February 2012


On a recent trip to Lowes early in the month, I was confronted by a large display of berry plants strategically situated in the main aisle.  As a former retailer I was extremely impressed.  To say the least, the packaging cups were unique and a new ”invention”.  I was drawn to the

Raspberry cups

graphics which had top notch clarity with vibrant colors.  The shipping boxes were designed to convert to a point of purchase  display.  The product (plants)were tissue cultured and consistent sized.  All in all this product kit and its components were first rate.  I’m sure thousands of hours of design, testing and prototyping went into it and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins a “Product of the Year” award.

However as a grower and nursery owner, I was extremely dismayed to see this.  Not from a competition point of view but from the knowledge that probably every one of these plants will soon be dead.  The customer will have lost their money, but worse,  will be left with a bad taste in their mouth about growing and supplying their own food. 

Raspberry display

Often in the retail nursery world but especially in the big box arena,  it’s a race to see who can get the first sales of the year.  It’s all about product turns and dollars generated per square foot of selling space.  I receive copies of the trade journals for the Nursery industry and it is estimated that 25% of the vegetable plants and flowers purchased in the spring season will be repurchased since they were planted too soon and lost. 

Mind you I am not against the quality of these plants or their appearance.  My complaint is they are being promoted to an unsuspecting consumer to plant out now.  It is fully 2 months too early for these to be planted outdoors in Albuquerque and 3 months too early for the East Mountains.  To have a chance they would need to be babied indoors and repotted into a larger container. When the weather gets warm enough, they would need to be hardened off for at least a week.  This entails taking them outside on warm days, keeping in the shade, gradually exposing them to longer periods of direct sun and bringing them back in a night.  I notice that Lowes was keeping them indoors, not in the outer garden section.

A plant such as a raspberry can take -10 degree temperatures when fully dormant. However, it is most susceptible to damage or death from freezing when it just budding out new leaves.  These tiny, young plants are not near as tough as an older established plant (which is also susceptible to frosts).  At this point it can suffer damage at just a little below freezing and probable death at 25-29 degrees.  What are the chances we will see these temperatures before spring or the frost free season beginning?  I am not a real gambling man but I would wager about 100%.  Or to say it another way,  if you buy these plants and plant them out they will die! 

This is not the same as planting out bareroot stock which is still dormant.  We do not use greenhouses or force our plants in any way. They are grown here and come out on their own when Mother Nature tells them it is OK.  I know its tempting to want to get some green going after a bleak winter, but your patience will pay off in live plants that perform for you and in a monetary savings also, if you wait until the appropriate time.

The last few Saturdays have been exceptionally warm and gave us a chance to do a little catch up work.  Amazing the things you need to get done in the fall but never quite get to.

For us one of those things is adding compost to our berry rows. 

Dormant Raspberries

In theory the compost  can sit all winter and the melting snows will carry the nutrients down to the roots where they need them for the new spring growth.  Let’s hope we haven’t missed out on all the snow for this year!   February is a good time for cutting down Primocane, also known as fall-bearing or everbearing raspberries.  This is easy since you cut all the canes down, unlike summer bearing where you only cut the 2 year old wood.  I like to leave about 2” above ground as I feel the sun will rapidly callous off the cut and prevent any possible infections at the site. 

Raspberries after cutting canes

This is just my feelings, no proven fact.  It was surprising to see just how green they were this year when cutting.  It makes you think the warm weather is working on them.  Cutting all of the canes makes it simple to add compost.  We are trying to put on a one inch layer in about a foot  wide band. 

Adding compost after cutting canes on raspberries

I would like to go about 18-24” wide but good compost is always in short supply.  Probably the reason gardeners call it “Black Gold”.  The batch we used was 2 years in the making and we used about 6 large wheelbarrow loads per 100 foot of row length

Even though this is turning out to be a mild winter I am ready for spring.  I think we will have an early spring and can’t wait to see things growing.  However the best news is the new Spring 2012 catalog is finally finished!  While in the scope of things this isn’t a big deal to most people, somehow I feel like Steve Martin in The Jerk, when the new phonebook comes out. 

 After making tons of mistakes, using unfamiliar and probably wrong software for the task, maybe I am just glad it is done.  Desk top publishing seems easy until you try it and find your own lack of skills.

Thanks to Pat Maas and Ashley Koger for proofing and catching the most glaring errors in what I thought was a finished masterpiece.  I have now made those corrections and will be sending it out to you as a pdf file in the next few days.  If for some reason you don’t get one or are unable to open a pdf email at NMFruitGrowers@aol.com and we will send another appropriate one.

We are excited to be able to offer many more varieties than last year and several are in larger sizes.  If you have any questions on these or any comments at all  email or post as a comment here and we will get you an answer.

As you know, we do not force our stock early or start theBio-Grown Planting Stockm in a greenhouse.  We let Mother Nature take her course  and they start growing outdoor when the time is best for this area.  This means that early in the season some plants like raspberries and blackberries will seem small.  Rest assured the roots they need are buried and ready to push the plant quickly as soon as the temperature allows.