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Growing Blackberries

Quart baskets of juicy blackberries are beginning to appear at my local farmer’s market and I couldn’t be happier. Whether eaten raw or prepared as a dessert, I just love the flavor of these berries.

I have a few vines growing on a wire trellis attached to the backside of my privacy fence and if I am faster than the birds, I can harvest enough each season for a cobbler or two.

Blackberries are one of the most carefree berries that you can grow. They will tolerate just about any soil and are relatively disease and pest free, although viruses are one common problem to watch out for. To avoid this, purchase certified, virus-free plants from a nursery rather than succumbing to the temptation of transplanting wild vines or pass along seedlings from a generous friend or neighbor.

The best time to plant blackberries is in early spring, although gardeners who live in warm climates can also plant in fall or winter. Choose a location that receives full sun and where you can provide support for the canes.

Blackberries need about 1 to 2 inches of water a week and should be fertilized in spring with an all-purpose blend.

Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see any fruit in the first year because it usually takes 2 years for a plant to produce. Now, once you have harvested berries from a cane, it is important to cut it back because it will not fruit again. Pruning will direct the plants energy toward new growth, which will bring you berries next year.

In areas that experience cold winters, simply place the canes on the ground and cover with a heavy layer of mulch. This will be sufficient cold weather protection. In the early spring, before new growth emerges, lift the canes and reattach them to your support.

Once the fruit is ready to harvest, blackberries should be picked every 2 to 4 days and if you collect them in the early morning, they will store longer. They will keep in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

Good to Know: Hybrid Blackberry Varieties

One of the greatest joys of summer is the abundance of locally grown fresh produce available for us to eat, like blackberries. And if you are looking for a variety of blackberry that produces super large fruit you need to investigate a series developed by the University of Arkansas. Varieties in the series are called Kiowa, Cheyenne, Choctaw, and Navajo.

These new strains allow small farms to produce berries for a longer period because each variety ripens at a different time – Choctaw starts in late May, and Navajo finishes off in early August.

Another benefit is that they were developed to have a longer life on the vine and to stay fresher longer in the market after picking.

Now, according to my taste buds the greatest quality of these berries is their bigger size and sweeter flavor.