August 2012

Blackberrries come in 3 forms.  Trailing, semi-trailing and bush.  Trailing can develop canes as long as 15 feet and require specialized trellising.  The semi-trailing are about 6-8’ and can be grown on a post or a trellis.  The thornless bush types do not require any support although a side wire may be helpful to hold canes upright when they have a full fruit load. There are many bramble crosses which are often listed as blackberries such as boysenberry, loganberry and tayberry and we are not covering those here.

Central New Mexico is at the top end of cold hardiness for the bush blackberries and they may benefit from covering the canes over the winter with straw or mulch in the colder areas.   Blackberries with the exception of the newly released Prime Jim, Prime Jan and Prime Ark series produce fruit on second year canes.  We have trialed Apache, Navajo and Ouchita, all thornless bush varieties from The University of Arkansas breeding program.  (the leader when it comes to blackberry releases and research). 

All three varieties withstood our record cold February 2010.   Navajo showed the most cane damage and plant loss over the last two winters, therefore we are recommending it for Albuquerque, Los Lunas, Belen and like areas only.  Navajo is the earliest to fruit and this may be linked to its relative lack of vigor in our climate.  Apache is next to produce starting harvest this year July 20.  Apache has also impressed with it’s general vigor over some others types.  Ouchita seems to grow a slightly smaller bush (36-48”) and its production starts in early August.  The health and vigor seem to match Apache along with flavor.  Berry size is comparable in both, so for a continuation of the season plant both varieties.  Production starts the second year after planting and increases as bush size increases and more canes develop.  Both varieties will sucker to fill in the row but at a much slower rate than raspberries.

This is our first year growing Triple Crown, a semi-trailing variety.  So far it has exceeded expectations and seems to be living up to the hype.  It is reputed to grow up to 30 lbs on a single plant and while that is hard to believe, I would be more than happy with 10 – 15 lbs!  So far some of the new canes have reached the 4-5’ range by the end of July.  These will be next year’s producers. Currently all have fruit that looks to start ripening about the first week of August.  For small plants and expecting no fruit this year they seem very productive.  With these they should be trellised. Grow 5-6 canes in a vertical fan formation and plant 4-6’ apart.  After fruiting these canes should be removed.  When the current year’s canes hit the top wire placed at 5 or 6 feet off the ground, snip them off.  They will then develop lateral branches which can be tied to the top wire.  These laterals will dramatically increase your fruit production.

A difference between raspberries and blackberries is when picked ripe, raspberries pull free from the core. Blackberries start out red and then change to a purple and then rapidly to a glossy black.  At this point when they turn black is when most people pick them.  Don’t, if you do you will get a berry similar to the grocery store product, beautiful and black but somewhat tart.  Allow the sugars to develop by leaving another few days to a week.  When the glossy black just starts to dull a little is the optimum time.  The sugars will have developed to give an unbelievable sweet flavor, rich and full. A few days and you have a totally different animal, so to speak. At this point I defy anyone to bring back to the house half of what you have picked because you will be eating them as fast as you can gather them.


After last week’s post on raspberries, I received several phone calls and emails wanting to know how many a family should plant.  Obviously this is an almost impossible-to-answer question with all the variables.  But we hope to clarify the answer somewhat, so let’s give it a shot.  It starts with how well do you like raspberries if they were always available?  Most people say they love fresh raspberries because they only get them a few times a year.  But if you had them to eat anytime you wanted from mid July thru October would you calculate your weekly consumption as a little less than you first thought?  How about the other members of you family, are they the same?  I have a grandson that will pick and eat every Saturday until he can’t eat anymore.  The next week he is at it again. He is a real consumer and we can easily calculate what to grow based on his intake! The next question is do you want enough for fresh use or do you also want to freeze and can for use year round? How big is the family etc.  If canning them, are you wanting extras for gifts? 

The next issue is what your cultural practices are.  The more consistent you are with water and nutrient application, the better and more consistent the crop.  We recommend starting a row using 1 plant per 18”.  We also put a ½ gph dripper on each plant.  This works good with our clay soil, however if yours is sandier you will need to space drippers closer and water more frequently. We try to keep the width of the row at its base 12”-16” wide and the drippers will water about this area, inhibiting suckers from growing in the path.  If you need a few more berries you can allow your row to get a little wider without adding plants or increasing row length.  We will assume that you are adding compost and trying to improve the soil each year for maximum yield.  From my experience with these parameters you will get a good crop the first year, a very good crop the second year and reach maximum potential yield from the third year on for many years if maintained. 

 For the average family of four that will eat raspberries all the time you would want to grow 10’-15’ of row or about 7-10 plants.  This will give you enough to always have for fresh eating and be able to share with some neighbors.  You will also be able to freeze some extras, make milkshakes and an occasional pie.  Twenty to forty foot of row is for the serious family that makes their own jams etc and wants to do canning, freezing and other food storage for the year.  This length row will supply enough to have pie whenever you want, share with neighbors, can a dozen ½ pints in a picking and still have some for smoothies.

 In the warmer weather, raspberries, once pollinated, ripen quickly and we suggest harvesting twice a week.  You can harvest weekly but some berries will be over ripe, sweeter and losing the “tartness”. These are good to mix into making preserves, smoothies etc. By later in fall say first of October usually once a week is sufficient. We feel a properly cared for row of raspberries will provide more fruit and a better return per square foot of space than any other fruit crop.

 To freeze raspberries, place on a cookies sheet on the counter and let dry for an hour. Then put into the freezer on the cookie sheet for a few hours or overnight.  Once they are frozen then put into freezer bags or freezer jars.  If you put them direct into freezer bags you will end up with one frozen chunk that is then harder to use later.  Do not wash or rinse berries before freezing or storing.  Only rinse right before using or they will get mushy and not keep long.

