Blackberrypalooza

Patience.  It’s a virtue.  It’s just not one of my better traits.

I planted three bare root, thornless blackberry bushes on the outside of my garden years ago.  Not much happened the first two years.  They grew, produced a lot of leaves and some berries, but nothing to write home about.  Somewhere along years three and four I read about proper pruning.  That helped.  Five years ago I got honey bees.  That was a game changer.

 

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Ripening blackberries

 

The past couple of years these bushes have produced such volumes of blackberries that I don’t even bother netting them because there’s so much to go around.  They are supported by the garden fence and I clip them as they wander, keeping them in check because they are a bramble.

 

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Large, ripe blackberries that may or may not have made it into the harvesting bowl.

 

 

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Bowl of ripe blackberries with a sprig of anise hyssop

 

 

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Large bowl of blackberries next to flowering elfin thyme.

 

I’ve learned to wait to pick them at their peak, the individual sections of the berry full and fat, falling off the vines with barely a touch.  They’re so sweet that way.  Picked earlier, they’re not quite as sweet, a little more on the tart side, not unlike what you’d get from the grocery store.  When I bite into those sweet berries that are fully ripe, I’m reminded of this particular benefit of growing my own- picking and eating produce at  prime without worry about spoilage during transport since we use them right away.

 

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A ripe blackberry, the individual sections bursting with sweet juice, will practically fall off with the slightest touch.

 

 

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Cluster or ripening blackberries make for easy, fast picking.

 

The blooms on these bushes were show stoppers in May.  Positioned next to the beehives, they were full of pollinator traffic, so much so that as I pick them now, I squat down and peer up in search of berries I missed, hidden under the large green leaves that weren’t hidden from the bees who sought their bounty long before I sought mine, taking the nectar and pollen back to their hives to feed their young and to turn into delicious honey.

 

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This bumblebee has very full pollen pouches as she works a blackberry bloom.  The pollen is fed to young bees as a valuable protein source in the spring when bees rapidly build up volume.  You can also see small, yellow pollen granules above the pollen pouches that have not yet been groomed into the pouches.

 

 

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One of my honeybees working a blackberry bloom right before rain set in, allowing her to continue her important work up until the raindrops drove her inside, the brambles conveniently located next to the beehives.  I enjoyed watching bees work these brambles during that time period.

 

 

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Butt up, she’s working deep inside the blackberry bloom to collect nectar.

 

With so many ripening each day, I have to stay up on picking them or they fall to the ground and rot which would be a shame.  Now that I have chickens, there’s really little waste because they not only eat what falls to the ground, but eagerly head out of the coop each morning, making a beeline for the bushes, jumping up to reach the blackberries and simultaneously conjuring my first giggles of the day as I watch these acrobatics.  They jump only for the black berries because they know that the red ones aren’t sweet yet- smart girls.  And how they love to rest under these bramble bushes in the summer heat!  The bushes provide shade, protection and snacks!  Spoiled chickens, indeed!

 

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The early bird catches the worm, or in this case, the blackberry.

 

 

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A summer treat to cool off the girls when the mercury rises to the upper 90’s:  ice with blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, lemon balm leaves and a borage blossom, all spoils of the garden to spoil my girls.  They like the blackberries best and they are always the first to be eaten.

 

 

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What?!  She took the last blackberry!  That’s okay because there are frozen peas to enjoy too, just not quite as sweet.

 

 

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This outside corner of the vegetable garden is the girls’ favorite spot to hang out, settling under the bramble branches in the raised bed after snatching any low hanging fruit.

 

So far this summer, I’ve picked about ten pounds worth of blackberries from those three bushes that started out so slowly, and the vines are still chocked full with red berries in need of the sun’s ripening magic.  I eat as I pick, I snack as I work in the garden and I toss them into yogurt every morning.  My children have taken to tossing them into their lemonade and water as well, both still and sparkling, eating the berries once they’ve finished.

 

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Garden snacking:  ripe blackberries and Blondkoepchen tomatoes.

 

I’ve frozen several gallon bags for smoothies later in the season and for a homebrew my husband is planning making soon.  I’ve made jam, the beefy fruit mashed with just sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  The chunky delicacy tastes fabulous on toast and freshly made bread.  I’ve made a blackberry focaccia served warm and dusted with powdered sugar.  Then came blackberry vinaigrette using honey from my neighboring hives.

 

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When freezing berries, I like to wash them and allow them to dry on towels before placing on a cookie sheet and lightly freezing before placing into gallon bags.  This keeps them from clumping together so individual berries can be removed to add to beverages, recipes or just eaten frozen, my daughter’s favorite treat.

 

 

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Blackberry jam, thick and sweet and oh, so delicious!

 

 

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Homemade jam deserved homemade bread.

 

 

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Blackberry focaccia made with extra blackberries and fresh eggs from the girls, recipe courtesy of Nigel Slater from his cookbook Ripe.  Delicious!

 

 

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This was a great combination, not too sweet, perfect for breakfast.

 

Blackberries are actually an important nectar source for Maryland honey bees.  They bloom towards the end of the spring nectar flow, after the tulip poplar and black locust trees have finished.  Knowing that I provide sustenance to my bees and in return receive such a bountiful gift is quite gratifying.  Watching my chickens now further benefit from these three bushes, that much more so.

 

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View of the prosperous beehives from the corner of the garden where the blackberry bushes thrive as well, more than mutually beneficial, I’d say.

 

The garden is at it’s peak right now.  It delights me to wander into the garden after sunrise, marveling over nature’s offerings each morning, chickens cooing and talking alongside me as blooms open for the day and pollinator traffic picks up.  Plain yogurt with freshly picked berries from the garden and a drizzle of honey wakes up my taste buds and allows me a few minutes of quiet to be thankful for the bounty in my backyard.

 

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Homemade yogurt with freshly picked blackberries so sweet that honey isn’t necessary, but makes it that much better.

 

 

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Freshly picked blackberries and strawberries, those I allowed myself while hungry hens squawked on the other side of the fence for some morning garden goodness themselves.  Much obliged, girls.

 

 

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I love watching the honey bees and the hens beginning their foraging, not long after I foraged myself.  I eat the goodness of the garden, recognizing the blessings before me, bees buzzing past, birds twittering about, nature waking with me.

 

These berries are the main show here post honey harvest, just as the tomatoes begin to redden and ripen, the next stars in the summer vegetable garden line up.  For now, I plan to harvest them all, eating, freezing, preserving, baking and sharing.  Patience paid off.  It’s a blackberrypalooza and I thank the bees for this bonanza!

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Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.   -Jean Jacques Rousseau

P.S.  I’m now on Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/settlingforbees/

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