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Life Off-the-Grid

A Banner Year for Raspberries

By Cam Mather

Every year I have some gardening successes and some gardening failures. In terms of the failures, some combination of water and temperature and gardener error cause some things to not live up to their potential. This can be discouraging, and frustrating. But on the other hand every year at least one thing does really well, and since it’s important to always look on the bright side of life, I like to focus on the things that are going well.

This year, “I’m bustin!” as George Costanza used to say on Seinfeld. I’m bustin for my raspberries. And this feeling of elation isn’t just because I’m having a bumper crop. Nope, in this case it’s because for years I’ve been a miserable failure when it comes to growing raspberries. Having to purchase new raspberry canes to replace the ones that I’ve lost every year gets pretty expensive, so it adds to the frustration.

I put in some cultivars recommended by my friend John Wise who’s been farming organically for decades. I put them in what I thought was a good spot. I tried to keep them weeded. I kept them fertilized with composted horse manure, but I hardly got any berries. It was huge piss off.

So last year I decided to abandon the original spot and I started a row out back in a really sandy spot. It’s not a prime place in terms of the quality of soil, but I just wanted to try some different. Michelle suggested that I should put a few raspberry plants next to the woodshed where wild raspberries canes had always grown. Michelle is exceptionally observant and logical in these situations.

This spring I moved a bunch of canes from the original patch and put them in the rows I started last year, and I even put a few in various other places around the house. I stuck them in all over the place to see where they might grow best.

Guess what? This year, they are ALL doing well! I’ve got bushels of raspberries! It’s just fantastic! It is just a huge ego boost to finally feel that I’m not some raspberry-challenged-hacker anymore. Early on I had some problems with scarabs who were really going after the plants, but since it looked like there was lots of berries forming on the plants, I took the time to hand pick and squish the little….. invaders.

Michelle keeps coming in the back door with baskets of raspberries that she has picked and they are overflowing with ripe red, juicy, succulent raspberries. It’s just a joy. We’ve got way too many to eat so we’ve started freezing them. We put them on a cookie sheet to freeze them individually and then we put them into freezer bags so that we can use them as we need them all winter long.

I gotta tell ya, I feel like a million bucks. Now you can get this feeling from mastering any number of different challenges from getting your golf stroke down to learning how to set up a website. But there is something special about growing food well. Something primordial. Something deep in our DNA from the time we first realized that we could stop hunting and gathering and put down roots and grow food. As I hope I make clear in “Thriving During Challenging Times” the long-term benefit of chasing a little white ball around a huge area that should be used for growing food will be questionable. The benefits of making mistakes in your garden now to help you to get your food growing skills up to par are infinite.

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