Blackberries and Raspberries Made Easy
by Michael McConkey
The word bed connotes what you sleep on. But it also describes where one's raspberries or blackberries thrive. Beds we sleep on come in twin, double, queen and king and the terms defines size. The size and width of a garden bed is most important for the plants "comfort" as well. Over the years I've planted a lot of fruiting plants and I have some very good tips about starting a raspberry or blackberry bed. Saving time and labor, not only in the first year, but future years as well.
Most of us have yards that have grass. Usually it's more convenient to concentrate garden beds as close to the kitchen or home as possible. So, that usually means the yard. At our home we have a long garden about 130' long and 30' wide. The top part we've never used and I mow the grass there. It grows thick and is mostly field grass or fescue.
For a few years I'd mow this 80' x 30' area thinking I'd like to plant varieties of blackberry and raspberry that we sell, that aren't included in the orchard at Edible. I hesitated for a few years since we have so much growing at the nursery. I needed the bed to take care of itself or it might end up a weedy area with dismal results.
One day I started to mow on a low setting, a section about 80'x 10' of the unused garden. The ground was easy to work and I tilled the middle of the 80' length about 2" to 4" deep. I didn't till the whole 10' width, just the middle 5'. The mowing and tilling took about two hours. I enriched the soil's organic matter by adding old potting soil to the tilled area. (We keep old soil in a huge pile at the nursery.) I'd come home with a few buckets and drive over to the area and dump the buckets after work. I added about 2" of this soil to the surface of the tilled area. The next two steps, weed cloth and mulching are where I've really saved time over the years. I rolled 3' wide x 100' long weed barrier cloth on both sides of the 5' wide bed. 8" staples are tamped down with a hammer every few feet to fasten the weed cloth tight to the ground. I squared off the ends of the bed too with the cloth.
This has kept the grass from entering my bed over the years. When I mow around this bed now, I put my mower deck on the highest position to make sure the blades don't grab the fabric. But I'm ahead of myself here. I planted three Wyeberry about 5' apart. Then three Kiowa blackberry about 5' apart, three Triple Crown blackberry 5' apart and three Heritage red raspberries about 3' apart. I did this around September. After planting I pitchforked hardwood mulch about 3" deep the length and width of the 5' bed. (About 2 pickup loads.)
The following year the plants grew and I'd do a little weeding after a rain but the mulch kept that chore to a minimum. I added some support stakes about 5' high on the inside running edge on both sides of the weed barrier cloth for the Wyeberry and blackberries, with a wire attached at the top running from one pole to the next. When finished, they had the shape of three sets of parallel bars with the plants in the middle.
The Heritage did not need any trellis. For the past few years I don't spend a lot of time on the upkeep. In the fall I'll take out the old dead canes that fruited and clean up the beds generally.
The Wyeberry is first to ripen. Kiowa starts to ripen a little before Triple Crown but they overlap too. Heritage has been harvested July thru August at this writing, ripening a few weeks after the Wyeberries started to ripen and past the blackberries.
I spend more time picking the fruit than upkeep. The yields are eaten fresh and we're able to freeze a lot for winter use. Plus, I've learned more about these varieties. I hope this helps your planning and planting practices with raspberries and blackberries.
(click on any photo to enlarge)
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