|Harvesting raspberries in late July|
My answer, if you live on the Oregon coast, is to try raspberries.
One of the great joys of the garden is to pick fresh fruit in season, and raspberries have to be one of the most loved. Living in western Oregon, we are fortunate that our climate is just right for nurturing these wonderful fruits, along with many other types of berries. Mild winters, slightly acid soil that is high in organic matter, plentiful water but low rainfall during harvest season. They are easy to plant and care for, and easier still to harvest. The work is mostly in the preparation and planning, and your efforts will be repaid tenfold.
Red raspberries are classified as summer-bearing or fall-bearing, to keep it simple. Start reading on berries and they will go into all kinds of detail on the types of canes and how they fruit. For the beginner, start with a vigorous summer-bearing type and purchase disease-free stock from a nursery. A bundle of bare root plants is a cheap investment, usually $10-15. Each of these rooted sticks will multiply into several canes within the first year, and bear fruit the second.
You need to find a sunny place for a permanent well-drained row, 10' or so to start. Pick a spot with good sun exposure for most of the day and open air circulation, and if your soil stays wet at any time, build it up into a raised (12-18" high) row before planting. At each end you need a sturdy post 6' tall, to which you can attach a foot long horizontal crossarm at the top. Then a couple sets of wires, one at 2' high and the others attached to your crossarms. Then once you plant the row of starts they will simply grow up inside the encircling wires. (See the diagram in OSU publication below.)
Provide your raspberries with a good annual side-dressing of a rich compost-- don't pile against the canes-- sometime between late fall and late spring. I like to clean out my chicken coop and make a row of the straw-based material along the side of the raspberry row, about one foot away, in late fall. It slowly degrades over the winter and in spring the well-fed plants are ready to grow! You could also use well-composted steer manure or mushroom compost. An annual side-dressing of complete organic fertilizer in spring is helpful.
My simplified pruning approach is to cut out the old canes (that had fruit on them this year) in late summer, after all the fruit is done. It's easiest at this stage to see what's a new cane and what's old. The new canes will be fruiting next year. Thin out the canes somewhat, so there is plenty of air circulation. If you want to keep it really tidy, you can loosely tie the new canes to the wires to hold them apart. Then before winter I remove all the old leaves, top the canes at about 6' tall, and rake up all the debris underneath. That's it for my pruning.
If you want fall-bearing raspberries you can be even lazier, and just cut them all to the ground in winter. The new canes that come up in spring will bear fruit in late summer or fall that year. There are more complicated ways to manage the pruning and maximize yield, but these are refinements rather than requirements.
My pick for a great cultivar of summer red raspberries is 'Saanich.' Our 2-year old row (10' long) produced around 75 pints of berries this summer, we kept track. And here's where I come back to that point about payback. A few hours of pruning and feeding, casual watering as needed through summer, and I literally harvested hundreds of dollars in fruit this year. Local berries were 3-4 dollars per HALF pint in our area. I had berries for freezing, fresh eating, jam and still plenty to give away to friends and family.
Can your pumpkin patch measure up?
Can your pumpkin patch measure up?
More information and sources on red raspberries:
Growing Raspberries in Your Home Garden, a publication by Oregon State University
Raspberry Cultivars for Western Oregon, also from OSU
One Green World - mail order fruit nursery in NW Oregon
Raintree Nursery - mail order fruit nursery in SW Washington state
Fruits and Berries (Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening) a good general guide for organic berries