Raspberries, delicate and sweet, are usually thought of as a summer treat. Because of San Diego County's mild climate, however, raspberries have become almost a year-round crop in the area. Although early June and mid-August are considered peak raspberry season, you may be able to buy freshly picked raspberries at local markets well into November, weather permitting.
John Cantabrana grows raspberries on a wind-swept hillside in Vista. What started out as a hobby seven years ago has become a full-time job: "I planted raspberries in my back yard, and all of a sudden business exploded."
His original raspberry patch had 12 plants of the Oregon 1030 variety. That small planting has grown to 2 acres after careful annual thinning of the rootstock. Each year, Cantabrana cuts his plants down to 10 inches off the ground. Berries develop on the new stock during the next growing season. "It's a fairly inexpensive fruit to raise," says Cantabrana, "but it's really labor intensive."
Indeed, laborers must spend longer than average individually picking each berry off the vine. They have to pry the sweet, ripe ones from stems covered in thorns and prickly leaves, while being careful not to damage the tender berry. It can take a picker close to a day to pick two flats of raspberries.
Cantabrana said he picks berries every other day. "That's a lot of time spent picking. That's why not too many growers elect to plant raspberries."
Weather is also an important factor in raspberry production. "Too much heat or too much rain does them in. If they get too much rain, they tend to get moldy. Intense heat fries the leaves right on the vine," Cantabrana said.
This is the sixth year Robert Torres has been growing raspberries. His half-acre of plants benefits from the sea breezes which sweep over Chestnut Street in Carlsbad.
"The local berries have more flavor than the ones that are trucked in," said Torres, who splits his time between house painting and farming. "We have staggered crops of raspberries, so we almost have a year-round growing season."
The Chestnut Produce Stand is a family enterprise, which Torres runs with the help of his wife, Peggy, and her parents, Andy and Hortensia Ayala who take care of the daily picking. Like the other growers, Torres hopes for a steady supply of raspberries until he closes the stand after Halloween.
Fallbrook grower George Emerich believes the Oregon 1030 is the best variety for this area. "The Heritage berry is a good standard variety," he said, "but it needs more chill than our weather provides."
Emerich, a chemical engineer by training, grows exotic fruits and vegetables as a hobby. He hopes this year's raspberry season will extend into December. "The Oregon 1030 is dependable, it doesn't need a period of chill. It's almost an ever-bearer. It yields fruit on the first year's growth. That's almost unheard of," he said. "You just mow them down at the end of the season, and the fruit comes back on the new growth the next year."
Another Fallbrook grower, Mike Maloney, cultivates berries following guidelines set by the California Certified Organic Farmers. He fertilizes his plants with worm castings, which he describes as an excellent slow-release fertilizer. Maloney's thick patch of raspberry vines clings to a quarter-acre hillside overlooking the Fallbrook golf course.
Raspberries taste best when freshly picked. If refrigerated, leave the fruit uncovered, so it doesn't come into contact with any moisture. "One rotten one will spoil the whole basket," said Vista grower Cantabrana.
WHERE TO GET FRESH RASPBERRIES
John Cantabrana, 555 Barsby Street, Vista, CA 92083; 941-3258. Sells at area farmer's markets. Half-pint basket costs between $1.50 and $2, depending on the time of year.
Robert Torres, Chestnut Produce Stand, on Chestnut Street, half block west of Highland Avenue, Carlsbad. 729-2361. Raspberries picked daily; $2 a half-pint basket.
George Emerich, Emerich Gardens, 152 S. Stagecoach Lane, Fallbrook, 92028; 728-3281. Sells from home fruit stand. Pickings depend on the weather. Prices vary depending on availability.
Mike Maloney, O.G. Produce, 2252 Gird Road, Fallbrook, 92028; 728-1244. Wholesale only. Maloney sells to health food stores such as the Encinitas Community Market, 745 First Street, (in the Lumberyard), Encinitas. Half pint basket of organically-grown raspberries $2.19.