Have a Berry Nice Day!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ripening Arapaho Blackberries-Bird Back 40
It's berry season in the Bird Back 40. It's about time. It's also early this year thanks to some unseasonably HOT weather in the Sacramento river bottom. Our spring this year should be awarded the film title of Gone in Sixty Seconds. The hot spring jump-started many fresh fruits and vegetables that either did very well (asparagus) or flopped completely (artichokes).

One crop to react positively to an early spring rush of hot weather? The blackberries pictured above. They are large. They are luscious. They represent one of the best "impulse" purchases that Bill Bird has ever made. This is the Arapaho Thornless Blackberry vine. Unlike many other thornless vines that need support in the form of a trellis or fence, the Arapaho resembles a small tree with a thick central cane system that keeps the plant upright.

Arapaho Blackberry Ready for Consumption
I literally tripped over this starter plant in my mad quest for additional seed potatoes last spring at Lowe's Big Box Home Improvement store in West Sacramento. I had recently made a decision to move existing vines from one spot in the yard to another, which would create space for one brand new vine. I had never known vines to be self-supporting, and since I literally tripped over them while searching for seed potatoes, I considered it a sign from God.

Thus the Arapaho was purchased and planted in the Bird Back 40. My faith has been rewarded with berries the size of walnuts and a creamy sweet delightful taste that would be a winner in any pie made from scratch. My only regret is that the Arapaho, now in its second year of production, isn't producing quite enough for pies just yet. But as I gaze at that Jack-in-the-Beanstalk tree-trunk sized growth bent on growing over the fence line, I have a pretty good idea that pie construction will be on the agenda for 2014.

Next Year's Fruiting Cane: The Arapaho
But the Arapaho isn't the only thornless blackberry springing to life in the Bird Back 40. In fact, I know of one or two Sacramento area fresh berry growers that would even make the case that the Arapaho isn't the best vine in the Bird Back 40. Nope! That honor would be bestowed to the vine growing to the immediate right of the Arapaho: the Black Satin.

Unlike the Arapaho, the Black Satin was not an impulse purchase. I was approached by two other gardeners several years ago who were putting together a major purchase at a well known California nursery and asked if I wanted in. Want in? Duh. I didn't "want in." I dived in with three feet. Four or five years ago the Black Satin Blackberry vine was the current rage of the gardening day. It was the "must have" berry for the backyard.

And, so, well, I had to have it.

Black Satin Blackberries-Bird Back 40
As it turns out? I had some problems with it. The first plant actually up and died on me. In fact, it never got beyond "bare root" stage. When June rolled around and that brown cane started turning even browner, I knew that something had gone wrong. And I would have to wait another full year, till the next bare root season, to get a replacement. And then, to add insult to injury, I dug the plant up last year and moved it to another location. Talk about a crime! I could be tried and convicted! The charge your honor? Black Satin Blackberry Abuse!

As for the friend who also ordered the Black Satin? She's a little better gardener than I am. Her plant lived. Plus she didn't abuse it like I did. Today that Black Satin plant resembles a large Christmas Tree, and, yes, it's loaded with hundreds of FAT berries. She recently posted a picture of her plant on her Facebook page and I reacted by promptly drooling on my computer keyboard. What's that? You'd like her name and address eh? Yeah, I'm sure you do...

Loaded Black Satin Bush-Sacramento
I guess the point I'm trying to make here -- and doing a bad job at it -- is that spring and summer blackberries are the absolute bomb. The days of plants with thorns the size and sharpness of switchblades are long gone. Horticulture has rewarded us with all sorts of berry options, minus the thorns. Got a small and ignored spot in the yard? Plant berries.

You'll be glad you did. Because there's nothing quite like a slice of warm Black Satin and Arapaho Blackberry pie on a cold winter's day. That's what growing your own is all about.

1 comment:


What do you think? My boysenberries are thriving. I would like prune my canes that produced this season now and trellis my canes for next season. This would tidy up the berry patch now. Do you think I can do this now rather than in the winter?