It seems that asparagus and raspberries have always been part of my life. My dad and my mom never did very well with growing other vegetables and fruits in our yard. Yes there was the experiment with one or two apple trees at our second house. My dad would spray them to try ward off worms, insects and other infestations, but I can’t say that I really remember ever chomping down on any or many home grown apples.
However, just across the boundary and of our yard were the alluring grape vines of Joe and Helen Sitler. I must admit that my brothers and I and occasionally our cousins would stray a bit out of our yard – just a yard or two mind you and pluck a couple of grapes. Helen was like a third grandmother to us and likely forgave us. Joe, well I am not quite sure. I think we apologized if/when we were caught, he was a bit “gruff”.
Each yard, Helen’s and ours had a few chestnut trees. This was the exception; unlike the apple trees the chestnuts grew just fine, needed no care but of course came complete with spiny husks. The good news was that these kept away the squirrels and the four boys in our family until they were ripe, dried and ready to split open and yield their fruit.
I lived in this house from ages one to eight. During this time asparagus and sometimes raspberries appeared magically and regularly. Eventually my dad revealed the secret, he drove with us, probably my oldest brother Stran and I, down to the large barn on the farm below our house. My grandmother owned this farm, which was also down a lane from her house on the next block over. Behind this large white barn was a large good sized mature asparagus patch.
During the spring each April and May my dad and my Uncle Dwight, his family lived two blocks away, would go down once or twice a day to harvest asparagus. Amazingly every day the small emerging crowns of asparagus, that had been just barely poking out of the ground, would grow four to eight inches and almost scream our “pick me, please, I don’t want to go to seed!” So we took our sharp thin bladed knives and harvested more than enough asparagus for our family, my grandmother, my Uncle Dwight’s family, my Uncle Bill’s family and I am not sure who else. Perhaps we shared some with Joe and Helen and other neighbors.
This tradition continued through the time we moved to our third, my parent’s current, house built on part of the farm my grandmother owned. It was diagonal from our former second house and backed up to Helen and Joe’s yard and part of the yard of my Uncle Bill.
Now Uncle Bill seemed to have the green thumb in the family. He had lots of fruit bushes with berries and several fruit bearing trees – more chestnuts and a Black Walnut tree. I think he was the source of our raspberry plants. At the side of our back yard my dad created a long thin rectangular patch about two to three feet wide and perhaps 15 feet long. This he framed with old bricks left over from building our third house, referenced above.
Into this patch my dad planted, likely transferring from my Uncle Bill’s garden, a number of raspberry plants. Raspberries always send out underground runners that send up dozens of new plants each year so there are always plenty of extra plants to “share”.
Well my dad did not really have a green thumb when it came to apples but in this new yard, he quickly demonstrated he had a “red thumb”, because the raspberries flourished, spread and filled out the patch and quickly started yielding a bout about a quart of raspberries every day.
Well at some point my dad “invited” me to help him pick these red raspberries. “Just pick the dark red to purple ones, let the white or lighter red ones wait another day or two, then they’ll be ready,” he coached. I found that I loved picking raspberries and helping my dad tend to the patch. In the fall we would work together to remove weeds from the patch and pull out weeds and grass that had dared to invade the brick border.
Each spring, as we walked back from the school bus stop, that was by the front of my Uncle Bill’s house, I would check out the raspberry patch, and later also inspect a second patch planted with asparagus, but that is a different story, to see if the raspberries and asparagus were ready to pick.
For some reason eventually my brothers conceded the primary responsibility for picking raspberries to me, though my dad would sometimes help. This was a great bonding time, working in the yard with my dad, picking raspberries or cutting asparagus or preparing the patches for the winter or spring seasons.
Many years later when my wife and I were settling into our second house, I asked my dad if I could “have a few” of his extra raspberry plants, the offshoots that were straying from the patch. And perhaps a few others that were crowding other plants, I prepared my own patch in my own yard and found that I also had a “red thumb”. These raspberries flourished, I also planted an asparagus patch, thus renewing the tradition of waiting for spring to start the harvest of asparagus, and raspberries and often some spinach and peas, later green beans and carrots.
These “heirloom raspberries” plants were later shared with neighbors and likely are still spreading through North Springfield, VA. I transferred several raspberry plants to a new patch behind our third and current home in Annandale, VA. I have tried them in four or five locations. Some years the birds and deer get more than I do. I am willing to share but need at least a couple of handfuls each day during the season.
A couple of years ago I tried a few raspberry plants in my strawberry patch, since that five years experiment had only marginally worked and primarily benefited the chipmunks and birds. Well this year in particular my raspberry bushes have been extremely happy and for the past week or so have whispered to me each day “pick me”. I am getting a good pint or two of raspberries every day, plus or minus the three or four handfuls that I devour while picking. I smile each morning when I look out the window and see the new clusters of deep red and purple waiting for me.
It has been a bountiful harvest this year. My heirloom raspberries are delicious and constantly remind me of the many happy hours and years of working side by side with my dad nurturing and caring for those asparagus and raspberry patches forty and more years ago. Hmm… perhaps I just sneak out now and munch a few