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    Why Blackberries
Blackberries are a great crop for fresh eating or making jams, jellies and wine. Many people have memories of picking wild blackberries from a local woods or farm. If they grow so prolifically in the wild, why plant cultivated varieties? First, blackberries are not actually that widespread; not everyone has access to fencerows and unmown fileds in which to hunt for the berries. Second, though the wild berries are prolific producers of flavorful berries, the cultivated plants are better producers. And, like the wild plants, some cultivars excel at growing flavor packed berries and other produce huge fruit.

About Blackberries
Blackberries are a perennial plant with new shoots emerging from a persistant crown or root. They [normally] grow in a two-year cycle with vegetative canes produced the first year. These canes persist through the winter to bloom and fruit the following year. New varieties of "primo-cane" bearing plants will actually fruit on the first year canes late in the season of the first year. This allows the grower to harvest in one year and also gain the advantage of being able to recover from a winter kill within one season. Fruit is born on short leafy shoots emerging from dormant buds along the cane.

Blackberries are usually grouped according to habit as well as the presence or absence of thorns. Erect throny plants are generally upright or arching growers. They sucker from roots and are the most winter hardy. They can be trained without the use of a trellis. Thornless semi-erect varieties are less winter hardy. They tend to stay put, growing new canes from the central crown area. They are vigorous growers and will require support in the form of a trellis or stake.

Blackberry Trials
The big problem in Northern Ohio is that blackberries are not very hardy and most varieties will be winter killed, especially when we experience one of our infrequnet but normal harsh winters. There are a small number of varieties that are rated to succeed in our USDA hardiness zone, number five. Those living near the lake actually live in a narrow band of zone 6 due to the temperature buffering that the lake provides. The rest, however, are doomed to grow in the marginally colder zone 5.

To that end, at Hearthstone Berry Farm, we have made an effort to plant all of the commercially available varieties for zone 5. The trial planting was started in 2008 and more varieties were added in 2010. Other plants will be added when available. Additionally, a few zone 6 varieties will also be planted*.

Observations will be made each year and the planting evaluated. Yield will not be objectivley measured unless staff is available to measure and record the proper data. The observations will be published on this website and the planting is open to the public. All varieties are clearly labeled. If you use or reference the data from these blackberry evalualtions, please eMail us with the citation and credit these trials in your work. The trial information itself will be published when applicable.

Plants were ordered from several sources**. pH and nutrients were corrected according to soil test results.
Erect varieties are spaced at four feet, and will be trained to a hedgerow. Trailing varieties are spaced at eight feet and will be trained to either a single post or a two-wire trellis.

Rows are 200 feet long with ten feet between rows. Rows are clean cultivated; the fields are tiled and irrigated.
Fertilized with 19-19-19 to provide 50# each of N and P per acre [one-half rate year one]

Again, the primocane varieties cam out of winter in far worse condition than the Illini Xtra Hardy. Though rated a zone 4 variety, it may be that since they produce on first year canes, the canes are not expected to overwinter and only the crown is hardy in zone 4.

Extremely wet weather--record rainfall and continual rainfall--has made April and May field work difficult to impossible. Early fertilizer applications are likely washed out by record rainfall.

Added second block of trial plants:
Prime Jim, Prime Jan exhibited the most leaf burn and cane dieback when compared to Illini Extra Hardy.
Last year's limited growth [first year] will produce a small crop--too little to open for picking but more than enough for family and friends.
Irrigation was installed in July and made a significant difference in the development of the canes. Irrigation supplemented rainfall to 1" per week. August through October were very dry and irrigation ran every week even after harvest.

Current varietes: Prime Jim, Prim Jan, Navajo, Black Satin, Chester, Triple Crown, Cherokee, Chicasaw, Illini Hardy
2010 additions: Choctaw, Hull, Loch Ness, Metolius, Darrow, Perron's Black
Zone 6 trials: Black Butte, Kiowa

Varieties in Trial:

Variety Habit Character
Black Satin trailing, thornless strong grower, long canes
Chester   well-established in first year
Navajo   winter kill on new plants
Prim Jan erect thorny established easier than 'Prime Jim'
Prime Jim erect thorny  
Prime Ark erect thorny  
Illini Hardy erect thorny  
Triple Crown    
Black Butte    
Loch Ness    
Perron's black thornless  

Growing Blackberries
Space erect thorny varieties 4 apart in rows 18" wide
Space trailing types 8' apart [they will tend to stay in one place]
Provide a means of support for trailing varieties.
Space rows adequately to fit equipment. 10' spacing is used at Hearthstone Berry Farm.

We are using three types of trellising for the trailing varieties: two-wire trellis with T-posts; two-wire trellis with treated wood poles; single T-post supports.

Erect thorny varieties are pinched to 4' during the growing season. Resulting side branches are pruned to 18-24" in length. Rows are kept to 2' wide; anything out of the row is mown off. Canes are thinned to 6 per linear foot of row.

Trailing varieties are topped when they reach 8' in length during the growing season. The new canes [primocanes] are arranged within the row to the lower wire. Side branches are pruned to 18-24" in length. Primocanes are allowed to lay on the ground during winter for the protection of snow cover. Canes are pruned to length in late winter and trained to the upper wire. After fruiting, the old [floricane] is removed.

Weed Control:
Herbicides are registered for use in blackberries. We minimize the use of herbicides by growing grass between rows and mulch [old straw] within rows. Hand pulling or spot treating for weeds as needed.

Local weather stations are polled to keep track of rainfall and that is supplemented to 1" per week with trickle irrigation.

Recommended nutrients for blackberries include 50#N/A with P kept around 50#/A and K at 250#/A. Have the soil tested to establish nutrient levels. Hearthstone is using 19-19-19 at 50#/A to supply N and raise P and K levels [low on the soil test results]. Fertilizer applciaitons are split at bud break and 6 weeks later.

Use only pesticides registered for use in blackberries. As of this update Hearthstone has had problems with Japanese beetle [hand picked] and cane borer [pruned out]. Also, wild brambles have been removed from the front 40 acres to reduce insect and disease pressure from wild populations.

Blackberry Information
Small Fruit Crop Management, Galletta, 1994
University of Maine Factsheet
Pruning Erect Blackberries
Midwest Commercial Small Fruit and Grape Spray Guide is a good resource for updated pesticide information AND it can aid in diagnosing problems because it lists pest and disease problems in order of occurrence. (Ohio State University Regional Extension Bulletin 506B2)
Midwest Small Fruit Pest Managment Handbook (Ohio State University Extension Bulletin 861)
Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide, Bulletin 940 (for general homeowner use)

Recipes and Tips
Winemaking with blackberries:
Jack Keller's Winemaking Home Page
This is a great one-stop site for winemaking information. Organized reasonably well, this site has pages dedicated to processes, yeast, and recipes.

Online forums are good places to look for answers to your brewing questions. More than likely you will find answers or links to information, or you can ask your own unique question. Here are two of my favorites.
Brews Brothers [a.k.a. The Blue Board] Wine Mead & Cider Forum
The Brew Board [a.k.a. The Green Board]

You can always post questions to our blog.

* Over the past fifteen years, insects normally restricted to the area of Central Ohio and below have gradually moved north into the lake shore regions. These insects, mimosa webworm (Homaduala anisocentra) and bagworm (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis), have successfully overwintered in this new territory. Therefore, it might be inferred that less tender berry plants might also be trialed in the same area.

** Nourse Farms, Willis Orchard Co., [additional 2010 sources: Indiana Berry and Plant Company, Raintree Nursery, National Clonal Germplasm Repository]