Blackberry time again

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
July 9-10 is the McLoud Blackberry Festival at Veteran’s Memorial Park.

Mark your calendars. July 9-10 is the McLoud Blackberry Festival at Veteran’s Memorial Park. This year it is advertised as the “Longest Running Food-Related Festival in Oklahoma.”

Blackberry festivals proclaim the delicious, juicy blackberries are ripe and ready. Several states have their own festivals at the time of year fruit is at its best. Florida Blackberry festivals are held mid-May and mid-June. The Tennessee Lynnville Blackberry Festival (also mid-June) boasts the “World’s Best Blackberry Pie.” They also have a bouncy castle. Caledonia Vineyards in Missouri blackberries arrive late July. Virginia, W. Virginia, Washington State, California and Oregon festivals are in late July and early August. Fortville, Indiana has a blackberry festival July 24 serving berry concoctions sweetened with maple syrup from their own trees! Utah’s festival is mid-August, but that farm is open until October selling sweet corn, grapes, pumpkins, and raspberries. Porta potties are available. Idaho has their annual car show and blackberry festival second Saturday in September, just before the snow flies.

What can one do with blackberries? Eat them, or try to save some for: Blackberry Wine, Blackberry Lemonade, Blackberry BBQ Sauce, Blackberry Beer (interesting), Blackberry Jams and Jellies (of course), Blackberry Pies, Blackberry Sundaes, Blackberry Butters, and Blackberry Ice Cream.

We all know the “Blackberry Capital of the World” is in McLoud, Oklahoma. Early January, the McLoud Historical Society (Museum) and Heritage Center completed a presentation covering three decades of the McLoud blackberry. Extensive blackberry fields were cultivated to the west of McLoud (1940s -1960s). A 1948 International dark green pickup, still in excellent condition, was used in Chambless Farms blackberry harvests. The old truck sits in one corner of the museum, watching people who come to appreciate the blackberry. Blackberry photos, posters, crowns worn by former blackberry queens, newspaper blackberry articles, blackberry shipping crates and other paraphernalia are on display.

Native blackberries grow throughout this area. Seizing on the idea to capitalize on all this natural bounty, the McLoud Blackberry Association was formed. The first festival began in 1942. A box of McLoud’s best blackberries was shipped to President Harry Truman (US President 1945-1953). He loved the berries so much he declared McLoud Oklahoma the official Blackberry Capital of the World in 1949!

The blackberry (Rubus species) has a great tendency to conquer the world one stem at a time. The blackberry plant likes full sun and whatever soil, but thrives with fairly decent drainage. The brambles are rapid colonizers of waste places, fields and fences. Wherever stems touch soil, roots can develop into a new plant. Suckers can spring up from the roots. Cuttings of stems buried in loose loamy soil turn into mighty fine berry bushes. Don’t forget, the goal of the blackberry is to form an impressive thicket.

Some blackberries are self-fertile. All benefit from bee pollination. Technically the fruit is not a berry but an aggregate fruit composed of several ovaries all squeezed together around a central receptacle called a torus. The primocane is the first-year blackberry stem. Don’t prune that stem in the autumn. Next spring it will stop growing and turn into a floricane, producing flowers and lip-smacking fruit.

Blackberries have prickles (sharp little hairs arising from the epidermis), not thorns (modified branches). In 1908 the first ‘thornless’ blackberry stem was found growing within a single blackberry bush in California by Charles Beede. There are now six varieties. In 1997 Dr. John Clark, University of Arkansas, discovered a fruit-bearing primocane. No waiting until the next year! Those primocanes came to market in 2004. Four varieties are on the market.

The McLoud Blackberry Festival this year is advertised as the “Longest Running Food-Related Festival in Oklahoma.”

Word of warning. Don’t plant blackberries in soils where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers or eggplant have grown. These plants are vulnerable to Verticillium wilt, soil fungi that block the water conducting tubes. Blackberries can be affected by springtime Anthracnose fungal lesions, witches’ broom rosette fungus, mildews, and rusts. Probably all of these have surfaced this year. My June rainfall totaled 8.35 inches, and July first another 1.80 inches fell.

The native Oklahoma blackberry, Rubus oklahomus, grows in the eastern half of Oklahoma, north-central Texas and Arkansas. Squirrels, bunnies, birds, and deer eat or shelter in the thickets. Chiggers, multi-colored larvae of trombiculid mites, lie in wait. Groups of the buggers hide less than a foot off the ground within plants or grasses and come alive when the ground temps reach 77-86 degrees. Our soil temps are 75 degrees.

Check out OSU Fact Sheet HLA-6215 ‘Blackberry and Raspberry Culture for the Home Garden’ at https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/blackberry-and-raspberry-culture-for-the-home-garden.html

McLoud Blackberry festival will have a parade, fireworks, Great Plains Carnival Rides, vendors, fresh blackberries, jams, t-shirts and…drum roll… Blackberry Cobbler. Come one come all.