All Hail the THORNLESS Boysenberry!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Boysenberry & Strawberry Harvest: Bird Back 40
When one cannot sleep on a Friday morning? One Blogs.

Today I have thoughts of boysenberry cobbler on the brain -- or perhaps boysenberry pancake syrup. Boysenberry pie? That sounds nice.

I am consumed by thoughts of boysenberries because the very first boysenberry crop in the Bird Back 40 is coming ripe -- quickly. The photo up top doesn't even represent half of what we harvested this past weekend, and despite the inclement (lousy) weather, even more will come off the vine this weekend.

There was once a time and place in this world where a harvest like this not only resulted in fresh berries, but lots of Bactine, ACE bandages and well-pockmarked hands. The boysenberry harvest was anything but a pleasure. It meant a long and winding trip through Thorn County and Pain City.

Thornless Boysenberry Bush
We probably all have memories of boysenberry harvests as children. In my case? I have nightmares. I can remember the day when mother came home with a boysenberry plant with specific instructions to plant it in the patch of weeds that represented one of our side yards. There had been a sandbox back in this area when I was a small child, but the area had been taken over by weeds, spiders and insects since then.

Of course -- I didn't know what to expect. I remember I loved the thought of getting fresh berries from the backyard. So did my mother, who would relate tales of her berry-harvest adventures as a child growing up in Eugene, Oregon. There's no need to plant berry bushes anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Everywhere you turn -- there's a bush waiting to be harvested.

But mother also omitted one important fact. Old school boysenberry vines came complete with old school THORNS. These were RAZOR SHARP and left quite the impression in your skin and mind should you put your hand in the wrong area. Harvesting berries called for an expert hand -- not some uncoordinated pre-teen boy.

But pre-teen boy was all that we had. More than once I found myself inexplicably wrapped in several layers of a thorny vine, wondering how in the world I managed to get so attached to a vine intent on tearing skin from bone, and praying for assistance from above for a way out.

God would not answer my prayers on those days, which is why mom kept a vat of Bactine handy.

In no time at all -- that one vine managed to take over a good portion of that side yard -- and I kept my distance. I'd learned my lesson. The side yard belonged to the boysenberry vine and it's legendary thorns. I dare not tread there. I learned by lesson. When the time came -- some years later -- to clear the side yard for a garden project? I was only too happy to assault and dig up the vine that had caused so much pain as a child.

Into the compost heap of memory it went -- painful memories at that I might add.

Washing the Harvest: Sweet Boysenberries
It was the wife that is Venus who revived those awful memories a few years ago by suggesting a vine for the backyard. "No," I told her. "That's not for me. You can have the berries -- and the thorns."

But a lot has taken place in the world of Horticulture between the world that was 1970's Modesto and 2010 Sacramento. Someone -- I'm not sure who -- came up with the marvelous invention of a boysenberry plant that produced lip-smacking boysenberries -- minus the ear-piercing screams of pain that resulted from getting stuck by a boysenberry thorn.

Thornless boysenberries you say? Genius! And that is what we have planted in the Bird Back 40 today. Next to the thornless boysenberry are two types of blackberry vines -- including the legendary Black Satin vine. Both are also thornless.

Look Mom! No Thorns!
I've come to discover that the "thornless boysenberry" isn't exactly perfect. This is a plant -- at one time -- that did produce lots of thorns. And -- every once in a great while -- it will revert to its old school ways and send up a runner covered with them. I should know -- I've been stuck a few times.

 The instructions in this case are fairly simple. Do not allow the vines covered with thorns to grow. Cut them off at ground level as soon as you spot them. Once they have been cut back they rarely return and the plant returns to its normal habit of sending up thornless vines from root level.

Thornless boysenberry plants will also send out lots of vines in the fall that root into different areas and produce new boysenberry plants. This is fantastic if you want more than just one. But if you don't keep an eye on it -- that "small" patch will soon take over the yard. Like any fruit or citrus tree? It needs care and pruning.

But I can tell you this much: After one bite of the boysenberry cobbler we feasted on this weekend? The effort is more than worth it.

You can find thornless boysenberry plants -- several different varieties by the way -- online or at any nursery. In my case? My starter plant came from Capital Nursery last spring. I have no doubt you'll find similar, thornless, offerings at various nurseries in your area as well.