Blackberries are popular subject at Ag Discovery program

John Buckley  |  3/4/2008 8:46:47 PM

News Release Distributed 02/21/08

BOSSIER CITY – A capacity crowd of 50 people gathered at the Red River Research Station Feb. 13 to learn about blackberries – the fruit, not the mobile telephone/e-mail device.

Visitors attended the periodic LSU AgCenter Lunch and Ag Discovery program, which was conducted by Dr. Blair Buckley, a blackberry expert at the station. Because of a waiting list to hear the talk, Buckley will repeat his presentation on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

The researcher said blackberries are the fruit he likes to eat the most. “It is a fruit most people like, but we don’t see a lot of fresh ones in the grocery store,” he said.

Blackberries can be picked, they can be found at farmers’ markets, and they can be grown locally.

Although most people grew up with thorny blackberries, a thornless variety is available. “It is a lot more fun to harvest,” Buckley said. “In a home garden, that is what most of you would be interested in.”

Erect blackberries are self-supporting; that is, the canes stand by themselves with no need for a trellis. They should be planted 2 to 3 feet apart.

For the semi-erect thornless varieties, Buckley suggested separating the canes so they can get better sunlight and not compete with one another. They should be placed 6 to 8 feet apart.

The five varieties he discussed all have Indian names and come from a dominant breeding program at the University of Arkansas. They are Apache, Arapaho, Natchez, Navaho and Ouachita.

Natchez was released in 2007 and will likely be on the market in 2009.

Buckley called Apache his favorite growing variety because of its larger size and good flavor. Kiowa, however, is his favorite thorny variety. “It is the biggest blackberry out there. If you haven’t looked at this, give it a try.”

Blackberries need good drainage and good air drainage, Buckley said. They will tolerate a wide range of pH (acidity), from 6 to 6.5.

The time to plant is right now (late winter/early spring) if they aren’t in the ground already. The advantage of a fall planting is an established root system to better prepare the berries for the stressful conditions of summer, Buckley said.

Diseases that affect the fruit are rosette, or double blossom, a fungus. Orange rust is noticeable by an orange growth on the underside of the leaves. And crown gall is a black, spongy growth on the roots.

Buckley said he routinely has a red-necked cane borer – a small beetle – in his crop, but it hasn’t caused a problem with production.

As for weed control, preparation should be done up front, as with any fruit crop, he said. You can mulch blackberries or use a weed barrier cloth, but it should not be placed right in the row, he said.

Blackberries should be picked after the morning dew when they are dull black.

Buckley concluded the program by saying blackberries have a high amount of antioxidants. Participants also sampled blackberry cobbler and blackberry tea that he had prepared and offered along with recipes.

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Contact: Dr. Blair Buckley at (318) 741-7430, or bbuckley@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Mary Ann Van Osdell at (318) 741-7430, ext. 1104, or mvanosdell@agcenter.lsu.edu

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