. With the exception of the Philadelphians, perhaps, we as a people will not stand on the question of ancestry, and shall be more inclined to see how she "queens it."
Of course the enthusiastic discoverer and disseminators of this variety claim that it is not only like the Cuthbert, but far better. Let us try it and see; if it is as good, we may well be content, and can grace our tables with beautiful fruit.
There is another American species of raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) that is almost as dear to memory as the wild strawberry--the thimble-berry, or black-cap. I confess that the wild flavor of this fruit is more to my taste than that of any other raspberry. Apparently its seeds have been sown broadcast over the continent, for it is found almost everywhere, and there have been few children in America whose lips have not been stained by the dark purple juice of its fruit. Seeds dropped in neglected pastures, by fence and roadsides, and along the edges of the forest, produce new varieties which do not propagate themselves by suckers like red raspberries, but in a manner quite distinct. The young purple canes bend over and take root in the soil during August, September, and October. At the extreme end of the tip from which the roots descend a bud is formed, which remains dormant until the following spring. Therefore the young plant we set out is a more or less thick mass of roots, a green bud, and usually a bit of the old parent cane, which is of no further service except as a handle and a mark indicating the location of the plant. After the ground has been prepared as one would for corn or potatoes, it should be levelled, a line stretched for the row, and the plants set four feet apart in the row. Sink the roots as straight down as possible, and let the bud point upward, covering it lightly with merely one or two inches of soil. Press the ground firmly against the roots, but not on the bud. The soil just over this should be fine and mellow, so that the young shoot can push through easily, which it will soon do if the plants are in good condition. Except in the extreme South, spring is by far the best time for planting, and it should be done early, while the buds are dormant. After these begin to grow, keep the ground mellow and free from weeds. The first effort of the young plant will be to propagate itself. It will sprawl over the ground if left to its wild impulses, and will not make an upright bearing bush. On this account put a stake down by the young sprout, and as it grows keep it tied up and away from the ground. When the side-branches are eight or ten inches long, pinch them back, thus throwing the chief strength into the central cane. By keeping all the branches pinched back you form the plant into an erect, sturdy bush that will load itself with berries the following year. No fruit will be borne the first season. The young canes of the second year will incline to be more sturdy and erect in their growth; but this tendency can be greatly enhanced by clipping the long slender branches which are thrown out on every side. As soon as the old canes are through bearing, they should be cut out and burned or composted with other refuse from the garden. Black-caps may be planted on any soil that is not too dry. When the plant suffers from drought, the fruit consists of little else than seeds. To escape this defect I prefer to put the black-caps in a moist location; and it is one of the few fruits that will thrive in a cold, wet soil. One can set out plants here and there m out-of-the-way corners, and they often do better than those in the garden. Indeed, unless a place is kept up very neatly, many such bushes will be found growing wild, and producing excellent fruit.
The question may arise in some minds, Why buy plants? Why not get them from the woods and fields, or let Nature provide bushes for us where she will? When Nature produces a bush on my place where it is not in the way, I let it grow, and pick the fruit in my rambles; but the supply would be precarious indeed for a family. By all means get plants from the woods if you have marked a bush that produces unusually fine fruit. It is by just this course that the finest varieties have been obtained. If you go a-berrying, you may light on something finer than has yet been discovered; but it is not very probable. Meanwhile, for a dollar you can get all the plants you want of the two or three best varieties that have yet been discovered, from Maine to California. After testing a great many kinds, I should recommend the Souhegan for early, and the Mammoth Cluster and Grregg for late. A clean, mellow soil in good condition, frequent pinchings back of the canes in summer, or a rigorous use of the pruning-shears in spring, are all that is required to secure an abundant crop from year to year. This species may also be grown among trees. I advise that every kind and description of raspberries be kept tied to stakes or a wire trellis. The wood ripens better, the fruit is cleaner and richer from exposure to air and sunshine, and the garden is far neater than if the canes are sprawling at will. I know that all horticulturists advise that the plants be pinched back so thoroughly as to form self-supporting bushes; but I have yet to see the careful fruit-grower who did this, or the bushes that some thunder-gusts would not prostrate into the mud with all their precious burden, were they not well supported. Why take the risk to save a two-penny stake?
If, just before the fruit begins to ripen, a mulch of leaves, cut grass, or any litter that will cover the ground slightly, is placed under and around the bushes, it may save a great deal of fruit from being spoiled. The raspberry season is also the hour and opportunity for thunder-showers, whose great slanting drops often splash the soil to surprising distances. Sugar-and-cream- coated, not mud-coated, berries, if you please.
In my remarks on raspberries I have not named many varieties, and have rather laid stress on the principles which may guide the reader in his present and future selections of kinds. Sufficient in number and variety to meet the needs of every family have been mentioned. The amateur may gratify his taste by testing other sorts described in nurserymen's catalogues. Moreover, every year or two some new variety will be heralded throughout the land. The reader has merely to keep in mind the three classes of raspberries described and their characteristics, in order to make an intelligent choice from old and new candidates for favor.
It should also be remembered that the raspberry is a Northern fruit. I am often asked in effect, What raspberries do you recommend for the Gulf States? I suppose my best reply would be, What oranges do you think best adapted to New York? Most of the foreign kinds falter and fail in New Jersey and Southern Pennsylvania; the Cuthbert and its class can be grown much further south, while the Turner and the black-caps thrive almost to Florida.
Raspberries, especially those of our native species, are comparatively free from disease. Foreign varieties and their hybrids are sometimes afflicted with the curl-leaf. The foliage crimps up, the canes are dwarfed, and the whole plant has a sickly and often yellow appearance. The only remedy is to dig up the plant, root and branch, and burn it.
A disease termed the "rust" not infrequently attacks old and poorly nourished black-cap bushes. The leaves take on an ochreous color, and the plant is seen to be failing. Extirpate it as directed above. If many bushes are affected, I advise that the whole patch be rooted up, and healthy plants set out elsewhere.
It is a well-known law of Nature that plants of nearly all kinds appear to exhaust from the soil in time the ingredients peculiarly acceptable to them. Skill can do much toward maintaining the needful supply; but the best and easiest plan is not to grow any of the small fruits too long in any one locality. By setting out new plants on different ground, far better results are attained with much less trouble.