Blackberry Pruning

January 23, 2020

A week of mild weather in January had me outside, wanting to get things done. One day it was cleaning out our old shop. The next day, I decided it was time to tackle the blackberry bushes. 

The blackberries grow wild in the space between two hayfields, or cornfields, depending on the year. Most wild blackberries, I have found, are small and sour. These ones are surprisingly large and juicy. Their canes, too, are much larger, stretching far over my head. I sometimes wonder if maybe someone planted them, long ago, before they had thornless blackberries with fruits the size of my thumb. 

In the summer, the patch grows thick with brambles, grass, and goldenrod. I have to stomp my way through, stretching around thorn studded canes to reach the plump, juicy prizes. In January, the patch is easier to navigate. 

My mom came along to help me. She started in one area and I in another. With pruning shears and tree nippers in hand, we began. We cut out the old, dead canes and pruned back the past summer's growth. 

A blackberry cane produces fruit its second year. Once it has produced fruit, it dies. Underground, the root system sends up new canes every spring. Looking at them in the winter, the new canes are a reddish color, and they are tall and untrimmed. The old canes are light brown, brittle, with the remnants of last summer's berries stuck to the tips of their branches.

In addition to the cutting out the old canes, we also took on rosebushes, honeysuckle, and young trees bent on turning our berry patch back into a forest.

Three hours later, I stood back and surveyed our work. I have never completed the task of pruning the entire blackberry patch, but this was the most I have gotten done.

"Even if I don't make it back out here this winter, I am satisfied," I declared. 

Now it is time to wait, to see how well the berries do this year, how many there will be for ourselves, for sale, and, of course, for ice cream.

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