Blackberries

Welcome to our blackberry page! You may have notice that blackberries have been enjoying an ever increasing popularity due to their greater availability throughout the year in the US, excellent taste, versatile uses and numerous health benefits.  Blackberries have traditionally grown in a hedge row system in the open field.  However, most of the common blackberry cultivars are not cane hardy when and where low temperatures are recorded at -10ºF to -15ºF.  Polar vertexes in 2014 and 2015 had also reduced fruit yield to about nothing.  A new system for blackberry system has been developed and is entitled Rotatable Cross Arm trellis.  In addition, primocane bearing cultivar started gaining tracking in Ohio, especially in southern Ohio where growing season is longer.  High tunnels can be another viable option for blackberry production. However, growers still need to do their cost and benefit analysis before they invest a lot of money in this kind of system. 

Hedge Row BlackBerry Production System in the Open Field

Traditional hedge row system has been a good system for blackberry production in Ohio when winter temperatures are not very low.  The advantage of this system is that the costs for plants and trellis system are not very too high.  Canes can be managed very well without incurring too high of a labor cost.  This system is also good for pick-your-own operation where fruits are easy to be harvest.  Common cultivars used in this training system are Chester Thornless, Hardy Illini, Natchez, Ouachita, and Triple Crown.  Additional cultivars can be grown.  Growers are encouraged to purchase a copy of the bramble guide from CFAES’s eStore at The Ohio State University.   The web address is the link http://estore.osu-extension.org/Brambles-Production-Management-and-Marketing-P158.aspx

BlackberriesSuggested Blackberry Cultivars

Chester Thornless (SIUS 64-21-11 = I US 47 x Thornfree—Released from USDA, 1985):  This cultivar is quite hardy.  Vigorous, productive plants are resistant to cane blight but susceptible to fire blight. High-quality fruit is large (5–8 gram berries) and may be difficult to pick.  Good shelf life and good for pick-your-own.  High yields.  Higher anthocyanin content than Navaho, but similar to Dirksen and Hull.  Late season.  Recommended for Ohio.

Natchez:  This thornless blackberry cultivar is a new release from the University of Arkansas breeding program.  According to Nourse Farms, "this is the earliest ripening thornless variety with very high production potentials. Very large and good tasting berries can be harvested during a 3-5 week season.  Due to its semi-erect growth habit, Natchez performs best with a trellis."  We have grown this cultivar in high tunnel and open field.  Natchez has produced excellent fruit in our high tunnel trial.  In the open field, Natchez may not be reliably cold hardy in Ohio.  Natchez has been observed to be very productive when grown on rotatable cross trellis.     

Navaho (Ark. 1172 = Arkansas 583 x Arkansas 631—Released from Arkansas, 1988):  Erect plants have low vigor and moderate hardiness and moderate yield. Firm fruit is medium-sized and flavorful; high soluble solids. Shelf life is 14 to 21 days at 34ºF.  Mid-season.  Susceptible to orange rust.

Ouachita:  This thornless blackberry cultivar is a new release by Dr. John Clark from the University of Arkansas.  According to Nourse Farms, "It has excellent quality fruit, with firm, sweet, attractive berries.  Fruit ripens before Navaho. Plant has very erect canes, and intermediate vigor.  Winter Hardiness appears to be less than Navaho, similar to Apache.  Plants also appear resistant to anthracnose, double blossom/rosette and no orange rust seen on any plants."  We have grown this variety at OSU South Centers in Piketon in high tunnel and open field.  This cultivar may not be fully cold hardy for open field production in Ohio.  Ouachita has performed well in high tunnels in Piketon, Ohio, and was observed to be a high very productive cultivar for rotatable cross trellis system in southern Ohio.   

Triple Crown ((US 1638 = SIUS 68-2-5 or C47 (Black Satin x SIUS 64-21-4) x Arkansas 545 (Darrow x Brazos)), Released from USDA, 1996):  Vigorous, productive plant has numerous canes and laterals, which makes fruit more uniform and easier to harvest. Firm fruit has firm large seeds and is bigger and has higher soluble solids than Chester.  Earlier than Chester by four to seven days.  This cultivar may not be cold hardy every winter for a reliable crop.  It is better suited for protected production, such as rotatable cross arm trellis production. 

