Tomorrow I’m making Blackberry/Apple jelly. Why? Mostly because I’ve got a very nice batch of blackberries out back, and an overload of apples, which will just go to rot if not used for something. Initially, I planned on using crab apples in the jelly, but when I walked up the hill to the “community” crab apple tree, I discovered I had waited a bit too long – those babies were way past their prime; I’m guessing maybe by a full month or so. Oh well – but they make some absolutely super jelly. We’ll get ’em next year.
Funny thing about these blackberries – we’ve lived here for some 7 years, and about 2005 I noticed that there were blackberry vines growing through one of the rhododendron bushes in the back. You have no idea how much Oregonians hate blackberries, unless you live here, that is – blackberries are both hated and loved, sometimes by the same people! It’s probably necessary for you to have battled blackberries before you really “hate” them. Just let me say that they are about as nasty as a non-wanted pest weed can be – they are aggressive, grow anywhere you don’t want them, are difficult to kill, and they’ll hurt you. They also produce delicious berries!
For the next year, I tried every way I could with both Round-Up and Crossbow to kill that blackberry bush, and it just kept coming back. The biggest problem was that it was growing right up through the Rhody, and I sure didn’t want to kill it along with the blackberry. But finally I was so frustrated that I decided I’d just go ahead and kill them both, and start the Rhody over again with a cutting. So the day came when I mixed up a batch of double strength Crossbow and just drenched everything in the immediate area. The next day I came back with double strength Round-Up and did the same. Satisfied that I’d done what I needed to do, I walked away and didn’t go back there for two weeks.
When I did go back, I wasn’t ready for what I saw – there was the Rhody, in all its healthy glory, and a mostly dead and dying blackberry bush tangled up among the Rhody’s branches. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This was something I had to research – why wasn’t that Rhody dying as well? I went in and sat down at the computer. An hour or so later I had my answer. For some reason, rhododendron are among the small number of plants apparently immune to the family of chemicals contained in both Round-Up and Crossbow! I laughed for the next hour.
Well, it’s been several years since then, and of course that blackberry didn’t stay killed for long – although it did take a few years to re-emerge in its now usual (and practical) structure. Each summer, following the spring bloom of the Rhody, the blackberry vine sends its fruiting bracts out over the branches of the Rhody and the developing berries lay neatly right on top of the supporting Rhody branches! Hey, … wait a minute – you don’t suppose, … whoa! Yup, it took me a full five years to even notice that there was something suspiciously convenient about this botanical relationship – not only did the fruiting bracts lay on the outside of the big Rhody leaves, thereby gaining maximum exposure to the sun, but the nasty part of the blackberry vine never emerged out where the picker might be attacked during harvest time. Just a coincidence? I think not!
Once the above revelation unfolded before me, I kept a better eye on the blackberry. And in August of this year, I began to think that this bush wasn’t done surprising me. The developing fruit seemed to be bigger than the wild Himalayan blackberry – average being the size of my thumb. I have a pretty good history of picking wild blackberries, and I swear I don’t remember them being this size. Now if somebody wants to set me correct on this, I’d welcome the input – but I’m thinking now, not only was this blackberry vine intentionally planted with the Rhody, but it’s probably a hybrid blackberry as well (just not a thorn-less!).
So today I went out back and picked three pounds of plump, ripe, blackberries – this is my second picking this year, and the first picking was about the same amount. Six pounds of blackberries from one plant! That ain’t bad, I’m thinking. I’d love to know if a wild blackberry plant would produce that much in one season, but given the way they grow in the wild, I doubt I’d be able to find out. Tomorrow, I’ll make jelly with them. I’m sure the mother bush will be much happier knowing her fruits went into something so joyful – I know I will.