Garden varieties of the blackberry are superior in every way to the wildling. The berries are considerably larger, of even better flavour, and the yield can be tremendous, All this apart from ease of gathering, for the cultivated kinds are not allowed to develop into formidable thickets.
Though eating the fruit raw may be regarded as a somewhat messy business, its value only begins tiiere. Jelly, jam, pudding, tart – its several uses make it an indispensable fruit wherever there is a vacant patch of wall or fence. Blackberries can also be grown in a row in the open, supported against strained wires or some suitable form of trellis.
Ready for Use. Earliest blackberries are ripe in July and the season continues until autumn – sometimes until the first frosts.
Varieties include Bedford Giant (the first to ripen, in July), John Innes, Himalaya Giant and Parsley-leaved.
The blackberry will grow in clay, sand and most other kinds of soil, but the finest crops are obtained when there is animal manure, hop manure,, or plenty of leaf-mould in the ground and the roots can find all the moisture they need in spring and summer.
Clay should be made thoroughly porous by digging it deeply and at the same time working in sand, grit, wood ash or old mortar refuse, together with whatever manure or leaf-mould (or other decayed vegetation) can be secured. Sandy or light soil is porous enough; it should be enriched, and made more capable of holding moisture, by mixing in manure or leaf-mould or material from the soft rubbish heap.
When and How to Plant.
Roots should be planted in late autumn, or early spring, 10 ft. to 12 ft. apart. Vigorous garden varieties require all that space, which will soon be occupied by long canes tied back fan fashion to the support.
Before planting, whatever top growth the root has should be sacrificed – cut back to 6-in. stumps, all of them. This is to relieve the roots for the first year of a burden which, because of the transplanting, they are not strong enough to carry. It means that no fruit will be produced the first year after planting; but the roots during that time will be extending sideways and downwards and building up strength for the following year’s big crop and future crops.
The alternative to this drastic cutting back is acceptance of the fact that first-year blackberry plants allowed to carry their long growths and produce a few fruits will never become strong and profitable.
If plants can be given different aspects – some planted against a south-facing fence or wall, others against east-, west- or north-facing supports, a long succession of pickings will be obtained. A southerly aspect is warmest, and a blackberry plant in such a position is likely to ripen its fruit first. A plant facing north is likely to ripen last.
If there are no garden walls or fences available, a house wall or sides of a shed or garage will do as support. If blackberries are to grow in a row in the open, wires strained between end stakes should be provided.
As the canes extend they should be tied or nailed back neatly, radiating like the ribs of a fan, or horizontal (or nearly so); whichever method is found the more convenient may be used.
Watering and Feeding.
Water should be given in quantity whenever rain holds off for any length of time in spring and summer. A regular supply of moisture not only helps the berries to swell but assists in the production of new canes to carry the next year’s crop. If a dose or two of liquid manure can be given, in early summer, it will be far from wasted.
Whatever the liquid – plain or rich – every drop should be enabled to soak right down to the roots. Every drop will do so if the soil is first hoed so that the loosened surface sucks in all that is given.
Pruning the Blackberry.
A blackberry plant left to its own devices will go on producing fruit from side shoots (laterals) that spring each year from old wood, until that old wood is exhausted and dies. It will also produce a new cane or two, and its finest berries will be on the latter.
In pruning the blackberry the object is to get rid each year of as many old (fruited) canes as can be replaced by new (unfruited) ones. Any time after the fruit has been gathered this can be carried into effect. New canes spring up from the base of the properly cultivated plant (a few suckers sometimes appear at a short distance from the plant), and these straight from the root growths are fastened close back to the support after fruited canes have.been cut right out to make room. No more than five or six canes should be left to any one plant.
Blackberries growing wild extend themselves by a self-layering method. A long rambling growth dips its tip, by its own weight, to the ground, and there the tip takes root. The same method of propagation is practised by the grower. Long, young (unfruited) canes are bent over until the tips can be buried in the soil. The tips are rooted by the following spring, and after being severed from the parent plant these are dug up and planted elsewhere. Further details appear under ‘Rooting Layers’.
Gathering the Berries.
These should be picked before they become squashy, and it is worth while going over the plants every day or so during the season so that berries are secured in tip-top condition.