Growing raspberries and other backyard berries is not only a fabulously frugal way to get delicious, organic fruit for your family, but there's tons of scientific evidence showing that raspberries, blueberries and black currants also contain high levels of antioxidants, which are known cancer fighting agents.
Red raspberries were also shown to contain a phytochemical called Ellagitannin, that can help prevent and inhibit the growth of cancer cells. About 80% of this compound is found in the seeds, and the variety called "Meeker" seems to be the best source so far. They're fairly simple to grow if you understand a few of the basics, and also do quite well in containers or garden boxes.
Another thing that makes backyard berries such a winner is that you'll be able to see the fruits of your labor much faster than with fruit or citrus trees. You'll be picking berries in one to two years!
Now it's time to sit back while I share lessons from the first two years of my friend Eric Furma's backyard berries project, plus his advice on the best tasting varieties, pruning, trellises, soil, and much more!
The wooden planter box in this photo holds Baba Berry and Olallie Berry vines. They've just been trimmed for fall and all the old vines that have already fruited (called floricanes) were removed. This very important for disease prevention!
All of the new runners (called primocanes) have been gathered together and tied, extending out about ten feet. It is on these primocanes that next years fruit will come.
Backyard berries love well drained, sandy, or loamy soil, and they'll need a soil ph between 5.8 and 6.5, which is a little higher than blueberries. If your soil is poor, make your own using Eric's soil recipe for planting blue berry bushes. Brambles don't like sitting in wet soil. If drainage is an issue plant them in mounds about 18" above the water table.
Growing raspberries or black berries in pots or raised beds is another idea, not only for the drainage factor, but to keep them under control. If you have a small yard and are worried about them spreading, you can use landscape fabric to keep shoots from popping up all over your garden. (the last thing you want with a thorny plant!)
Growing berry vines in pots on your patio is another option, but keep in mind they tend to get root bound very quickly and won't produce as much fruit as if they were planted in the ground. This is a plus however when it comes to fertilizer as the roots will take it all in. They'll need regular watering either by hose or irrigation or you can risk loosing all your plants.
Make sure to pick a sunny spot to plant your backyard berries. Red raspberries and blueberries can take afternoon shade but blackberries will taste sweeter with full sun, plus the leaves will stay dryer.
Many varieties of brambles do best with some type of support, which you can easily construct to tie your canes to. a raspberry trellis keeps the fruit off the ground, and makes it a lot easier to pick.
You can buy lots of different kinds of trellises for backyard berries, from decorative metal that stick in the ground and can go up against a fence or a wall, to pillars that stick right in the pots. Remember, it doesn't have to be fancy, or cost a lot. It could be as simple as two posts with galvanized wire in between, or a single stake in the center of a pot. Re-cyle, Re-us, Re-Purpose :)
Most backyard berries of the bramble variety have thorns, with the exception of certain thorn less blackberry. With any thorny vine, you do have to keep an eye on them during the growing season and tie them up weekly or they'll go nuts on you. Hey, that's not such a bad idea along your fence, or in front of your gates, since it may deter folks from wanting to climb over (yowey!). WARNING: DO NOT PLANT THORNY VINES ANYWHERE NEAR YOUR GARDEN!!! Backyard berries like to spread roots underground and pop up all over the place, and they can become invasive. It's a good idea to plant a protective barrier in the bed where you plant the berries in order to keep them in their own space. Pots are great...until they tap under ground.
Brambles also make great barrier hedges, either trellised, or on a fence. My parents have had a wild raspberry patch in their front horse field for decades but never trimmed it, so it's impossible to get in there and pick, let alone find a berry the birds didn't get. The good news is you can mow them down in winter and start over!
Sannich raspberries (pictured here) is probably Eric's favorite. It's a Canadian early season berry with an incredible taste, and large berries that take on a reddish-purple tinge when ripe. The thorns are quite mild, but you do need to wear gloves when trimming or tying them up.
Ripe raspberries separate from the vine even before you pick them, and lift off with ease. They ripen quickly in hot weather, so be prepared to pick every day. Planting backyard berries gives you the best tasting varieties, picked at their peak, something you can't find in stores.
Rosanna is a the name of a song and a sweet little raspberry from Italy. In warmer climates you can prune these backyard berries as ever bearers and get two crops a year. Eric has these canes tied to a 6 foot metal rod shared with the grape vines, allowing the canes droop over with all the berries hanging down. Super easy to pick!
Did you know Loganberries have so much vitamin C that the British used to supply Navy ships with them in the early 20th century to prevent scurvy?
This raspberry blackberry cross has a lot of advantages over it's parents in that it's ripens much earlier than the two, has fruit as large as the largest blackberry, but the seeds are much smaller and soften when ripe. Because the loganberry fruit ripens over a 2 month period it is not used commercially but that makes it perfect for backyard berries where you don't want a large crop all at once.
Thornless Loganberries are vigorous growers that can reach up to 30 feet in each directions in one season.
