Blackberries, My First Farming Venture

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Chester thornless blackberries under bird netting

I love picking blackberries in my backyard every July. It is like our own private farm festival! I have learned to pick every two days, and just give the berries that look ripe a little tug to see if they come off the plant easily. Sometimes they look perfectly ripe, but still taste a little tart. If they don’t come off the plant with a little tug, I leave it alone for the next day or two. Those that do practically fall off into your hand are the sweetest, best tasting summer berry treat ever.

The blackberries I grow are different than the blackberries Mom used to take me to pick. Those wild berries grew on thorny brambles in the woods. The berries then were a bit smaller than the ones I am able to grow today. We, alas, often brought a bit of poison ivy home with us in those days. However, it was totally worth it in blackberry cobbler!

In spring about six years ago, my husband and I planted two thornless, trellising blackberry bushes.  I carefully read and followed internet planting directions. Plant 3 feet apart and 8 feet in between rows. I planted our bushes in well drained soil 4 feet away from the chain link fence that separated my neighbor’s yard, plus 8 feet away from each other. They were such little tiny bushes in a great big garden plot! The following spring we planted two 8 foot pressure treated 4 x 4s, one on each end, in holes filled with gravel. We strung a heavy gauge wire through drilled holes in the end posts, one about 3 feet and the other  five feet off the ground near the top of the wooden posts. We smiled at each other and looked forward to blackberries the following summer.

Sure enough, the canes bloomed. We tied the canes to the trellising wire. They flowered beautifully and we enjoyed a couple quarts of great berries that year. New canes grew and I tied them to the trellis, too.

The fun truly began in year four. Or should I say, the craziness? Internet pruning directions say to cut the tops off the new canes at 4 feet.  I am a little slow, and some of those new canes grew to 15 feet long! I topped them at 8 and 10 feet to encourage the lateral growth. It felt like such a waste of the plant to top more than that. Berries came on fast and furious that year. The robins also came on fast and furious as well, and we invested in bird netting. We picked a couple quarts of berries every day for several weeks that year. I had a little trouble deciding where and when to tie the new canes to the trellis. There was just way too much bush for the trellis, not to mention the trouble in getting around the netting! Too close to the chain link fence, too. I could barely squeeze through in order to pick the berries on that side. I pruned the heck out of those canes to keep from crossing my neighbor’s boundaries and still had quarts and quarts and quarts of blackberries. The cobbler was very good that year.

Every year my husband and I discuss “moving” the berries and every year the work involved and the idea of missing a year’s berry harvest defeats us and we deal with the craziness right where they were originally planted. To do it all over again, I would plant them 10 feet apart from each other and another 10 feet away from our fence!

I don’t understand the pruning directions and spacing recommendations, though. Please note there is no sacrifice in the quality of the berries produced by letting them grow taller than recommended before topping, plus we get more berries. Perhaps it is due to the varieties involved. One of our plants is called “Chester” and the other is “Triple Crown”. Both bloom at the same time and yield identically large, tasty berries. Chester is perhaps a tad more frost resistant, but while a late spring frost once nipped Triple Crown’s leaves, its berry quality wasn’t impacted.

Blackberries have taught me how to farm in my backyard. I appreciate the lessons in maintaining the bushes with pruning, watering, fertilizing and composting the old canes. I appreciate learning to deal with hungry Robins and bird netting. I am pleased to be able to find the Ohio State Extension Office and internet resources, but also happy with what I have learned through trial and error. They have taught me how to handle a harvest as well. The first year we gave many quarts of fresh berries away to friends and neighbors. I learned to freeze some for limited winter use. Then I learned to can and processed beautiful jam jars to both give as gifts and enjoy summer blackberry taste all winter long. This year I am expanding even more on using the berries in different ways and look forward to our Christmas Blackberry Cordial.

The blackberry bushes were my first foray into becoming less reliant on grocery stores. At first it was all about cobbler and the grocery store price of fresh berries. It has come to mean more about the possibilities in stepping out of food industry dependency. My neighbors and friends are also watching and learning, and a few of them are venturing into blackberry farming for themselves. I hope they enjoy the adventure as much as I have!

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2 Responses to Blackberries, My First Farming Venture

  1. Leigh Costello says:

    Thank you for your story of your blackberry adventure. Through the years I have not been able to maintain the well-groomed blackberry patch. I end up just weaving the runners into each other and create archways that bear a lot of fruit each year. I love the jungle feel (except when a spider comes along).

    The birds don’t get under neath the arches because our cats have learned that the cool shade is where the mice are. Very convenient for me.

    I also have Chester and Triple Crown. I also have a thorny variety that is an Indian tribe name that I no longer remember. These three varieties are so good. I also use the tug method of picking. My husband uses the “grab anything that’s not red” method. So we have a tart-sweet mix every year.

    We have given starts to lots of neighbors and they always seem to have the same generous harvest year to year as well.

    Have a great taste of summer this coming winter!

    • I sometimes wish we could have cats, but my close neighbors would not be pleased. A couple of vermin chasing dogs are in our future though. My old dog used to be good at keeping all kinds of critters out of our yard.

      Interesting how so many of the erect blackberry bushes have Indian names. I don’t remember all of mine, either! Enjoy your berries!

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