Gardening for Life: Berries provide opportunity to learn sweet life lessons
The Rubus species of plants includes all the types of raspberries, wild and domestic, along with the different varieties of blackberries. This is actually in the rose family and has more than 500 different varieties. For the most part, these plants can be grown in the backyard garden with little maintenance and can be a delightful addition to your summertime harvest.
Until recently, most of my experience with brambles has been with the wild black raspberries that seem to grow almost everywhere in areas that are not cultivated. They can be found along the road, in the woods, and many fence rows out in the country. With permission, most folks will let you pick these raspberries since they are not considered a highly prized berry.
I suppose the main reason wild raspberries are not greatly sought after is the many seeds they contain. Most people do not care to spend that much time picking seeds out of their teeth; while these berries have a great taste, it is a chore to strain out all the seeds. For someone who takes the time, however, raspberries make a great jam or other desert. I also know people who use these berries without removing the seeds and seem to enjoy them very much.
There are many cultivars of domesticated berries. There are black, purple, red, white and gold. Domesticated varieties are larger than the roadside raspberry, although they still contain small seeds. Another advantage domesticated berries have is that it is possible to obtain and grow plants without thorns. These are the types I like.
My wife picked up several blackberry starts without thorns for me at a garage sale many years ago. I found a good sunny location and planted them near my garden. Unfortunately, the area I chose to plant them was near a small walnut tree. At that time I did not know of the toxic effects of a chemical called juglone that the walnut tree produces. As my blackberry plants started to spread in a row over the years, I noticed the plants nearest the walnut tree were dying off. As with a lot of things we learn about in life, experience is a good teacher. The walnut tree was eliminated.
Fast forward a number of years to 2016. For the first time, there is an abundance of berries on my now 8-foot row of blackberry plants. I have been picking a quart or more every other day. These are the same berries I see at the farmer’s market going for $4 a pint. There are less seeds in these berries and they are huge compared to the wild raspberries. They are fairly tart but have a lot of flavor. We usually add a little sweetener when we eat them with cereal, making a desert with them.
Summer fruiting berries are called floricane, as opposed to the fall producing plants called primocane. Floricane produces berries on the second year growth whereas the primocane produces on same year growth. Once the plant’s canes are done producing they can be cut back to the ground. The type of cane I have does not need any support, although if you grew them in rows it might save space to have some sort of trellis for them to grow on.
Full sun, well drained soil and a little fertilizer will help to produce robust plants. Your plants will only be about as good as the stock they come from, so try to get healthy plants from reputable growers. While there are many diseases that can potentially harm your brambles, I have never had any problems in that regard. Beatles will come around but they stick to the foliage and do not seem to bother the berries. Spotted Wing Drosophila can also be a problem in some years. Like most perennial fruits, it takes a few years to start getting much of a harvest so the sooner you get started the better.
Now, excuse me while I go eat some more of the blackberry cobbler my wife made last night. If there’s any left!