I like raspberries and the husband likes blackberries. So we grow both and some years are better than others for a successful crop, although most years we are competing with birds for what we can get.
About a week ago, after noticing he was having quite a bountiful blackberry season, I meandered over to his section of the fruit garden and plucked a couple dark, purple berries off the thornless vines. After popping the first berry in my mouth, I instantly regretted picking them at all. The fruit was so sour it was all I could do not to run inside and chase it with a spoonful of sugar. I think it took several minutes to get the winced expression off my face.
My husband, who often harvests blackberries by the handful while he's riding the mower, said he also noticed the fruit was particularly sour this year.
As anyone knows who spent childhood summers picking wild blackberries, they are pretty easy to grow. Some of my California gardening friends bemoan the invasive properties of wild blackberry vines. In our yard, we saw how wild blackberry brambles try to make their way into the cultivated garden if we neglect to keep the edges of the woods mowed.
But over the years, development of large sections of wild areas, not to mention spraying of herbicides and road chemicals, has severely cut down the number of wild blackberry patches we kept secret from our friends when we were kids.
Blackberry canes grow a few different ways depending on the variety. They can be upright, semi-trailing or vining. Upright varieties are self supporting and although the canes may arch a little, they can hold themselves up without support. Semi-trailing are vines that don't get particularly long but have a short, trailing habit. Most thornless varieties are semi-trailing. Trailing or vining canes are longer and trail along the ground unless they are supported with a trellis or fence.
Primocanes, which as their name suggests, are first-year growth and produce no fruit. Floricanes are the second year's growth and these are the branches that produce the dark berries. The plants themselves are perennial. They will live for several years continuing to produce canes each year. But the canes are biennial, growing one year and producing fruit the second before dying. After the floricanes have done their job, they should be pruned back to the base of the crown.
Blackberries like the sun and will tolerate a bit of shade, although they won't produce as well if they are planted in too much shade. Be sure to choose a site that has good drainage. Blackberries like regular watering but don't like to sit in boggy soil.
Many of the pests and diseases that attack other plants also like blackberries. These include members of the nightshade family including potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. Other plants that have similar pests as blackberries are raspberries, strawberries and peppers. It is a good idea not to plant your blackberries where these vegetables recently grew.
Depending on the variety of blackberry, fruit can ripen anywhere from mid-June to mid-September. Blackberries are self-fruiting, so unlike some fruits, you don' t have to buy different cultivars for pollination.
Like raspberries, each individual fruit has a center core. The difference is on raspberries, during harvest, the core is left behind leaving a hollow center. On blackberries, the core is part of the fruit and comes with the berry when picked.
I don't know the exact reason our fruit is so tart this season. Some have suggested that blackberries aren't necessarily completely ripe even after they turn dark purple, so they should be left on the vine until the fruit is soft. Others say inadequate watering may be the culprit and although we've had a decent amount of rain this year, much of it has been hard and fast, which keeps the roots from getting the deep watering they need.
Whatever the reason, if the fruit doesn't sweeten up, its future likely likes in jams, pies or cobblers rather than the fresh, out-of-the hand eating we like so well.