SEASON: Because these tender berries are rarely shipped long distances, the season is usually dictated by local harvests. They ripen in May along the Gulf Coast, in June and July in the central states, and in August and September in the Pacific Northwest.
CHOOSING: If you are shopping at a farmers’ market, you can usually taste a berry before you buy. They should be sweet and plump, without any unripe redness.
STORING: If you don’t eat all the berries on your way home from the market, cover them loosely by placing the container in a produce bag without sealing it. Keep them in the refrigerator, and try to use them within a few days.
GROWING: Have memories of thorny afternoons picking wild berries? Well, modern varieties of blackberries aren’t quite so prickly. They’re three to four times the size of those wild berries, and many of the plants are thornless.
Blackberries need full sun, rich soil, and good drainage; a trellis or hedgerow area is also helpful for easier management. Prepare the soil before planting by tilling in a generous amount of compost or other source of organic matter. You’ll need to choose a variety that suits your location, as fruiting plants need a certain amount of winter cold (known as “chill hours”) to break dormancy and perform well. Consult your local Cooperative Extension office for recommendations. Options today include not only thornless varieties, such as Arapaho or Navaho, but also late-bearing varieties that gardeners deem “coldhardy” for those in climates at risk for late frosts.
Properly managed, a blackberry plant can provide 10 to 15 pounds of berries. Plan to harvest daily during berry season to enjoy one of the tastiest and healthiest snack foods you can find.