I remember back in grade school learning the word “harbinger” in spelling. “Harbinger, h-a-r-b-i-n-g-e-r, harbinger. The robin in one of the first harbinger’s of spring.” What I didn’t recite to the teacher was, “Pruned raspberries are really the first harbinger of spring. Prune your raspberries in later winter or early spring — if you see a robin while pruning, he/she won’t be a happy bird.”

This week, when I needed a break from “THE BOOK,” I pruned the raspberries. Before I claim to be a raspberry expert, let me clarify that I had never seen a red raspberry until I bought this house in 1982. The previous owners loved their raspberry patch (with good reason) so much that they actually put into the sales contract that the raspberries didn’t come with the house. They relented, however, and left most of them for us with clear instructions about pruning. “In the late summer or early spring, cut back last year’s new cane to about knee high and pull out the previous year’s dead cane.”  You can tell the dead cane because it’s short (it was pruned a year ago) and whitish. The picture below shows a dead cane, waiting for removal, next to a cane about to be pruned.

As near as I can figure, these raspberries are Heritage, a everbearing red. That means that they produce one crop in mid-summer (on the cane that you cut back in the spring). They send out a new cane on which they will try desperately to produce a fall crop. Unless we have a very mild fall and a very late frost (which we did last fall), the second bearing brings nothing but heartbreak. You watch these new canes come up, bloom, set fruit, and when you can almost taste the new berries–Zap–they are nipped by the frost.

They are a wild and reckless berry, spreading very much like weeds, albeit wonderful weeds. It’s a challenge to keep them tamed sufficiently to pick them, but we’re trying. In the pictures below, you’ll see that we’ve put up taming fences. Every day, I go out to the patch and speak to the canes. I explain to them that the rows are for their own good, and that they should aim to put up the new cane in the row (not the foot path), ideally between the guide wires. They don’t listen much.  But I don’t really complain. Their fruit is exquisite and makes raspberry jam to die for.

Rows of raspberries after pruning

Raspberries before pruning

Close up showing old, dead cane -- white and cut short