Ray's Garden Rows: New Year's resolution to retrace tracks

Wisconsin State Farmer

With the start of a new year, there's a tradition — not always carried out — of making resolutions on what one hopes to do or change in his or her life.

For this year, I'm resolving to spend some time during the summer checking on the fate of wild raspberries at locations where my dad and some of my brothers picked the berries decades ago. I fear that no plants have survived during those many years but at least I'd like to find out.

Along the railroad

The main setting I intend to explore again is along the right of way of the railroad that bisected land on our family's farm. There were black raspberry patches at a couple of spots along the fences of the adjacent fields. A few wild grapes and chokecherries also grew there.

Black raspberries were ripe in late June and July — an ideal time because it was after the planting of crops and the harvesting of the first cutting of hay and before the grain harvest began. The picking trips about twice a week served as a small scale family outing.

At the far end of the railroad right of way along our land were blackberries, which ripened in August. Dad loved to pick them but he was very upset when, by late July or early August, a railroad crew sprayed herbicide to control the growth of thistles, burdock and other weeds. This also killed the blackberries which were due to ripen soon.


Black raspberries rarely are found in the fresh or frozen fruit department of a supermarket. When you plant your own, they begin to produce fresh fruit the second year after planting.

Crossing the river

In addition to the trek along the railroad, another raspberry picking destination required a walk across the Manitowoc River at a spot where, long ago, someone had placed stones that enabled a crossing when the water flow was low, as was typically the case in early summer. Technically, this was trespassing but it was done at time when people tended to be less sensitive about that.

On the opposite side of the river was a woodlot in which a corridor was created a few years earlier for an electric power line — the same one that placed a few poles on our farmland. Removing the large trees from that portion of the woods apparently paved the way for the growth of the raspberries, which included a few yellow and purple berry plants.

Adjacent to the power line corridor was a large meadow which had raspberries along its fences. I know there aren't any raspberries there today because the space has been turned into a residential subdivision.

Black cap berries

It's been only in the past year that I've heard of “black cap” raspberries. This might be only a matter of terminology.

A friend indicates that he has, or at least had, black cap berries in the back woods on his farm. At about the same time, an elderly farm woman told me she was also familiar with the term.

Since I haven't seen the berries they're referring to, I hope to learn more this year by taking a walk with my friend to show me what he's referring to – if there are still any plants.

Braving brambles

The online entries about raspberries acknowledge that there are overlaps in the terminology along with an indication that the black cap canes are “brambles,” which is certainly what the familiar black raspberry canes are. Along with the photos which suggest that the traditional blackberries resemble the shape of a cap, I think I haven't missed anything.

What's still a bit puzzling, however, is that two people I've discussed black caps with describe that berries as being lengthy rather than round.

Maybe that alone will be reason enough for me to resolve to complete a walk down memory lane and search for something new besides.