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Blackberry (and Blueberry) Fields Forever

Two weeks ago, Dan and I installed 74 locust posts in our new blackberry field. Blackberries last anywhere from 15-40 years, with canes (branches) reaching up to 12’, so most growers install a permanent trellis to facilitate airflow, maintenance, and harvest. The first and only time Dan and I did this was in 2008, when each post hole was dug by hand. I don’t remember much about that installation except that it was grueling. This year’s installation was much easier, thanks to our tractor-powered auger. Plenty of follow-up digging was required, but we didn’t expect the job to require no digging. Once we developed a rhythm, the job went smoothly and quickly. In fact, I think we only argued once.

It'll be at least another year before the blackberries come into full production. A healthy, established bed consists of two types of canes: 1) primocanes, or first-year canes that only sprout leaves, and 2) floricanes, second-year canes that produce fruit. Floricanes die after fruiting and should be pruned to make way for new primocanes. Since the beds were planted just last year, we only had primocanes in 2023 (these will become the 2024 floricanes). Though these canes are healthy by new bed standards, they’re still puny compared to what an established bed can produce. I think it’s reasonable to hope for some field snacking this year, but I wouldn’t expect to start filling pint and quart containers until 2025.

Late winter is typically the time to prune berries, but this hasn’t been a typical winter. December and January were mild if not warm, and just last week, there were signs of spring everywhere. With the pruning window closing fast (or so I thought), our 1-year reprieve on blackberry pruning seemed fortunate. That left blueberries, which are much more complicated. Once a blueberry bush is 3 years old, branches that are too thin, too thick, too low, too old, or too crowded should be removed. It’s a lot to focus on all at once, but at the end of the day, you’re aiming for a bush that admits plenty of sunshine and air, and whose branches are a mix of different ages. I can prune blackberries almost without thinking, but when it comes to blueberries, I need to focus. After 3-4 bushes, my feel for the job usually returns. And so last weekend, with bulbs popping and robbins bopping, I resolved to head to the field sooner rather than later. Then…boom! Our first big snowfall in years. On Tuesday, it looked like winter had finally arrived—on the ground, at least. The skies tell a different story. As I pruned this afternoon, flocks of Canadian geese passed overhead, announcing their arrival and the inevitable return of spring. Which brings me to another animal that's been much on my mind lately…

As a kid, I thought Groundhog Day as a cute, modern holiday not tethered to any ritual or tradition. As a farmer, however, the significance of early February is impossible to miss. The days are getting longer, and signs of winter’s retreat are visible in many subtle ways. In fact, centuries before hatted dignitaries pulled groundhogs from their holes, Druids celebrated Imbolc, which marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. The word imbolc means “in the belly,” a reference to the seeds beginning to stir in the belly of the Earth. At Imbolc, Celtic pagans honored Brigid, the goddess of fertility and spring, and Christians later incorporated many of her attributes in St. Brigid, the patron saint of midwives, dairy making, and more. Back to groundhogs, our own crew encountered quite few last summer, and we may have cursed them each time we found a new hole (we stopped counting after 6), but at this time of year, with winter in retreat and seeding about to begin, I can’t help but feel a kind of kinship with the doofy animal.

Speaking of seeds, that’s the theme of the 5th annual Tin House art show. Do you like to draw, paint, or create 2-dimensional art? The Tin House Art Show is an exhibition of the artists in the Restoration Farm community. Each year has a theme, and artwork is displayed in the Tin House from May through December. All ages are welcome! Click here for submission requirements.
Thanks for reading, and see you at the farm,

PS...CSA Shares are now available to the public. Join the party, click here for info.



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