Growing and Harvesting Blackberries

Every summer we look forward to the juicy purple-black fruit. Before we bought our homestead, we missed picking and eating fresh blackberries. We even tried purchasing them at a grocery store which was a mistake. The berries hardly tasted at all and were rather expensive. Now that we have our homestead, I have left a row of blackberries specifically for picking.

I have then growing along our road. I have no spray signs and maintain them myself. With the little traffic we get, vehicle exhaust pollution is not too worrisome. My first year here, I tried to get rid of half of them. But they were back just several weeks later. We ended up using so many blackberries I decided to let them grow instead of eradicating them by other means. Blackberries also work well as a security perimeter fence. No one sane will wander into a property through ten feet of blackberry vines. Even animals like deer or elk prefer easier paths.

Blackberry vines do not usually need irrigation, but if you do water them, berries will be larger and juicier.

Ideally you have a few paths that you cut in to have access to more berries. A machete is about the easiest tool for this.

Trellising the bushes provide the most berries and control of them, but you have to stay on top of them or they will take over with long vines and shoots being sent up from roots many feet away.

Once ready to pick, bring a bowl and clothes that do not matter being stained. You may also want long sleeves to avoid getting scratched up by the thorns. If you want a lot of berries, you can even bring a ladder and lean it up against your bushes to reach even more berries.

The best berries are easy to pick off the bush but not shriveled from being overripe. If you like some tart berries as well, pick some black ones that are still hard when lightly pinched and harder to pull off the vine.

Freeze any extra berries for tasty pies year round.

For fresh eating, add some whipped cream and the berries in a bowl and enjoy!

Wild Thimbleberries (Some Think They’re Tastier than Raspberries)

The last thimbleberry of the patch

Raspberries have a cousin that tastes similar but is more potent in flavor: Thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus). Some say these berries are more raspberry than raspberries. They also do not need a trellis and have no thorns!

Thimbleberry blossom

Thimbleberries look similar to Maple tree seedlings but with softer and thinner leaves. Their berries look like a short and wide raspberry. Unlike raspberries, their thornless canes do not need support as they stay upright and can grow up to eight feet tall. Like raspberries and blackberries, their roots send up shoots that propagate themselves. Having tried their berries and enjoyed the taste, I decided to keep my eyes out for them in the woods to transplant a few into my food forest.

After locating a good size patch while on a walk through our property, I came back with a shovel and 5 gallon bucket to dig them up. This was while they were still dormant for the winter, so I had to guess that this was the same patch I had seen the previous summer. I picked around a dozen plants (leaving plenty for wildlife). They had roots that were intertwined as they were likely all propagations of just a couple plants in the patch. I planted them in a row on the edge of my food forest for easy picking. It is convenient to not have to trellis them, but I will still have to contain them from taking over the food forest as they get established and send up new shoots. Thimbleberries do not seem to be as tough as blackberries – more like your red raspberries as transplanting them was maybe only 50% successful. Part of this is I did not dig very deep into the dirt, thinking they would be tough. Months later, they still had not come out of dormancy. Visiting the source patch showed that the other thimbleberries had put on leaves from the old canes, so I assumed I had no success. After another several weeks, I noticed the thimbleberries sending up new shoots rather than leaves on the old canes.

I now have around 6 thimbleberries putting on canes! I may have to wait another year before a decent harvest, but now I have thimbleberries in my own food forest. Shortly after discovering this, I found a patch much closer to the house than the source patch that is even putting on berries. Thus we should have plenty of thimbleberries from now on. Having them in the food forest is also helpful for knowing when to visit the bigger patches.

Thimbleberries put on the most berries in full sun, but the source patch was in nearly full shade and seemed to be doing fine. I planted mine in my full sun food forest. No need to worry about thorns when harvesting.

The berries themselves are similar in texture to raspberries except softer and juicy. Some can be seedy, but the seeds are very small like a fig. Apparently they only last a matter of hours, so ideally you eat them right from the patch or for a snack shortly after. This is why you will not find them in grocery stores. They melt in your mouth.

Large thimbleberry patch in the shade

Wanting to grow these but do not have access to a wild patch to transplant from? Run a search for thimbleberry plants and seeds, and you should find some sources such as this one (not an affiliate link, just one I found). Make sure the latin name is Rubus parviflorus. Follow the instructions and enjoy!