Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Black cap season! (wild black raspberries)

 Wild black raspberries (black caps/thimbleberry) are just coming into season here. These first ones are not quite ripe, close, but still tart. Perfect for baking and jams! These are a wild raspberry (Rubus occidentalis), even though many confuse them with a wild blackberry (Rubus ursinus.. aka dewberry).  While they are related, and the berries look very similar, they are not the same species.   
   Wickedly prickly, they also seem to hide tons of mosquitoes in their canes. I will be picking in the next few days. This will be no small task as the bigger farm never got it's fields cut. An early morning adventure as it is supposed to get back up to the 90's with humidity also in the 90's. I'll be able to check on the gooseberry as the black raspberries often are found nearby. 

 Wild black raspberries don't have a very long season. It generally is only for a few weeks.. in northern IL.. basically July. Then these lovely morsels are gone.

 These berries provide a lot more than just dessert, they pack some heath benefits in their punch. A good source of vitamin A (helps with night vision), vitamin c, iron, fiber, a smattering of calcium.. and a whole lot of antioxidants (anthocyanins) and ellagic acids. If you thought blueberries packed a whollop, black raspberries pack up to 3 times more. They bring to the table anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. A serving of 2/3rds of a cup is about 75 calories (I like to think they mitigate the calories in the whipped cream or ice cream that I pair them with.. you know.. like how broken cookies lose calories with every fracture. Hence you can smash up a whole dozen cookies and make a zero calorie crunchy topping for that sundae...)

 If you found a particularly tasty cane, you can clone it by burying the tip on the cane and letting it root. In the picture above, that's how we moved this patch. Using larger nursery pots, I put them next to the canes and buried the tips. 

 To be quite honest.. I totally forgot about them until the next year. This patch is tiny and was started from 2 canes about 16 years ago. These berries were my little sister's favorite. When she was very little, it was one of the few foods she would whole heartedly devour. That was one of my jobs as a little kid.. and to get me and my next younger sister to pick enough of them, my Mom paid us $1 a pint. Back then.. and at the age of 7.. that was big bucks! Anyways.. we put these in closer to that house so my Mom could grab some easily for my sister. They are kept somewhat in check by mowing as they are right next to the field. 

 These can also be propagated by seed. The seeds do need cold stratification to germinate. These are sort of an understory plant. By that I mean they can survive ok in the dappled light, but do best on the edge of a forest setting. They need and like enough sunlight to produce fruit, but do well with a little protection from trees. They do fine in clay soils, but need drainage.  If planting in an open sunny area, make sure to water when it is setting fruit should the rain be scarce.

 While a lot of critters like the fruit (birds, raccoons, etc.).. deer, rabbits and goats like the leaves. The canes start setting fruit on the 2nd year. You can try to somewhat train/ restrain them along a fence. That would make picking the easier as they tend to make a clump if allowed to do what they will. We just let them go wild.. then whine and complain when it is time to harvest.. the whole time vowing to end the shenannigans and get them under control. Almost 3 decades of the same routine and we have yet to make the canes play nice! lol 

 So if you happen across some black caps, give them a taste. If you run across one that has nice plump, easily picked berries that taste amazing.. please consider propagating them! Most of the cultivars out there are from discoveries made out in the woods!

 (Although very hardy.. keep spacing away from raspberries. These wild counterparts often bully their way past pests and diseases.. something that the very selectively cultivated red raspberry might not be able to withstand. They can cross pollinate, but these plants do most of their reproduction by rooting at the tips of the canes. They initially grow up.. then flop over.. almost like watching nature's Slinky travel across an area. Several of the "purple" raspberry cultivars.. are crosses of red raspberry to black raspberry.)


  1. We have volunteer blackberries that just went wild. The transplant idea will help.

  2. Hi Russell1200! If you sink the pot into the ground a bit it helps keep it from overheating. Just remember to not let it dry out too much. I tend to be lazy and wedge the pot into the tall grass, fill the pot about 3/4th of the way, bend the cane over and keep filling the pot. The larger nursery pots work well for this.

    I love black caps.. especially the fruit just plain and frozen. I also toss them in the blender with a dash of water, then strain out some of the seeds and make popsicles. Although the seeds are loaded with a lot of healthy properties.. they get a bit overwhelming.

    Best of luck to you with your berries!

  3. How long does it take for the cane to take root once buried?

    I am moving and will miss my wild black raspberry bushes tremendously, so having the ability to maybe take part of them with me is very enticing.

  4. How long does it take the cane to take root once buried?

    I am moving and would love to bring a part of my wild black raspberry grove with me.

  5. It takes several weeks for the rooting to take place from the time the tip is buried. I let mine sit for 2 months. If you don't have the time to wait.. look for a young cane to transplant. Make sure you dig deep enough to get enough of the root structure. The roots are rather weak with the little ones. Many of these young ones are offshoots from the root of the mother plant (spreading by way of rhizome.) These are 1st year canes and next year they will produce fruit. When you transplant like this.. don't let the soil totally dry out. They'll be a bit shocked, but should do fine as long as they don't get too stressed. If you got enough root they'll bounce back pretty quick. If you didn't.. some of the leaves may die back (it will pull energy reserves from the leaves to try to set roots.. if it has enough.. you'll see new growth in a week or two.) We moved ours from deadpan clay (only slightly softer than concrete.) We used finished compost to line where they were being moved to and as well a top dressing. It was in the 90's and middle of the day (worst timing ever.. especially as fall is the "ideal" time to transplant.. but you can do it now if you baby them).. so we lost 3 of the 12 first year canes. Same method can be applied to regular raspberries.
    If they are still in season by you.. or even past season old dried berries still on the cane you can grab some of those for the seeds if you are in a pinch. The best way I have found to clean the seeds was when I was making jam actually. I put the berries through a juiceman juicer then squeezed the pulp through cheesecloth. You can use whatever.. food mill, blender, strainer.

    Just keep in mind.. they basically set a taproot. So make sure you are a few inches away and dig deep. You can hedge your bets by potting some up in 1g pots and as well bury the tips of a mature cane if you have the time. This way if one fails.. you still have the other (provided you have the time to let it root.) Keep the pot in semi-shade so they can recover. You can mound up soil a bit when you transplant them. With compost it will gently fertilize them as well as encourage them to root better.

    Good luck!