Prime Ark® 45:  This is a new blackberry release from the University of Arkansas breeding program.  According to Nourse Farms, "It is a thorny primocane-bearing blackberry with an erect growing habit.  Fruit size is medium-large and trials indicate that Prime Ark® 45 is more productive than Prime Jim.  Fruit holds up well after picking and is suitable for shipping.  The floricane fruiting season is after Prime Jim and Natchez and before Ouachita.  Early indications are that the primocane crop ripens 12-14 days later than Prime Jim.  Ripening may be too late for some northern areas, but will extend the blackberry season for situations where late fruit is desired. High temperatures during flowering will reduce yields."  It is suggested for trial only in Ohio.  The growing season in northern Ohio may not be long enough for a good fall crop. 

Prime Ark® Freedom:  This is the fourth release from Dr. John Clark and University of Arkansas's primocane breeding program. It is the first thornless primocane-fruiting blackberry variety!  According to Nourse Farms, "For floricane fruiting, it has very large fruits, larger than Natchez, with excellent flavor. It also ripens exceptionally early on floricanes (9-11 days earlier than Natchez).  Fruit size and total yield is similar to the Prime Ark® 45. Freedom is a great choice for local commercial distribution and home gardens. It is not recommended for the shipping market.  Prime Ark® Freedom requires "tipping" to achieve the highest yields and performance."  We are still testing this cultivar at The Ohio State University.  It is for trial only.

High Tunnel Bramble Production Guide

Blackberries can sustain winter injuries in Ohio when grown in open field without winter protection.  High tunnels can provide certain degree of winter protection without the high costs of typical greenhouse.  In Ohio, some growers have started using high tunnels as a way to protect blackberry plants from winter injuries, increase yield and improve fruit quality.

Site selection:  Soil quality is the most important factor when selecting a site for a high tunnel.  Blackberry bushes require well-drained loamy soils with high organic matter content.  They grow best at a pH between 6.0 and 6.5.  Growers should do a soil test and amend the soils to the right level according to soil test report before planting. 

Tunnel Selection: 

Peak style, four season high tunnels are preferred types since they can take snow load.       

Quonset style, 3 season high tunnels are not recommended for blackberry production since they cannot take snow load.  There are many suppliers of high tunnels in Ohio and beyond.  Growers are encouraged to contact different suppliers for quotes and specifications.  They are also encouraged to check out the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) - Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.  This is a voluntary cost share program.  More information is available at   http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/financial/eqip/?cid=stelprdb1046250

Plant Selection: 

It is important to select the right blackberry cultivars for high tunnel production.  We have grown Ouachita and Natchez blackberries in a high tunnel with success at OSU South Centers in Piketon.  Fruit quality and yields were quite good.  However, we only had two years of experience with blackberry production in high tunnels.  Potential growers are encouraged to refer to the Cornell High Tunnel Raspberries and Blackberries for other suggested blackberry cultivars.

Pest Management: 

Blackberry production in high tunnels is definitely not free of problems.  Many of the common pests of outdoor production are also found in high tunnels, such as Japanese beetle and spotted wing drosophila.                

Blackberry bushesIt is also important to control diseases and weeds inside high tunnels.  Insecticides, fungicides and herbicides needed to be labeled for greenhouses to be used in high tunnels.  However, growers are encouraged to check with their chemical representatives, extension professionals and pesticide labels to make sure they are following pesticide laws.  Refer to Midwest Fruit Pest Management Guide for more information. 

Economic Considerations:  High tunnels cost about $1.30 to 1.50 per square foot according to an economic analysis at the University of Kentucky.  Based on the same study, "Breakeven returns to cover both fixed and variable costs of high tunnel production could range from $4 to $6 per pound for raspberries and $3 to $5 per pound for blackberries during a seven-year period." Refer to the University of Kentucky "High Tunnel Brambles" fact sheet for more information.  Growers need to sell their crop at a premium to make high tunnel bramble production a profitable enterprise.

