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There’s nothing quite like the simple joy of devouring freshly-picked raspberries sprinkled into a bowl of vanilla ice cream—or straight from the cup of your hand. In Colorado, berry season runs from late August through October, or until the first freeze occurs. We spoke with Tim Ferrell, co-owner of Berry Patch Farms in Brighton—which grows several varieties of berries, melons, and a selection of vegetables, including greens and squash—to find out what makes Colorado’s raspberry-growing season uniquely challenging—and how you can pick your own.
What Makes Raspberries So Delicious?
A good raspberry is tart and earthly sweet, with a quintessential juicy bite. Berry Patch Farms grows fall-bearing red and gold raspberries, which typically become ripe for picking at the cusp of September, just as the weather begins to cool. According to Ferrell, you can tell the raspberries are ripe when they are vibrant in color, and when the fruit slips easily off its stem.
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Raspberries are perennial shrubs that produce their fruit on tall vines called canes. The hardiness of the shrubs and the plants’ need for sunny exposure allows them to grow well in Colorado, while the state’s low humidity levels—typically 13 to 15 percent—reduce mold and rotting (which can be a problem in other regions with more moisture and flooding).
But arid conditions can also pose challenges to homegrown berries, which need an abundant and consistent water supply, Ferrell says. Sub-soil moisture (from precipitation that accumulates throughout the year) is key to producing the little bubbles of juicy liquid on the exterior of the fruit—creating plump berries that burst with flavor when you eat them. Due to the high elevation, warm days and cool summer evenings also help develop the sugars, resulting in the perfect balance of refreshingly sweet and tart notes in every bite.
The raspberry yields this season are smaller than normal due to a lack of sub-soil moisture. Berry Patch Farms planted their raspberry shrubs this past May after a particularly dry winter. “The climate out here is good, although it’s been a very difficult year for the raspberries because it’s hot and dry,” Ferrell says. “The sun dries up the fruit, and it becomes like a prune almost, which isn’t good. Fortunately we had water.”
While the Front Range got a sufficient amount of rain this growing season, cultivating raspberries in Colorado is a fine balance of hydrating and nourishing the soil throughout the year, while being mindful of water consumption. Ferrell is experimenting with drip irrigation and cover crops, which are planted to manage soil health and hydration during the off-season.
Meet the Growers
Ferrell, a retired minister, and his wife Claudia, a retired doctor, started Berry Patch Farms 31 years ago after seeking the advice of late agricultural trailblazer Bob Sakata, owner of Brighton’s Sakata Farms, once one of the largest vegetable growers in Colorado. “I kind of wanted to get into farming and asked him, ‘what should I grow?’” Ferrell says. “He said, ‘raspberries—no one else is growing them.’ So, I took his advice to heart. The rest is history.”
The Ferrells worked with Colorado State University to determine the varieties of raspberries and strawberries that would grow best in the local climate. They began producing berries for wholesale by packaging and selling them at markets, but found it difficult to maintain the berries’ flavor and ripeness due to their short shelf life (raspberries are typically at their best for only two to three days, if stored refrigerated). But four years after starting the business the couple adopted the pick-your-own berry model, allowing guests to pick raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, cherries, flowers, herbs, and pickling cucumbers fresh from the farm.
Inviting the local community to pick berries gives them access to the freshest fruit and gives Coloradans a hands-on experience to connect with nature. “People come out here to relax; for peace and quiet; to be still,” Ferrell says.
How to Pick Your Own Berries
Visits to collect your own fruit at Berry Patch Farms can be booked via the website’s online reservation system (check the website for daily updates). It also has a market on-site, where guests can buy pre-picked produce including melons and summer squash. The Ferrells also run a CSA program in the summer and winter. When the weather cools, they will deliver microgreens, leafy greens, sweet winter cabbage, and other seasonal vegetables.
13785 Potomac St., Brighton