I find the simplest of all soft fruit to grow are autumn-fruiting raspberries.
Autumn-fruiting raspberries crop heavily from August until mid-October, when soft fruit is often scarce, and the good-sized berries are full of flavour as well as being highly nutritious. Raspberries contain lots of Vitamin C plus other antioxidants, flavonoids and potassium. They can be eaten raw, they make jam in less than five minutes (if the fruit is very fresh) and they freeze tolerably well too.
When buying all fruit it is much better to go to a specialist fruit nursery, such as Ken Muir, as their stock is certified as virus-free every year.
They will also have a greater range of modern varieties and they will be able to give you excellent advice. Don’t just settle for a plastic-wrapped bundle of canes at the local garden centre - they will often disappoint.
Browse the Saga Garden Centre for great offers on fruit and vegetables now.
When to plant
Late March is an ideal time to plant raspberry canes.
Where to plant
Raspberries come from northern Europe and prefer cooler summers – which is why they often do well in Scotland.
Raspberries do tend to wander away from the row, so they need firm control. Chop out any unwanted canes in early spring just as they appear.
All raspberries prefer well-drained soil, a sheltered site and rainfall when they crop. Choose a warm, sheltered position to encourage more flower. This also ensures that lots of pollinators visit the crop.
If you live in the drier south-east corner then Autumn varieties will probably do better than summer ones, so long as they are watered enough in dry August weather.
How to plant
To plant raspberries, first prepare the soil well by digging it deeply and then allow it to settle. If you are on damp, heavy ground make a raised bed by mounding the earth up along the row before planting.
Plant canes in rows that are 1.8 m or 6ft apart, spacing each individual cane 38cm or 15in apart.
Double rows are often best. Spread the roots of the new canes out and plant them 3-4 inches deep.
Then cut them back to 30cm or 12in to prevent wind rock - thus allowing the cane to root well. If space is limited, just plant a group of canes in a circle.
Supporting raspberry canes
Once the canes develop fruit they can become top heavy and flop so you will need to support the canes.
The traditional method is to use sturdy upright supports at the ends of the rows and spread wire between them. This is a tricky process and over the months the wire always becomes slack.
Make it easy
There are two good products that will help make the job easier. One is Gripple and this system uses thick plastic-coated wires threaded through a tightening device that allows you to tension the wires properly (www.gripple.com) Haxnicks (www.haxnicks.co.uk) also sell bendy soft tie in various thicknesses. This allows you to bend flexible ties round each cane without fear of stem damage. It comes in green and brown. Both make the job infinitely easier and quicker.
Caring for raspberries
Mulching with partially-rotted grass clippings keeps the soil cool and moist. Water well in dry August weather.
When and how to prune
Pruning is also easy. Just cut the canes right down to the ground every spring because the fruit is produced on new wood. Once the canes are cut, dig lightly through the soil to disturb any raspberry beetle larvae.
Raspberries wander away from the row and they need firm control. Chop out any unwanted canes in early spring just as they appear.
When to feed
Feed raspberries an annual feed in spring with a compound fertiliser like Nitrate of Potash or Growmore. Or mulch with well-rotted manure.
Top varieties include ‘Autumn Bliss’ and a French one called ‘Galante’.
A heavy cropper which resists aphid attack and is therefore less likely to suffer from viruses. Not for wet soil though.
Tolerant to virus - but a moderate cropper
Vigorous and disease resistant with bright-red fruits
Strong, disease-resistant and heavy cropping raspberry with excellent flavour.
For a more detailed explanation of the difference between autumn-fruiting and summer-fruiting varieties of raspberries, read Val Bourne's guide to raspberry varieties.
The new look Saga Magazine is available now for just £12 for 12 issues...