by Curt Kovener
From my observations of the wilderness fencerows and open areas, this should be a bonanza year.
It seems that all of the dynamics have come together for a bumper crop of wild blackberry.
The winter was warm so few dormant second year canes were frozen. And because it was warm, there were enough other types of winter browse for the whitetail deer that they left the lightly prickled berry stalks alone.
Now the open areas of the forest and neighbors’ fencerows are lush with white blackberry blossoms.
Pollination has always been a concern here in the Hoosier wilderness but Mother Nature smiled at us in the midst of the pandemic.
Last week, outside the screened in porch during cocktail hour there was a loud buzzing noise. I thought hornets were building a nest on the house so I investigated with my weapon of choice: a can of carburetor cleaner. The noise, though, was coming from just down the ridge. Following my ears, I spied the cause.
Honeybees were swarming all about a black cherry tree, entering into the now obviously hollow tree where two branches forked.
As a result of the probably formerly domesticated bees following their queen to a new hive should provide ample pollination of blooming blackberries and later our garden vegetables which are growing profusely.
Now with some warm daytime temperatures and the work of the worker bees, I hope to see some full green berries forming with ripening sometime later next month.
Then it will be time for bug spray to ward off chiggers, ticks and deer flies, old jeans, a nearly worn out long sleeve shirt, and knee high muck boots with jeans tucked inside them. I’ll have to dig out my re-purposed coffee can with a 12-2 copper wire bail that slips through my old (and another year snugger) belt. Maybe I have room for one more nail hole so my berry-picking garb will fit around my expanding and drooping middle.
Putting a berry bucket on my belt frees up both hands for seeking and picking, doing an index finger and thumb roll to fill my palm with black juicy Hoosier fruit. Soon, I develop a cadence, not unlike milking a cow, I suppose, and my belted berry bucket is eventually filled. Then dump the berries in a bigger kettle and refill the belt bucket.
In my youth I would pick blackberries for my grandma so she could make blackberry jelly. These days I pick enough for a fresh cobbler and some for the freezer for a winter baked dessert.
The rest of the crop will get pressed into juice for wine.
Blackberry picking is wet work. I get out early in the morning before the bitey bugs are so bad and before the temperature is too uncomfortable. But that means the dew is heavy and my britches and shirt quickly are drenched. As the sun warms the fencerow, my clothes cling tightly. Later my own sweat replaces the dew so the clinging continues.
Back at the house, it is simpler to just strip off on the front porch (my closest neighbor is a half-mile and three ridges away so their modesty is intact), then into the shower to take care of any ticks or chiggers which evaded the spray.
I hope to report to you of the blackberry crop bounty in a month or so