While my Home Depot bare root raspberry cane was failing to grow, I was busy doing research on planting my own raspberries. I came across a great article comparing the productivity and the taste of primocane raspberries. If you don’t already know, there are two main types of raspberry plants – primocane (or everbearing) and floricane (summer bearing). Basically, the raspberry canes have a two year life cycle. Raspberry plants will produce new canes every year, but only primocane plants will grow raspberries during the fall of the first year of the cane cycles. Primocane will again produce berries on those same canes during the summer of the second year. Floricane raspberries will only grow raspberries during the summer of the second year. I think because I am impatient and am hoping to see raspberries this year, I only looked at primocane varieties of raspberries.
Back to the article I found, A Comparison of 10 Fall Bearing Raspberry Cultivars for Northern Utah. Briefly, they planted ten different cultivars of primocane raspberries in similar conditions and then they studied them for quantity, health, taste, and overall preference. To summarize, the taste results from a tasting panel best to worse (with preference score) were:
Joan J (3.0)
Himbo Top (2.7)
They also surveyed people at a farmer’s market to vote for their favorite. For the approximately 90 people who were surveyed, the preferences were as follows (best to worst):
Joan J (10.0%)
Himbo Top (5.1%)
I was somewhat surprised by these results. I frequently read in online forums that people love the Caroline raspberries – that they both grow well and are tasty. In the Utah study above, Caroline was rated lowest by the taste testers but in the middle by consumers at the farmer’s market. Unfortunately, I’ve had a hard time finding more studies like this on raspberry taste. Instead, you find these vague terms comparing raspberries in most publications saying “Excellent taste” or “Good quality fruit”. I’m more of a numbers person and appreciate at least some attempt to make a quantitative rating. It is possible that the study conditions in Utah are different from many of the raspberry growers who post in online forums. With me being in the mid-west, it is possible the growing conditions will affect taste.
I trusted the Utah study more than anecdotal reports in the gardening forums, but I also wanted to factor in how much fruit I will get. Fortunately, they also evaluated productivity in the Utah study. The results are as follows:
Variety (average yield pounds/foot, reliability index – minimum yield 75% of the years)
Joan J (2.4, 1.4)
Polana (1.7, 0.6)
Polka (1.6, 1.6)
Caroline (1.6, 1.1)
Summit (1.4, 0.8)
Ruby (0.9, 0.5)
Jaclyn (0.8, 0.5)
Heritage (0.8, 0.2)
Himbo top (0.6, 0.4)
Anne (0.4, 0.2)
So basically Joan J averages producing a ton of raspberries, Polka very consistently produces a lot of raspberries, Anne produces the least.
The study also included information on common diseases and plant injury, but I skipped over much of that. Based on the two main factors for my purposes, taste and productivity, I was deciding between Anne (highest taste) and Polka (high taste and consistently high production).
I was leaning towards ordering 5 Polka bare root plants or on the Nourse Farms website they mention a new strain called BP-1 that is a cross between Polka and Tulameen, supposedly producing even more than Polka and having an even better taste. I am typically a skeptic of marketing type copy, so I was hoping to find some reviews online, of which I couldn’t find any. Shortly before I ordered, I started to talk to some friends about their experiences with raspberry plants. Aside from spreading rapidly and needing to be contained, they brought up the point of thorns and having kids. I know that being thornless was one thing that I found attractive when I recently bought my Raspberry Shortcake plant, so I figured I’d look and see which varieties of raspberries are thornless. It turns out the Anne raspberry canes are thornless (update 6/27/16 – Anne are NOT thornless, no idea why I thought they were, but Joan J are indeed thornless) as are the Joan J. I was disappointed that Polka has thorns, which left Joan J as the next highest producing, but the taste was pretty moderate on the scales. Looking in other online forums, it seemed the Joan J was variable tasting from year to year, with some people liking them and some not so much. I decided to go ahead and order two different varities, one that should taste excellent and another that should produce an abundance of fruit that will hopefully also taste decent.
I went ahead and placed my order with Nourse Farms and had what appear to be very high quality bare root raspberry canes the next week. I’ll talk more about the canes from Nourse and my planting experience in another post.
Update 6/27/16 – so I initially bought these two types of raspberries thinking they were both thornless. I’m not sure where I got the idea that the Anne raspberry cane were thornless as they definite do have thorns based on what I have been reading today. Some people describe it as a “mild” thorn, but I was hoping to have a thornless raspberry patch for the kids. Hopefully the Anne raspberry thorns won’t be much of an issue. In hindsight, I’m not sure what I would have ordered had I known the Anne raspberries had thorns. I did want to make sure I tried some of the raspberries that have a reputation for excellent taste, but having a thornless high producing variety seems very appealing too, assuming the taste is still pretty good. Hopefully we’ll get some raspberries so I can give feedback on the taste.
As for which raspberry canes are thornless, Joan J are consistently described as thornless. Canby red are described as “nearly thornless”. And then there are the dwarf raspberry shortcake plants that are thornless.