If ever I were holed up in a cave or stuck on a desert island the one food stuff that would sustain me indefinitely would be blackberry yogurt. Of all the fruits blackberries are my all-time favourites. The memory of all those years spent blackberrying around the Pembrokeshire lanes with my mother probably has something to do with it. They are available all year round now of course, although they are never as good as when they are in season.
This year I planted some thornless blackberries purchased from here and they are fruiting already. They taste great when cooked – as in fruit compote over the weekend- but quite bitter when raw. Perhaps it’s something to do with the amount of rain we’ve had recently or the earlier ripening.
However, I have the best of both worlds – instant gratification and the promise of good things to come in a few weeks time. Weeding at the bottom of the garden over the weekend revealed a bumper crop just waiting to burst forth – and they are only accessible from our garden. Oh joy! Add to that all those in the hedgerow just waiting to be foraged and I shall be in blackberry heaven.
If you want to grow blackberries (which are great as ornamentals as well as edible plants), here’s what to do.
- Choose a sheltered site as they need insects to pollinate them.
- They like a moisture retentive but free draining soil, so dig in plenty of organic matter prior to planting especially if,like us, you have heavy clay.
- They can tolerate shade but a sunnier site will produce a more abundant crop.
- You’ll need a sturdy support system but growing them around pergolas or arches will make the most of their ornamental value in the garden.
- They are relatively easy to maintain provided that you keep on top of their vigorous nature. You’ll need to regularly tie in shoots in the first year. Cut back all side shoots on the main canes in the first winter to 5cm.
- In the second year after planting the crown will throw up new canes. You’ll need to bundle these together loosely and pull them into a square which you’ve formed from bamboo canes inserted around the crown. Tie some twine around the whole thing to hold it in place. After the year old canes have fruited cut them into smaller sections and remove them carefully, trying to avoid snagging them on the new canes. Then untie the twine around the new canes and train them along the wires or whatever you are training them against.
- Top dress with general fertiliser in mid Spring and mulch once the soil has warmed up, but make sure this is away from the crown and new canes.
- You shouldn’t need to water them except for young plants until they are established if the weather is particularly dry. In fact the fruit is bigger if the weather is dry.
- I have found blackberries to be relatively pest free but the birds might get them before you unless you net them. Look out for grey spotting on the canes (Blackberry cane spot). These canes will need to be pruned out at ground level. There are no effective organic controls for raspberry beetle or raspberry spur blight which might also occur as far as I know so just be vigilant.
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