The raspberries are warm from the golden late-afternoon sun as I pluck each one and drop it into the quart yogurt container hanging from my neck by a length of garden twine. As I pick, my eye is drawn to those with the deep color of ripeness, but my fingers make the final test. If a berry resists my gentle tug, it has a day more to go. If it collapses between my fingers, overripe, I drop it on the ground. The goal: a full bowl of perfect fruit.
The technique is one any berry-loving child can learn. You become good at it with daily picking, and that’s just what’s required when fall raspberries are in season. Unlike the raspberries of June, which give you a month of pleasure at best, these late ones go on and on until a hard frost or merely inhospitable cold ends their season.
Regular picking keeps the fruit healthier, especially during a rainy spell, because a berry decaying on the stem can transmit molds and other ills to neighboring fruit. And the daily pick is no burden when it means berries are always at hand, ready in the fridge from morning cereal bowl to evening dessert.
Our fall raspberries, often called everbearers, would fruit late the first year and early the next if we didn’t cut them down to ground level after the fall harvest. This simple if drastic pruning technique thus yields one big bountiful and healthy crop late each year, starting in late summer.
By contrast, June bearers require a more skilled pruning method that means starting each spring with some canes that grew the previous year.
We grow an early everbearing variety called Polana, to get picking off to a good start. We’re tempted to keep it going even longer with some form of protection from the cold. Commercial growers often grow raspberries in high tunnels (plastic hoop houses) to extend the season, but a home gardener could erect a very simple structure by joining paired 10-foot lengths of bendable electric conduit together: These 20-foot tubes then can be driven into the ground to form a series of arches over the row of raspberry plants, spaced four feet apart. Create the tunnel with a sheet of greenhouse plastic, attached to the arches with form-fitting snap clamps (www.snapclamp.com).
Unlike a permanent hoop house, this tunnel would not have to carry a load of snow. In fact, taking it down during winter will guarantee the plants the chilling they need for fruiting the following year.
Perhaps you already have the boxy fruit cages that gardeners often use to bird-proof their berry crops with netting. These could be temporarily covered with plastic, too.
Whatever structure you use should be vented on warm days (bungee cords are handy for keeping plastic sheeting pulled aside) and you’ll need to lay down a length or two of drip irrigation pipe, or soaker hoses, to keep the ground moist. But the berries themselves, kept dry under their roof, would be spared the plagues that rainy spells can bring on. And picking time would be more fun on a not-so-golden afternoon.
Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”
Specialty bulbs for early spring — crocus, grape hyacinth, glory-of-the-snow, species tulips, scilla and, especially, snowdrops — should be ordered now for early fall planting. Daffodils and hybrid tulips can be planted later in the fall.