July is a truly dazzling month. For me, that means far more than picnics and fireworks. What I love most about July is that, in the Pacific Northwest, July is raspberry month.
If you buy raspberries rather than growing them, you've probably realized that these delicious red berries are expensive. It's also a good idea to eat them right away as no matter how fresh they are, raspberries only keep a day or two.
If you have even a small yard, you can grow your own raspberries and have enough to feast on, make jam and even freeze, with little effort.
Raspberries are truly amazing plants. The roots are perennial, meaning that they live year after year. The stalks, however are not. The stalks, in most varieties of raspberry, where all the yummy berries come from, are biennial. Biennial means that the stalks live for two years.
Biennial flowers usually grow for one year, then bloom the second year. The term 'biennial' in raspberries means that the stalks grow for a year and bear fruit the second year.
But raspberry lore gets even more interesting. Everbearing raspberry stalks bear on the older stalks in July and on the current year stalks in September. There is even a variety of raspberry that has annual stalks. That means the plants can be mowed down each autumn and still bear a tasty crop in July.
No matter the variety, raspberry roots are perennial, and spread beneath the ground. This is a welcome trait if, like me, raspberries are your favorite fruit. If you want your raspberries to be more contained, there is a new variety called "Rasberry Shortcake" that can be grown in pots.
I have two Raspberry Shortcake plants, both of which are bearing berries. So far, the bushes are thriving and the plants have had a very early crop of half-inch long berries. The one drawback so far, and this could be due to the fact that I bought the bushes with fruit and flowers on them, so was not able to choose the type of fertilizer used on the plants, is that the Rasberry Shortcake berries are nowhere near as sweet and full-bodied in flavor as the Wiliamette and Meeker raspberry bushes growing in three big plots in my yard.
Hopefully a year of TLC and organic fertilizer will improve their flavor.
Rasberries aren't heavy eaters. I usually fertilize them by piling grass clippings around their roots, which also serves as an effective weed block, and working alfalfa meal into the soil or pouring alfalfa meal tea around the roots every six weeks or so. Bendign the canes slightly, or poking the ends of the stalks through a nearby fence, is called 'pegging' and creates more areas for the berries to develop.
Bumblebees, honeybees, hover flies and other beneficial insects love raspberry flowers, ensuring an excellent pollination. My three patches produce so many berries that in July I spend one to two hours each day picking the juicy fruits.
Instead of being a single fruit, each raspberry is composed of dozens of tiny bead-like fruits called 'drupelets'. The drupelets are clustered around a yellowish-white core. To tell if your raspberries are ripe, look for dark red color, and also gently tug on a berry. If it separates easily from the core, it's ripe.
Of course, nothing beats the taste test!
And nothing, at least in my opinion, beats the flavor of sun-warmed raspberries. So, this summer, why not plant a few or try your hand at growing raspberries in a pot? Your tastebuds will thank you.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.