Blackberries, Reconsidered

Although I am, like any right-thinking person, a big fan of blackberries – hot, plump, dusty berries right off the vine on a summer day, spoonfuls of homemade blackberry jam on pancakes in the middle of winter – the plants themselves are a gigantic pain in the arse. At least here in Northern California, the nasty, thorny vines pop up everywhere, and if they aren’t beaten back regularly with shovels, shears, and even fire, the bushes can grow into impenetrable, locomotive-sized brambles almost overnight. The landowners next door, who sit on well over 100 mostly undeveloped acres and generously allow me to ride and walk on their property, have undertaken a massive blackberry removal project.  They have uncovered so many wonderful trails and habitats in the process, I have been literally jumping for joy since they started.  I have gladly traded berry picking for the chance to see things like a forest of black trillium plants, tree ferns, and even a wayward river otter along the creek that was once totally inaccessible because of those monstrous vines.  When I see a snarly little blackberry start in my own yard, I leap upon it with all manner of tools to extract and destroy it before it takes over the place.  Ha! Not on my watch!
Black Trillium
In beekeeping class last week I learned something.  Turns out, buckeye flowers are deadly poison to European honeybees, and the reason colonies don’t just die off during the buckeye bloom in early summer is because guess what other plant is blooming at the same time? Ya, okay. You get it. So now suddenly I’m all worried about the disappearing blackberry bushes! The irony.
I fussed about this to my mom a few days ago, and she let me in on a little secret: There exists a horticultural variety of blackberry that is THORNLESS!  And of course, without the thorns, they are much easier to train and prune and handle.  And she had four extra canes in her own garden she was getting rid of. And I have a section of fence in my yard that needs some vines to obstruct the unromantic view of the woodpile and propane tank.  Huzzah.  So yesterday I did something totally unthinkable a year ago: I planted blackberries in my yard.  Now I’m fantasizing about blackberry jam and blackberry ice cream and fat dusty blackberries right off the vine again. I just wish they would grow faster!

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