Blackberries are one of my favourite berries, as to me they taste of the summer sunshine. It is very considerate of the plants to capture that taste. Blackberry plants are also virtually indestructible and will produce huge quantities of fruit even in the sort of hot and dry summer conditions like this one.
It is a surprise to me when people tell me how much they don’t like blackberries. Or they describe the plant as a noxious weed – whatever that means. The local council in this mountain range sprays herbicide on many of the blackberry canes. That spraying unfortunately produces a huge quantity of dry flammable material a month or two later at the height of summer, which is a serious fire risk. The blackberries however, don’t seem to mind the herbicide as two years later they grow back and look more or less the same to me.
Not everyone is as excited about the blackberry bush as I am. So I undertook a bit of an investigation to find out what all of the fuss was about.
No research on any fruit is complete without opening Dr Louis Glowinski’s most excellent book: “The complete book of fruit growing in Australia”. It really is a complete book as he covers over 200 fruits growing in Australia. He writes about the blackberry: “Well, it is rumoured that blackberries are invasive plants, weeds that can take over a garden, are hard to manage, and unless carefully tended become a tangled mess and hardly bear at all. And unfortunately the rumours are correct.” However, on the other hand he also writes: “These most luscious of fruits are so delicate that their indescribably delicious flavour can only be experienced by those lucky folks able to select their berries direct from the vine”. I note that those observations indicate that the plant is equal parts friend and foe.
Even Pliny the Elder weighed in to the dirty blackberry dogfight with the opinion: “the blackberry’s habit of spreading by tip layers (which is a fancy name for a new plant appearing wherever the end of a cane hits the ground) ‘in a manner that would fill up the whole place if resistance were not offered by cultivation’. I believe he reckons the plant is a bit weedy! However, I also note that in the Middle Ages the plants were also used for wine, making blue dye and for medicines especially to soothe the throat and eyes. So again, the blackberry plants are both friend and foe!
The Victorian state government has a website devoted to weeds and blackberry is listed as one of those plants. Of particular interest on that website was the statistic that there are over 2,000 named entities in the Rubus fruticosus aggregate, and that all of the blackberry species in the aggregate that are found in Australia are of European origin. So who knows what the blackberry plants are in your area? All I know is that the blackberry fruit which I pick locally can be turned into jam and wine and it is a real shame to me that the blackberry picking season is now over.
The weedy website can be found here: Agriculture Victoria: A to Z of weeds: Blackberry
|As the blackberry fruit is collected, I freeze them until I have enough berries to produce a good quantity of jam and wine|
For the past few weeks the editor and I have been picking blackberries from a secluded spot in the local forest. Once the berries are brought back to the kitchen, they are cleaned and frozen until the end of the season, at which point they are converted into jam and wine. And today is that day!
|A huge pot of blackberry jam simmers on the stove whilst the glass jam jars and lids are sterilised|
Today, the editor wove her magic in the kitchen and produced blackberry and rhubarb jam as well as two demijohns of blackberry wine. The jam will stay fresh for over two years, whilst we are working towards ageing all of the wines for at least 12 months.
This time of year the farm activities are all about preserving the glut of summer produce for consumption over the following months when the sun is low in the sky and the air is cold and summer is far away.
The tomatoes are currently producing a huge quantity of fruit and a few minutes of picking produced this sizeable collection:
|A few minutes of picking produced this sizeable collection of home grown tomatoes|
In the past, we’ve consumed the tomatoes as they’ve ripened, but really a person can only ever consume so many tomatoes. Yes, it is a problem that we bear stoically! This year however, we purchased a second hand food dehydrator with the intention of using the huge amount of solar electricity which would otherwise go to waste at this time of year. What better way to use the glut of tomatoes and solar electricity than to produce sun dried tomatoes…
|The glut of tomatoes were laid out on the trays waiting to be processed in the food dehydrator|
Sun dried tomatoes (using the solar power of course) have to be stored in olive oil once processed, to ensure that they do not come into contact with the air which may potentially cause them to become inedible and/or toxic. Fortunately there are many quality olive oil plantations nearby and olive oil is of a very high quality and excellent taste. Our sun dried tomatoes will be used both on fresh bread and pizza as the dehydration process really concentrates the flavour.
|The now processed sun dried tomatoes sit in oil so that they do not spoil by coming into contact with the air|
Seed saving for particular varieties of tomatoes has commenced this week. We grow cherry tomatoes which are yellow, red, yellow/green, and black Russian varieties, and we will be selecting seed over the next few weeks from the best tasting fruit with the most vigorous growth. Generally the seeds are left in water for three days so that the natural fermentation process that occurs kills off any nasties that may exist on the seeds and cause them to spoil. The seeds are then left on paper to dry and stored for the next season (which begins in late August / early September here).
|Yellow cocktail tomato seeds were selected this week|
Another form of storing the summer surplus is storing the cut and split firewood in the original firewood shed. Firewood is hard, hot work and it is a pleasure to see the original firewood shed slowly filling up.
|The original firewood shed is slowly filling up|
Did I mention already that this summer has been particularly hot and dry? Well, since the beginning of the year, each week has produced a little bit of rain, but overall not much more than two inches of rain has fallen so far this year. Despite those conditions I’ve been managing the water resources reasonably well and have a bit of spare capacity to spray in the dry orchard. With that in mind, the other afternoon I raced off to the local hardware store to see whether they had a water sprinkler on a stand which I could place in the orchard. The hardware store did one better than that! They had a number of water sprinklers on tripods which they told me no one wanted to purchase, so I availed myself of two of them. Being on a tripod with adjustable length legs the sprinklers are almost perfect for anyone who lives on the side of a mountain.
|I picked up two sprinklers on tripods with adjustable legs this week|
I always worry about water and a few days ago, I undertook an audit of the water used since the beginning of the summer season to that point. The audit calculated that we use approximately 740 litres (195 gallons) of water per day during summer between ourselves, the dogs, chickens, bees, orchard (300+ fruit trees), herbs and vegetables. I reckon that the vegetables require the most water. The calculations are as follows:
|Water usage for the summer including: ourselves, the dogs, chickens, bees, orchard (300+ fruit trees), herbs and vegetables|
The activities this week weren’t all about the sort of pragmatic, putting away surpluses for later in the year sorts of activities. The editor found a weather vane (with a chicken) at the hippy country market and she just had to have it. The weather vane was installed onto the recently converted firewood shed this week:
|A weather vane was installed onto the recently converted firewood shed this week|
Last week I introduced five new chickens to the farm and it is with pleasure that I announce that the new chickens are doing quite well and really enjoy their evenings roaming around the orchard looking for choice greens and grubs!
|The new chickens enjoy their evenings roaming around the orchard looking for choice greens and grubs!|
The chickens here are totally spoilt rotten! A few months ago, I installed a swing in the chicken enclosure for the chickens to jump and play around on. Unfortunately, none of the chickens ever enjoyed the swing, so today, I removed the swing and installed a solid steel perch in its place within the chicken enclosure. Within a few minutes the chickens were jumping all over it. Observant readers will note that in the photo below one of the new leghorn chickens is on the steel perch!
|One of the new leghorn chickens enjoys the new steel perch installed in the chicken enclosure today|
The temperature outside now at about 7.15pm is 18.4'C degrees Celsius (65.1'F). So far this year there has been 57.8mm (2.3 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total 55.8mm (2.2 inches).