Black Raspberry Plants
Originally a native plant, growing wild along the edges of woods from the northwest to Georgia, black raspberries have more antioxidants than blueberries. They're also very high in vitamin A, C, E, folic acid, and Elagic Acid. Oregon is the largest commercial growing region for black raspberries in the US.
The French liquor Chambord is made from black raspberries as is the Korean fruit wine called Bokbunja ju. Drunk on special occasion, it is thought to promote male sexual stamina.
A vigorous red raspberry that can grow in hot dry climates. This new variety was patented in 1981 because of it's unique vigor in temperatures from a low of 9 degrees in winter all the way to 110 in the California desert. It can grow in many areas of the country where it's too hot for Northern varieties.
Pruning Raspberry Bushes and the differences between the ever fruiting variety is explained in this University of Maine video. Keep in mind that if you live in a moderate to warm climate, get the ever bearing or ever fruiting varieties, since you'll get both a summer and a fall crop. In colder zones where winters come early, ever bearing varieties may not have time to ripen in the fall, so buy your plants accordingly.
You'll need garden gloves and prune from the bottom up!
The Doyle Blackberry is thornless and also very prolific. So prolific in fact, that it resembles Jack's Bean Stalk! It's vines are probably the most beautiful of all the backyard berries with small dark green leaves, and thick smooth canes.
Eric grows Doyle Blackberries just like grapes, anchored to the top of a 6 foot privacy fence, and they can run 25 feet in just one season! Next year, all of the side shoots will come out of the runners, and hang down the side of fence. You don't want to let them grow like a bush, since Doyle's can get to be 50 feet tall, and then how are you going to pick the berries?
Olallieberry (pictured here) Is one third red raspberry and two thirds blackberry. This hybrid was developed in Oregon in the 1940's but grows best in California climates. They taste more blackberry-ish but are much larger and somewhat sweeter. The name Ollalie means berry in the language of the Pacific NW Native Americans.
Triple Crown Thornless (shown in video) produces as much as 30 pounds of blackberries, per plant, per season! With a cost of $5.50 per plant, multiplied by their life span of 15+ years, that's 450 pounds of berries ~ less than a penny a pound! Here's a great video on pruning blackberries and growing them in a compact area by spiraling canes when tying them up. This also makes much easier to pick because all the fruit is in one place instead of trailing down the fence.
Don't let any of your backyard berries get out of control, (this goes for fruit and citrus trees too) because if you can't reach the fruit, it will rot in the air or fall down and rot, which brings fruit flies and all kinds of unwanted visitors. Also, if the canes or tips of the blackberry vines come in contact with the ground, they can easily root and take over other areas of your garden.
On the flip side, an easy way to propagate new plants is once the canes root, cut the rooted part off or dig out the shoots that sprout to plant in other areas of your yard.
Doyle blackberries (pictured here) are quite large and juicy but they have really big seeds that don't soften when ripe. (unlike Black Berry Pearl) They're also thorn less and the vines resemble Jack's Beanstalk.
Doyle blackberry plants produce enormous amounts of fruit that hangs down like grapes, fantastic for making sorbets, jams, pies, wine, soda's, syrups, etc. We've been getting a steady crop for at least two months now and they're still going like crazy.
Black Berry Pearl, also called Black Pearl, (nothing to do with Pirates of the Caribbean) is a disease resistant blackberry that tastes great and is also thorn less. They say it tastes as close to a Marion berry as you can get without the thorns. The super juicy berries are easy to pick, and when they are truly ripe the seeds will soften a little, making them quite enjoyable to eat out of hand.
Marion berries have lots of thorns but they're one of the best tasting for eating off the vine, plus great for making jams jellies and pies. This is one you grow in a container lined with landscaping fabric so it can't escape, cause man those thorns are wicked! (Ouch!)
Blue berries seem to be the only berry that doesn't stick when you throw them together in a freezer bag. Since raspberries, blackberries, etc. are juicier, they're more likely to get crushed with the weight of other berries. This happened to me while using my salad spinner to whirl the water out of the berries.
If you don't care about how your berries look, then it doesn't matter, just throw them in a bag and freeze. If you want them to stay whole, pretty, and not stick together after washing, put one layer on a no stick cookie tray or line a pan with parchment paper and freeze overnight. Then put them in a airtight container or zip storage bag.
If you try to use a Food Saver vacuum device on ripe raspberries and blackberries, they're likely to get squished as the vacuum pressure pulls the bag in. The solution is to first freeze them (as above) so tye're not too soft. Vacuum packing backyard berries makes them last longer without freezer burn or ice crystal build up.
Are you ready to try growing your own backyard berries? See the links below for more back yard projects including planting blue berry bushes, wooden fence designs, and more. Cobbler and sorbet recipes coming soon!
Eric Furman, PHD is a biochemist/patent attorney, and was the inspriation for this article. Besides backyard berries, his garden layout includes: citrus and fruit trees, passionfruit vines, vegetables, and herbs, using organic gardening methods.