Grow Healthy Fruit — More on Blackberries
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Blackberries are a native crop to North America. A member of the rose family (Rosacea), blackberries have a unique structure that contributes to their nutritional value. Each berry is composed of many individual druplets, each one like a small berry with 1 seed, surrounding a firm core called the receptical, making it among the highest fiber content plants known. It is also very high on the chart with disease fighting antioxidants.
Blackberries grow best in sandy soil however can be grown in soils at least 1 foot deep with good drainage. They have a ph range of 4.5 to 7.5 and produce best in a ph of 5.5 to 6.5. A warm summer climate crop in zones 6-10, plants should be spaced 3 to 4’ apart and from containers can be planted any time of the year, although early spring is best. Watering at the time of planting will be critical. The first year of growth will be sprawling and does not need topping. Blackberry roots are perennial, but the tops are biennial, which means they will produce “prima canes” in first year of growth. Cut canes back at 36 to 48” to encourage branching. Prima canes become “floracanes” in the second season and will begin to bloom in March, with the fruit ripening in May through June. After harvest floracanes will die and should be cut to the ground. The new growth during the season (prima canes) will produce the crop next season.
Fertilization is limited to nitrogen and should be applied in small frequent amounts beginning at bloom. Blackberries are not known to have many insect pests and can be grown with little or no pesticides. They are susceptible to a number of fungal diseases, therefore proper maintenance and sanitation are important to keep them vigorous and minimize problems. Fungal control with copper sprays in spring when leaf buds are beginning to open and Captan or Benomyl when flower buds appear and after petal fall should aid in keeping plants healthy.
Harvesting takes place in May – June. Fruit should be picked every 1 to 2 days after ripening and refrigerated. Storage life is only 1 day without refrigeration.
As was mentioned previously, not many pests are associated with growing blackberries and in an organic garden can normally be controlled if necessary with sulphur, garlic tea, or insecticidal soap. Beneficial insects such as lady bugs, praying mantis, and beneficial nematodes, may also be employed. The use of copper sprays in spring, along with proper pruning and high standards of maintenance, will assist in preventing fungal diseases in the organic garden also. It is recommended to use a thick layer of course mulch between and around plants and to protect all bare soil from direct sunlight. This will inhibit weed growth, slow evaporation, and keep the microbes alive and active at the surface of the soil. Any of the seed meals (cottonseed meal, blood meal) as well as manures and fish emulsion are excellent sources of organic fertilizers.
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