For the past couple of months, folks have been kindly asking after our raspberries, wondering how they are doing and how they look for the summer ahead. I’ve regularly replied that they seemed fine, and likely should be after such a mild winter. Just that little cold snap in late November…
As it turns out, the berries are not fine.
In fact, they are looking kinda puny and weak. They always look that way to me when they start out in the spring. Some buds are far ahead of others, but within a month, they all even up and are strongly green. I used to get nervous in early spring every year, thinking, “Oh my! Are half of them dead? Will they come out?”
It’s taken a long time to get over that feeling…and now I may need a little remediation on that lesson because the berries are struggling to come out strong, and the disparity in bud break and growth remains. It won’t be a banner year for production.
The rows look like this:
The growth is very uneven. It’s not good when you see fruit laterals growing long on part of the bush, and tiny little buds just pushing out on the same bush.
See the big bunch of foliage on the ends of the canes here? Little flower buds have already appeared there.
And then there are these little buds just pushing out.
All the buds you see on the left are obviously dead…no berries happening there.
Sadly, this is happening on other farms through the county as well. It is definitely weather-caused, and the newest fields have been hit the hardest. First year fields are always most sensitive to winter damage.
Of course, the evidence at hand caused me to go back to our weather records. The first condition that was detrimental to the crop was the warm weather that lasted so long into the Fall. The berries don’t go dormant when this happens. Some of the new growth actually bears fruit in the warm conditions, and overall, the plant continues to use energy. If, instead, the plant is dormant, that energy is reserved for growth in the Spring. As well, when the plant is not dormant, there is sap in the canes that can freeze. When it freezes, the cells that hold the sap rupture, and that damage is what causes the buds to die.
So, as I said, it was warm way too long last Fall. In fact, the high temperature on November 6th was 64˚. Ten days later, the low temperature on November 16th was 18˚. Apparently, this is not enough time for the berries to go dormant and get acclimated to cooler temperatures. For the next couple of weeks, the high temps were in the 40’s, and the lows were high 20’s, low 30’s. Strangely, on November 27th, the high temp for the day was 56˚, and the low was 52˚ (south wind). Two days later the high was 27˚, and the low was 18˚.
More evidence it was too warm in the Fall: I picked these roses from my yard on November 16.
The rest of the winter was mild, although we did have a couple of days that the temp dipped below 20˚ overnight. No matter – the damage had already been done.
And now we are seeing it. It’s always disappointing to go into the growing and harvest seasons knowing that, no matter what you do, it will not be a good crop. But there are still variables to manage that will help us get the best crop we can despite the damage. One ought not to go into farming if you don’t enjoy challenges.
We are still hopeful that the plants will fill in quite a bit before long. By harvest time, they should look a lot better than they do now. But you just never know what’s going to happen out there. Mild winters are not always a good thing, and cold winters are not always a bad thing.
And farming? Well, it’s always an interesting thing.
Behold the flower buds! Berries waiting to be born…