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, 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 others it touches. And the daily pick is no burden when it means berries 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 all down to ground level after the fall harvest ends, and thereby opt for just one big bountiful crop late each year. Because pruning is thus simplified, they’re easier to maintain than the June-bearing type — as well as longer-bearing — and in our garden they tend to be more disease-free too.
We grow an early fall variety called Polana, to get picking off to a head start, and 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 hoophouses) to extend the season, but a home gardener could erect a very simple structure just by joining paired 10-foot lengths of bendable electric conduit together, poking the ends into the ground along opposite sides of a raspberry row, and covering this temporary tunnel with a sheet of greenhouse plastic, held on with form-fitting Snap Clamps (snapclamp.com). Thrust a crowbar into the ground to make your holes, and that poking will be easier. Unlike a permanent hoophouse, 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 for the picker on a not-so-golden afternoon.
Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”