Garden Variety: Now’s the time for fresh blackberries
Blackberry season is beginning in northeast Kansas. If you are already growing blackberries, you should check your plants for ripe fruit and begin harvesting. Otherwise, consider picking berries at a local farm, purchasing fresh ones at a local farmers market or planting some blackberry plants in the future. They are easy to grow and are a sweet taste of summer.
Blackberries are small fruits that are widely cultivated and also grow wild across much of the U.S. What is commonly thought of as an individual berry is actually a composite of many tiny fruits clustered over an edible core. Each composite is elongated, growing to as much as 2 inches long in cultivated varieties but only about half an inch long on wild plants.
Blackberries are produced on long stems called canes. Wild blackberries and some cultivated varieties have rose-like thorns on the canes, but there are also many cultivated varieties that are thornless.
Fruit is typically produced in mid-June through early August on summer-bearing varieties. Blackberries produced in high tunnels or hoophouses may fruit a few weeks earlier than those grown in the field. Some varieties are also everbearing, meaning they produce berries over a longer season or have a second wave of fruit. Typically, everbearing varieties bear about the same amount of fruit as summer-bearing varieties, but the production is stretched over a longer period. However, new varieties are being released all the time with continual improvements in yield.
Freshly picked blackberries may be eaten raw; cooked into cobblers, muffins and other baked goods; or processed into jam, jelly or wine.
Blackberries are sometimes confused with raspberries. The easiest way to tell the difference is in the central core — on blackberries, it stays intact with the fruit, but on raspberries, the core stays attached to the plant, making the inside of the raspberry hollow. Raspberries also come in a variety of colors — including black, purple, red and gold — while blackberries are always black.
To add blackberries to your garden, look for a site in full sun with some type of supportive structure, space to install it or space for the plants to sprawl. A fence or trellis is ideal. Kansas State University and Missouri State University recommend Navaho, Apache, Ouachita, Chester and Triple Crown thornless varieties for this region. All of them produce medium to large fruit in summer and are reliable performers.
Purchase blackberry canes from a garden center or order from nurseries specializing in fruit plants. Look for varieties recommended for this region. Spring is the best time for planting.
For maintenance, control weeds around the blackberry plants to reduce competition and ensure vigor. Fertilize annually in the spring and prune the tips of the canes in the summer as recommended depending on the variety being grown. Plants may need to be thinned every few years if canes grow too close together over time.
If growing your own blackberries is not an option or you haven’t planted them, consider visiting a pick-your-own operation or buying them at a farmers market.
— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.
Where to pick berries
• Big Springs Berries, 1919 East 300 Road, Lecompton. Starting July 1, the farm will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day and also from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Reservations are required. Visit bigspringsberries.com or call 785-861-0071 for more information.
• Gieringer’s Family Orchard & Berry Farm, 39345 W. 183rd St., Edgerton. Picking your own berries requires an appointment; you can also order berries online. Visit goberryfarm.com or call 913-893-9626 for more information.
• Lawson Brothers Farm, 1862 North 700 Road, Baldwin City. Open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk. Call 785-594-3939 to confirm availability.
• South Baldwin Farms, 22 East 1700 Road, Baldwin City. Call 785-251-3993 for hours and availability.