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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Add Some Berries to Your Garden

Blackberries begin ripening the first week of June.
There was a time when berry-picking was as ordinary as going to the grocery store is now. Come summer, families drove out into the countryside and picked blackberries along the roadside. People who had wild black raspberries or gooseberries, looked forward to picking fruit for pies, jams and canning. Now the roadsides are mowed and sprayed and most of the berries are gone. Store-bought berries, when available, are expensive and with few exceptions, shipped from South America. So why not grow your own berries?
Reaching into berry vines to pick isn't the painful thing it used to be, now with thornless vines.
The University of Arkansas has been developing hardy, thornless blackberry varieties for several decades and several licensed nurseries grow and sell them. These new strains of blackberries grow two to three times the size of wild ones and don’t carry the disease that many wild blackberries have. Wild blackberries are often deformed or shrivel before fully ripe from a berry disease. These new thornless varieties are resistant to those diseases. The thornless berries are big, the seeds are very small, the flavor is excellent and the vines are completely thornless. Add to that, they’re easy to grow. My favorites are ‘Arapaho’ and ‘Apache,’ both thornless berries that are great tasting.

Smooth vines, no thorns at all means no scratches, no pain when picking.
Both red and black raspberries do well all across the Ozarks region but don’t plant them together. Growers recommend keeping black and red raspberries at least 60 feet apart but both can certainly be grown on the same property. I keep my red raspberries in rows beside the blackberries and the black raspberries off to themselves. My favorite red raspberries are Heritage, which you mow down at the end of the year since they produce berries on new canes, and Lauren, which, for me, produces an early crop and another one in late summer.
Red raspberries produce for a month or more in summer. Some varieties produce 2 crops a year.
I’ve ordered berries from Pence Nurseries in northwest Arkansas many times over the years and they’re always very helpful in making recommendations. Find them here: They are a family business and you’ll need to call and leave a message that you want to order. They’re very prompt and will call you back at the end of the day to take your order. They sell grape, tayberry, gooseberries, currants, many varieties of black and red raspberries and several kinds of thornless blackberries.
The Pence family, from their website.
Berries require full to mostly-full sun, average garden soil and will benefit from being on a fence although it’s not necessary. Some, like Heritage red raspberries, often produce a few berries the first year but will produce a full crop the second year. Other berries produce a small crop the second year then are bountiful every year after that. Happy gardening!
Grow your own blackberry pie this year!

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