Useful references for High Tunnel Bramble Production:

High Tunnel Raspberries and Blackberries. 2012.  Cornell University Department of Horticulture Publication No.47.  Available online at http://www.fruit.cornell.edu/berry/production/pdfs/hightunnelsrasp2012.pdf

Iowa High Tunnel Fruit and Vegetable Production Manual.  Iowa State University Extension. PM 2098 January 2010.  Available online at https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/pm2098-pdf

Iowa High Tunnel Bramble Production.  ISRF07-12 http://www.ag.iastate.edu/farms/07reports/Armstrong/HighTunnelBramble.pdf

High Tunnel Brambles.  2014.  University of Kentucky.  http://www.uky.edu/Ag/CCD/introsheets/hightunnelbrambles.pdf

Growing Blackberries on Rotatable Cross-Arm Trellis in Ohio

Inadequate cold hardiness has been one of the main limiting factors in commercial blackberry production in Ohio.  High quality, high yielding, and thornless blackberry cultivars with good winter hardiness are few and far between.  In order to successfully grow blackberries in Ohio, winter protection is necessary.  There are two common ways to protect blackberry plants from the cold temperatures during the winter months.  They are high tunnels and the Rotatable Cross-Arm (RCA) trellis.  The RCA trellis system was developed by Dr. Fumi Takeda of USDA Agricultural Service (ARS).  The RCA trellis in conjunction with cane training system were shown to significantly improve machine harvesting, increased hand harvest efficiency, and most importantly improved winter survival of floricanes for a successful harvest.  The RCA system was further refined and commercialized by Trellis Growing Systems of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  The system has turned into a very useful blackberry production system for growers in Ohio and many other states..

After two "polar vortexes' in the winter of 2014, virtually all floricanes on the blackberry planted open field in Ohio were killed.  These plants sustained a 95% to 100% crop loss.  Blackberry growers who used the RCA system only suffered a 5% loss.  The RCA system definitely "earned" its place in Ohio blackberry production history. 

There are several advantages with the RCA system.  They are substantial winter protection from cold temperatures and drying winds, greatly improved harvesting efficiency, consistent production year after year, and much greater selections of superior tasting blackberry cultivars.

There are also disadvantages with the RCA system.  Some of them are high costs of establishment, a steep learning curve, and a high labor requirement.

Growers are encouraged to develop a detailed business plan and also check out their marketing options before committing to a large investment for a RCA system.  The cost of establishment can be as high as $20,000 per acre.  Several growers in Ohio have installed blackberry plantings using the system.  Perspective growers will have to their own homework to make sure economics work out.  

For information on theory and application of RCA, refer to an article "Method for Producing Long-cane Blackberry Plants" by Fumiomi Takeda and Jorge Soria.  The article is available online at http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/21/5/563.full

Rotatable Cross Arm Trellis can be purchased through Trellis Growing Systems, LLC, which is online at http://trellisgrowingsystems.com/products/rotating-cross-arm-rca-trellis-system/  For a detailed cane training techniques, refer to a presentation entitled "Growing Blackberries on a Rotatable Canopy Production" by Dr. Fumi Takeda.  The Power Point File is available online at https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/downloads/47252.pdf

Acknowledgements

Some of the cultivar information is quoted from the OSU Extension Bulletin 782.  "Brambles - Production Management and Marketing."  Additional information was also obtained from Nourse Farms (http://noursefarms.com/) and our cultivar trials at OSU South Centers in Piketon. We thank Michael Daniels, Thom Harker, Wayne Lewis, and Ryan Slaughter, for their assistance with plot installation, maintenance and berry harvest.  Our sincere appreciation also goes to Ohio Department of Agriculture and USDA for their support of our bramble project through a specialty crop block grant.  

Variety Evaluations

 

Production Information

 

Diet and Health

Common Berries Fight Cancer As Well As Exotic Varieties, June 2010
Growing Berries for Optimum Health Benefits, March 2009

Research 

Primocane Blackberry Observation 2010

Red Raspberry Cultivar Evaluation 2010

Ohio Primocane Blackberry Observation Report 2007-2010 (pdf)