Blackberries bring back a lot of memories for me. My Grandma Newt used to take us to Aunt Jan’s house, usually because I begged and begged to go see her beautiful buckskin gelding “Buck”, and the best donkey in the world “George”. I always got to sit on Buck, my sister always managed to get George, a point that would be (and still is) brought up to me throughout the years. – I got the horse and my sister got the ass. There has to be a photo somewhere of an ecstatic me on Buck and a happy but slightly miffed Lauren atop of George. Both were calm elderly creatures that were treated like kings and we always brought them apples and carrots and plenty of scratches for their ears and backs. They were well loved and lived to very old ages, both being 36 years old or more before passing.
Aunt Jan also had an enormous back berry patch. I could not reach the top of canes, and they had to be about 4 feet thick. We’d pick a quart or two and want to go make jam with Newt (because she makes the best jam). But what happened inevitably every. single. time. was Newt would come out and see so many unpicked berries…the biggest best berries left behind for the birds, which was simply not allowed. There was a reason they were unpicked, these berries were about 3 feet back into the impenetrable bramble thicket and grandma wasn’t satisfied until we pressed back there and became human pin cushions. By this time my sister had retreated to George and Buck and I was left picking the damned berries. At least I got to munch them as I went along, which one day came to a screeching halt when I popped a berry into my mouth and felt something cling to my tongue, panicking spit everything out but the thing was still stuck there, by now I’m totally freaking out so gather up the balls and I reach in and pull out a japanese beetle. Blackberries weren’t the same for years after that.
Sometimes blackberries begin to ripen at uneven intervals and the easiest way to accumulate the quantities needed for large recipes is to freeze them as they come in, and it couldn’t be simpler.
How To Freeze Blackberries:
Dry them on a towel you wouldn’t mind getting stained
Spread them one layer thick on a cookie sheet, and freeze 4 hours or overnight
Place in a freezer safe container of your choice
To use them after they’ve been frozen, measure when they are still frozen then allow them to thaw. Drain excess liquid and use in the recipe as directed.
While all bramble fruit seem pretty no muss no fuss, they actually do require some tender loving twice a year. They will continue to fruit and reproduce without pruning of course, but they won’t be nearly as vibrant from season to season if you don’t devote just a little time to them. These pruning methods can be applied to raspberries, too, since the plants’ growing habits are the same.
There are several kinds of blackberry plants that behave in all sorts of different ways. The three main types are Erect, Trailing, and Thorn-less. It helps to know what type you have when it comes to trellising the canes. I happen to have erect blackberries, they have tall arching canes. This year I did manage to put up a very affordable trellis…My husband was tired of getting ripped to shreds while he mowed next to them, since they got so heavy with fruit the canes would come down to meet him. I used 6 rebar fence stakes, and some wire to keep the canes in check. I think the entire thing only cost about $12. Simply tie floricanes to the wire to keep them in check, and tuck new primocanes back into the confines of the fence. No matter the type you have, they all like to be pruned in the same manner. Pruning has many benefits including helping ward off diseases, larger berries, and higher yield.
Before we get started you might want to consider purchasing a pair of kevlar sleeves, I was given a pair by a gardening friend and I love them. They save your arms from getting cut and scraped by those nasty thorns when you are working with them, whether pruning or picking, and if you have a big berry patch they can really save you from looking like you got beat up by that cranky old barn cat.
Blackberry canes are “biennial” meaning that the canes live for two years. In nearly all varieties first year canes will not bear fruit and are called “primocanes”; they are easy to spot because they are bright green. In the spring you will want to tip prune the first few inches from the primocanes when they are still shorter than 3 feet tall. This makes the primocane grow a thicker stem that will support a larger fruit load next year, and send off more lateral branches where more berries will grow. You will notice in the fall that the primocanes will have grown their thin brown bark in preparation for the winter and next year. In the spring after the plants “wake up”, the lateral branches that were set last year will begin to grow longer. Trim these lateral branches back to about 2-2.5 feet in length, this will cause the plant to put out more buds along these branches not only meaning a larger fruit load, but larger berries as well.
Some varieties of blackberries send runners or “suckers” off a few feet away from the patch. If the suckers look nice, we like to dig them up and plant them back in the row. Its a nice free way to expand our patch. -Suckers are primocanes.
The current year’s fruiting canes are called “floricanes”. Besides blossoming and bearing fruit these canes can be identified by their thin brown bark. After their fruit ripens the leaves on these canes start to fizzle out. In the winter trim the spent floricanes back to the crown. In winter when there are no leaves and the brand new floricanes for the coming season look the same at first glance as last year’s dead floricanes, pruning can be a little tricky if it’s your first time. Last year’s spent floricanes will look brown while new floricanes (last years primocanes) will have a purplish tint when compared with each other. Another way to tell them apart is to look for the remnants of last years fruiting blooms. And if that isn’t quite enough to make you certain you are about to chop the right cane, you can take your clippers and scrape a teeny bit of bark off. If it is green underneath the bark you have a new cane, if its brown you have a dead cane that needs to be pruned. Getting rid of the spent canes in the winter before fruiting helps the plant to focus nutrients on the new floricanes.
When pruning there are a few tools you will need:
* A good pair of hand clippers * Leather gloves and or kevlar sleeves * Alchohol wipes * Wagon, to haul away the debris
In between cuts wipe your clippers off with an alcohol wipe to prevent spreading diseases from one plant to another, especially if you are moving between species (raspberries, black raspberries etc.) sure it takes a little more time but this one simple bio-security measure can protect your berry investment for years to come. All bramble fruit is susceptible to a wide array of fungal diseases and other icky stuff so it is always a good practice to burn the pruned canes after the job is done to prevent spreading disease. Wild black raspberries are notorious for giving diseases to domesticated bramble fruit so do your best to keep your blackberry patch well and away from wild varieties. But please folks, don’t rip them out as they are an important food for our beloved wildlife.