Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
We are in the middle of a drought that is setting records all over our country. But before the lack of rain gripped us, we were working are fingers to the bone, literally!
We have a thousand blueberry plants, several hundred nectarine and peach trees, along with lavender, tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, peppers, and stevia. That all takes work and sweat to grow and harvest, but what was killing me was picking the blackberries!
Most of our blackberries have thorns, so picking them is a hazard. But if someone who has ever picked blackberries can tell you, the biggest and fattest blackberries, the ones you absolutely want the most, are always two steps into the thicket of thorns! I do a contortion act trying to get to those big fat berries without getting caught on the barbed wands swaying in the breeze. Nature somehow knows where the front of the hedge is and puts the smallest and most dried-out berries there within close reach. And then Mother Nature laughs to the point of holding her sides when she watches us all try everything we know to reach those just OUT of reach.
I have tried using a tennis racket and a firefly net. Neither was as good as my own hands, but the net was more efficient than the tennis racket. Though they both knocked the berries off, the net actually brought them closer; they seemed to roll right off the tennis racket.
I have worn flannel shirts and my thickest jeans to wade through the brambles, to no avail. I still emerged with scratches and bleeding cuts. I have worn extra tall thick boots to keep the brambles off my shins and legs, and it was wasted effort.
Last summer I planned to outsmart these blackberry bushes! I took a square of plywood with me, laying it down on the ground and standing in safety on it while squishing the berry plants under it. I would then gingerly work the plywood out from under me and lay it in front me of again, making a flattened path into the blackberries in order to pick those wonderful fat ones.
Picking blackberries doesn’t just mean cuts and thorn-pricks: they ripen at the hottest part of the summer. That means that when I dress appropriately for the blackberry hedges in all my thick, skin-covering clothes, I am drenched in sweat before I have picked even one berry!
And for some reason every itch-causing bug or poisonous snake likes to hang out in the blackberry bushes, waiting to ambush any human who enters. You can always expect to leave the blackberry fields with tick and chigger guests on our arms and legs. Rattlesnakes seem to think that the shade of a blackberry bush is sweeter than any regular tree shade. I tend to make lots of noise when wading into a blackberry thicket to scare the snakes, stomping and moving the bushes noisily, very much like doing the stingray shuffle when one enters the shallow ocean waters during stingray season. So far (knock on wood) I have not stepped on any snakes in my path.
We have planted thornless blackberry plants this year so I will be anxious to pick berries from those plants in two years (the berries only grow on the second year canes). But I think the rest of the blackberries are mocking me … this was the most prodigious year for blackberries I can remember in the last ten years.
Those of you who see me out and about at the end of blackberry picking season will know what I’ve been up to by the blackberry stains on my hands and the band aids on all my fingers and all over my shins, arms and thighs!
Next year when I say that I’m working my fingers to the bone at the farm, you will know that I really DO mean to the bone, as some of those blackberry thorns feel like the size of sabers, going in and right down to the bone! And is it worth it? When we put our home made blackberry syrup over our pancakes or ice cream, or have orders for the syrup that we sell at the local farmer's market, I will tell you that, YES, it is all worth it!
- Maura White grew up on the Pacific Coast in a sleepy beach town and has lived all over the country, as well as in Asia. What a change it was for her to move to the country and she uses humor to help her make the adjustment. She and her husband are working to make their farm, Double Star Bar Farms, a successful family farm. She keeps busy with her stained glass business, which you can check out at www.southernstainedglass.com. You can read more of her stories at whitem4.wordpress.com. She keeps saying “You can take the girl away from the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean out of the girl!” Copyright © 2012, Maura White. All rights reserved.