|Home Grown Tomatoes|
|What Color is a Blackberry?|
One of the greatest benefits of living in the South is having one very long gardening season.
Here at the Tomato Tower the season begins with salad greens planted in late summer, harvested through January and kept safe from the winter chill in the cold frames.
And, so it goes. The perpetual season of growing flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits doesn’t really have a beginning or end, but rather a segue from one kind of beauty to the next.
Let’s take a moment to focus on some of the many types of berries we can grow here in our region.
Elaeagnus flowers in the fall and fills the air with perfume. Then, as if that wasn’t enough pleasure, in late January tasty ovate red berries dangle from delicate stems. Although the fruits have about as much pit as they do meat, the flavor makes it worth enjoying a bowl full in the dead of winter. Elaeagnus berries usually continue to ripen through February.
Florida strawberries begin appearing in local markets about February. South Alabama strawberries usually hit the produce stands and grocery stores in early March; about the same time local garden centers are stocking strawberry plants for the home gardeners.
We have three mulberry trees on the property producing some of the most delicious berries that ever dressed up a bowl of corn flakes! The trees are still young and their placement on the property isn’t ideal for huge crops, so I have to compete with the birds and squirrels when they begin ripening in April. I am not complaining though. The trees were a gift from Mother Nature, so I let her other creatures have their fair share.
While we still harvest strawberries through May and June on our ever-bearing plants, May begins our blueberry season. Blueberry pancakes, anyone?
Typically, blueberry season peaks in June about the same time blackberries begin to ripen.
It is July now and the blueberry production is fading fast, but our blackberries are still producing. Although it’s time to start pruning and training the canes, I have a hard time cutting away those that still have berries left to ripen.
Last year, in an effort to maximize the use of the property for food production, we planted six blackberry plants along a straight line. Five-foot tall steel cattle fence posts were placed in the ground eight feet apart and two strands of 14-gauge galvanized wire are strung between them at two heights. The first wire is 1½-foot from the ground and the second wire is 3½-foot from the ground. The blackberry plants were planted four feet apart (two feet from the outer posts, with two plants between each post). This method of cultivation is known as trellising.
We chose to plant the Apache blackberry bushes for several reasons. We wanted a thornless, erect bush that would grow well on a trellis system and produce large fruits. Apache was developed at the University of Arkansas. It produces high yields (10 to 15 pounds per plant) and large berries, much like its thorny cousin, Kiowa. Though Kiowa has thorns, it does have an advantage in warmer climates. It only requires 200 to 300 chill hours, whereas Apache requires 800 to 900 chill hours.
One book I keep handy is "The Back Yard Berry Book" by Stella Otto.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (www.aces.edu/pubs) also has many publications available online and in printable format. A good starting point is publication ANR-53, Fruit Culture in Alabama.
It’s a stretch to call it a berry, but I have watermelons ripening, too! Next will be figs, then muscadines. Let us not forget kiwifruit, which will come along in October and continue to ripen until November brings us satsumas.
You see? It’s a great long growing season that never ends here in Alabama!
So, what color is a blackberry? Why, it’s blackberry!
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