If you have read previous posts you know that we only grow ”Fall” or “Everbearing” type raspberries.  If not click here for a discussion of the differences and why we only recommend these.   Raspberries are an excellent and profitable crop for most parts of New Mexico.  The basic difference on our recommendations is when they start to produce and quantity per foot of row.  We grow these as a row and keep it to about 12-16” wide at the bottom. This gives a row 30-40” wide at the top or picking area.  If left to grow wider it becomes cumbersome to harvest, so dig any suckers out that are past this area and replant to fill in bare spots in the row.

This year’s early and warm spring was definitely a boost to the raspberries.  Our first berries on Polana were July 4th, Autumn Britten July 10th and Polka July 15th.  This is approximately 3 and in some cases 4 weeks early! 

Autumn Britten – good and early- any location

Heritage – an older variety, sturdy and consistent starting later than Polana or Carolyn

Carolyn – Interchangeable with Polana south of I-40 Albuquerque, Los Lunas, Belen

Polana – Best north of I-40 Santa Fe, Cedar Crest, Taos, Estancia      Available

Polka – Smaller sturdier canes flavor similar to Polana,   I-40 area and northern climates     Available

Anne – Consistent yellow raspberry, slightly less production than reds

Fall Gold – Same as Anne, good all areas     Available

The size plant is also a determining factor in getting a good start.  Tissue culture plants are often promoted as disease- free perfect clones and they are.  However they are usually very small, greenhouse grown with minimal root development in 2” peat pots.  If you do keep them alive you will lose at least a year in getting them established.  They do not field plant and adapt well to our conditions.  If you are purchasing bare-root get a 2 year plant not 1 year or else buy a minimum 1 gallon container plant.  These will have the root development to stand the transplanting process. 

One of the debates in growing raspberries is whether or not to use a general or “high” Nitrogen fertilizer on them. One group says you shouldn’t use as this promotes leafy plant growth but not berries which need potassium.  The other group says early fertilization with Nitrogen gives better plant growth and a larger plant with more canes will provide more fruit.  We tend to agree with the later.  I feel the bigger and better shape our plants are in, the better total yield will be.  Also I think this helps to keep production up during hot periods.  But probably the biggest benefit is a taller plant means less bending to harvest and I’m all for that!

We recommend fertilizing using an OMRI listed liquid fish based solution and should continue from the end of April through the end of June.  When you start seeing flowers is the time to quit Nitrogen application.  We then recommend a 2” layer of compost be added in the winter after you have cut the canes down.  This allows the winter snows and rains to help soak it into the ground and also gives some insulating protection to the shallow roots.  Spread 8-12” wider than your row on each side since that’s were many of the roots actually are located.

                 Below is a simple recipe for raspberry jam. Use straight or add other fruits for unique flavors.

 Yield: about 6-7 half-pints

1 quart crushed red raspberries

3 ½ cups sugar

1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine raspberries and sugar in a large saucepot.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Stir in liquid pectin. Return to a rolling boil.  Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary.  Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼” headspace.  Adjust 2 piece caps.  Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

The only grapes we are growing and discussing are seedless varieties.  Most people want fresh eating and don’t want the headache of seeds.  It is an old wife’s tale that seedless grapes do not have the flavor of the old seeded varieties. Today’s grocery store seedless grapes don’t have the flavor, but your home grown ones will!  Grapes have been successfully grown in New Mexico beginning with the early Spanish Missionaries all the way through today’s thriving wine industry.  Generally speaking table grapes are more cold-hardy and are a different species from wine grapes.

 When dealing with many shrubs or trees I use the old adage “Sleep, Creep and Leap”.  This has definitely always been my experience with grapes. What this means is the first year you plant the vine it stays alive and may add a leaf or two but doesn’t really seem to grow at all or thrive.  The first year it seems asleep!  The second year you are pleased to see it come out and still be alive but again it adds few leaves and maybe a few tendrils.  You are starting to research and see why it doesn’t grow.  Does it need fertilizer?  Am I giving enough water? Etc. etc.  This year it just creeps along.  The third year it starts to come out and takes off or leaps.  After the first month you wonder if it really is kudzu vine and not grapes.  Of course depending on the age of the plant and variety, your experience may be a little different.

  What the plant is doing the first year is developing a strong and deep root system. The third year it now has the root system in place to support large and rapid growth and takes off.  Grapes can develop wide ranging and deep roots as much as  6  feet long.  Once these roots develop they can actually become very drought tolerant.  I am watching a mature Thompson Seedless vine that right now is on year 7 with no supplemental water!  It is still producing a good load of acceptable size and flavorful grapes.

Varieties we have grown and recommend for central and most of New Mexico:











Remember grapes are long lived and a long term proposition. Make sure you place them where you want them to stay.  While we all get impatient waiting a few years for the first crop, they can easily produce for 30-50 years after that.  Decide early which training system you will use as by the beginning of the second year you want to be developing the permanent arms and structure by tying and training to a trellis or fence. We prefer the VSP method.  If you are growing for an arbor it is not quite as important but they can get away from you before you know it! The most important thing is to be ruthless with thinning.  Grapes will overset and if not thinned they will

This vine should be thinned to half as many fruit

be smaller and less flavorful, not ever reaching their potential. Thin grapes early and often to ensure large size. Grapes should be thinned down to one bunch per shoot, or there will not be room enough for each bunch to develop fully.  If you want to cultivate particularly large grapes, the individual fruits can be thinned within each bunch as they develop