Blackberries and other brambles (Rubus spp.) are a delightful addition to any garden, but they make an especially delectable addition to an edible landscape.
Far from only producing delicious edible aggregate fruits, the blackberry (and related bramble species) are multi-functional crops. The leaves can be consumed as a leaf vegetable, tea or extract. Around the world and for hundreds of years, bramble leaves have been used as an herbal medicine in treating digestive problems, gout, mouth and throat ailments, as well as consumed as a tonic for women’s reproductive health. The roots were used by some indigenous North Americans to make cordage. However, even with all these wonderful qualities, most people are hesitant to grow brambles for two reasons: their vigorous growth habit and their thorns.
Both qualities can be easily managed by simply building some garden infrastructure: Binding up blackberries on a trellis structure makes them much easier to harvest and prune.
A blackberry trellis should ideally be a fence-like structure that will allow the vines to be trained to grow off the ground and in two dimensions. Once the canes have grown to about 3 feet off the ground, they can begin to be trained parallel to the soil, so the berries droop off and become easier to pick.
Many brambles have a biennial fruiting habit. This means a cane will grow vegetatively in the first year, and flower and fruit in the second. After fruiting, the cane dies, and the root system sends up one or more replacements. A trellis system makes it easy to keep track of which canes have fruited and need to be pruned out, which keeps the blackberry patch from becoming a thorny thicket.
It’s amazing how much more pleasant it is to grow this hardy superfood when harvest time doesn’t coincide with scratched forearms and torn clothing!
About the Author: Lynsey Grosfield is the founder of BiodiverSeed, a global seed swap network devoted to the exchange of self-harvested, organic and heirloom seeds with the goal of preserving maximum genetic diversity. Follow BiodiverSeed on Twitter.