Monday, May 16, 2016

Try This Black Cap On

Above: These beautiful bronze irises were a gift from someone a number of years ago. They've survived my move nine years ago, but are now in danger of being swamped by a tall yellow iris and a mass of white prairie sage. I frequently forget that they are there and find myself a bit surprised when they bloom. The first blossoms always elicit an "Oh, yeah."

If I can manage to not get lost in all my other tasks, I hope to move some of these unique irises to a less populated spot (as well as dig out some of the prairie sage).

The old-fashioned purple iris also are in bloom and releasing the most heavenly scent. No other iris has such a delicious fragrance. I always look forward to their blooming, as inhaling their scent seems to me like breathing fresh air for the first time in a long time. Alas, their bloom season is short.

Below: And this is my black raspberry tangle.

You should see fence posts with wire strung between them and all of the second-year fruiting canes tied to the wire. Instead, you see a mad tangle, with the second-year canes flopping on the ground, many of them rooted at the end. So, good news, I'll have more black raspberry plants to put somewhere. Bad news, I can't just walk between the three rows. I should have put the fenceposts and wire in last spring, when I planted these monsters. But I didn't. Lots of excuses; but that doesn't change the scenes.

The more upright canes that you see are mostly this year's growth, which will give me berries next year. This tangle got planted in an area that we prepared for potential fruit trees and definitely some kind of berries. We layered wood chips and compost over the area at the edge of the woods. In some place the mulch/compost was at least three feet thick because of the slope toward the rock ledge where the hill drops off. Then we waited for three years as the mulch decomposed and developed a luscious fungal composition that is favored by woodland types.

Black raspberries, also known as "black caps," like well drained soil and full sun to part shade.One Web site noted that with "proper pruning black raspberries behave quite well in the small-scale, edible landscape." As you can see, without proper pruning and support they do not behave well at all, except for the fact that last year's growth now bears numerous blossoms that will turn into my most favorite berry. The little flowers are not as showy as those of blackberries, as their petals are quite small to almost non-existent. But the bees seem to love them, and I certainly love what follows the flowers.

Another Web site noted that black raspberries are not as hardy as red raspberries. Say what? I have found the opposite to be true. I must baby the reds along while the black raspberries go nuts. Black raspberries are hardy in zones 5-8 (I live in zone 6-ish), while the reds might be hardier to a cooler USDA zone, but dislike the heat of our summers. One species of black raspberry is native to Kansas -- and pretty much the entire U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains -- and grows wild in the woods around my home. Another species is native west of the Rockies. I have no idea which species is sold as cultivated varieties, perhaps both, perhaps a hybrid; another avenue for exploration.

The trouble with having wild black raspberries growing in my woods is that they can transmit various diseases to my cultivated ones, as can blackberries and red raspberries. The diseases don't do much to the blackberries and red raspberries, but will affect the black caps over time. So they must be separated -- by at least 100 feet according to one source, or by 300 feet according to another -- and preferably the black raspberries must be downwind from the others to prevent the wind from carrying insects and disease to them. So those wild canes I found growing nearby after planting all those black raspberries must be kept cut down.

In my last post I raved about strawberries, but if I must choose -- if I really must -- the black raspberry edges out the strawberry very slightly as my favorite berry of them all. And what a great berry to have as my favorite. Unless you read nothing about nutrition, you've all learned that blueberries and other berries are "super foods," possessing tons of antioxidants and other powerful nutrients. Black raspberries edge out all the other berries when it comes to antioxidants. The black caps have 10 percent more antioxidants than blueberries (everybody's darling) and 40 percent more than strawberries. This makes them excellent for prevention of cancer, heart disease and other issues.

The dark color of the berries (which aren't "true" berries, but that's another post) indicates the presence of lots of anthocyanins. Their anti-inflammatory action helps with the prevention of many ailments (such as cancer and heart disease). The berries also supposedly help improve vision, memory retention in the elderly, improve cardiovascular health, reduce the risk of high blood pressure, and so on. Other constituents boost all of those effects as well as reduce birth defect risk, improve liver issues and improve wound healing.

The roots and leaves also have been used medicinally. The roots provide a strong laxative effect and can be chewed to relieve coughs and toothaches, as well as treating diarrhea and dysentery. The leaves are highly astringent and can be made into a wash to clear up old and "foul" sores, ulcers and boils.

But I'd rather eat the berries as often as possible for their overall benefits. The berries are so perishable that you rarely find them for sale even in farmers markets. I have occasionally seen bags of frozen ones, and have seen a few items (such as ice cream) flavored with black raspberries. So if you want the wondrous flavor and health benefits of these berries, grow your own. It will be worth it.


Tamara said...

Thanks for this great blog entry! Which cultivar of black raspberries do you grow?

Sandra M. Siebert said...

As soon as I published this, I realized I had forgotten to include that info. I have three cultivars -- Munger, Jewel and Bristol.