Tom Hoerth of Bath ate a handful of raspberries, “big, full, really nice berries.” Locally grown berries … Maine berries … on the 27th of March this year!
Hoerth says that he still has to pinch himself to believe that he has 1800 raspberry plants going in his greenhouse, located in Wiscasset, and that he can make good money ($9/pint) from them. Here’s how he does it.
The ‘Tulameen’ raspberries arrive from Sakuma Bros. Farms, Inc., in Washington State (PO Box 427, Burlington WA 98233; 360-757-6611; fax 360-757-3936) in the spring, when Hoerth puts them in 1-gallon pots filled with a mixture of peat, sand, perlite and vermiculite, in equal amounts. As they grow outside during the summer, he overhead feeds them with Coast of Maine fermented salmon.
The potted plants stay outside until the middle of December, then, after they’ve been subjected to enough cold temperature to alter the buds on the canes to become flower buds, he brings them into the 29′ x 96′ double-poly covered greenhouse that is heated to 55 to 60 degrees with a gas heater. The polyethylene covering is 11 ml thick rather than the usual 6-ml thickness used on greenhouses, because the former lasts longer. The plastic comes from Plastic-Growers Requisites Ltd., 1738 Seacliff Dr., Kingsville, Ontario N9Y 2M6 (800-819-8776; fax 519-326-3492). The greenhouse is from Ed Person, Ledgewood Farm Greenhouse Frames, Route 171, RFD 1, Box 375, Moultonboro NH 03254 (603-476-8829).
Normally the plants fruit from mid-February through mid-April, but this year, given the darker winter, they were just beginning to fruit in mid-March. Bumble bees introduced in early February ensure pollination. The bees come from The Green Spot, Ltd., 93 Priest Rd., Nottingham NH 03290-6204; 603-942-8925; Fax 603-942-8932.
By mid-May or early June, the raspberries are transplanted to 5-gallon bags holding the same peat-sand-perlite-vermiculite soil mix as above and are moved outdoors. Thus, Hoerth gets two to three years out of each rootstock.
The berries are sold at the Portland Market and at the Rising Tide Food Co-op in Damariscotta. The start-up costs (for leveling and ensuring that the land is drained; buying, setting up and covering the greenhouse; buying and running a heater; establishing irrigation; plants, soil mix, etc.) are high, says Hoerth, “but raspberries are the highest grossing crop per square foot that I can think of – besides dope! And you’ve got to be legal!”
This article originally ran in the Maine Times. In talking about other crops that he grows in his greenhouse, Hoerth mentioned covering some with row covers held up with wire hoops. The source he uses for hoops is Ken-Bar, 25 Walkers Brook Dr., PO Box 504, Reading MA 01867-0704; Tel. 781-944-0003.