The Taming of the Shrub

Part of today was dedicated to checking some jobs off our Get-The-Farm-Ready-For-Summer to-do list.

Now, this list is a lengthy document and is, by no means, for the faint of heart.

It covers everything from turning over both gardens and prepping the raised beds to starting to scrape the old paint off the house to prepare it for being painted.

I like to approach the jobs in order of how realistic it is that they might actually be completed someday.  Scraping and painting the house, for example, would be found WAY down at the very bottom of the list.  Something like pruning the berry bushes, however, would be totally doable and right up at the top.

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Beastly, tangled mess of brambles

So that’s where I started today.

When we planted the berry bushes three years ago, we put in a dozen each of two different types of raspberries.  We let them grow, produce amazingly delicious fruit, and remain unpruned… until today.

These beauties turned into beasts over the last year and some serious grooming was in order.

Left unpruned, red raspberry plants effectively become their own weeds, create an overcrowded living situation, and compete for sunlight with themselves.  When sunlight can’t reach the buds on the bottom of the plant, those buds die, leaving you with a plant that produces an increasingly smaller crop each year.  They also compete with themselves for water and nutrients, leaving the berries that do emerge as smaller and less flavorful.

And no one wants smaller, less flavorful berries.

But what goes and what stays?  Well, that part is actually pretty easy.

Healthy floricans on the left, spent floricans on the right

Healthy floricans on the left, spent floricans on the right

The main thing to do is get rid of what are called “spent floricanes.”  These have a two-year lifespan–in the first year, they are green and fruit-bearing; in the second year, they are woody and fruit-bearing (this is a fairly reckless over-simplification, but that’s okay with me).

After the second year, the floricane has done all it’s gonna do and keeping it around will only create chaos and confusion.  More importantly, cutting these down prevents disease spores from taking up residence over the winter and spreading to new canes in the spring.

You’ll recognize a floricane that is ready for pruning by the tell-tale peeling grey bark.

Don’t get sentimental; cut those suckers right down to the ground.

It’s an insanely satisfying task, both in the process and the end result.

Happy bushes, ready to make delicious fruit.

Happy bushes, ready to make delicious fruit.

Once all the visibly dead bits have been pruned away, it’s also a good idea to remove any branches that have started to come up at a distance from the original rows.  I remove these whether they are spent or healthy in an effort to maintain rows, which makes fruit easier to pick and (apparently) to help prevent disease (but I don’t know how or why).

When all of that was done, the bushes really looked completely different.  They seemed lighter–freer–happier!

And everyone knows that a happy raspberry bush makes more delicious fruit.

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About applewoodfarm

Restaurateur, farmer, bartender, beekeeper, friend, wife, mother, dog lover, cat tolerater, chicken hypnotizer, blogger, and sometime yogi
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