[NAFEX] Blakberries up north

Sam & Helen Finazzo finazzo at chibardun.net
Fri Dec 16 19:32:49 EST 2005

I live in a zone 3 area of Northwest Wisconsin. My experience with
blackberries goes back to my grandfather's farm just west of Minneapolis,
Mn, where I grew up (zone 4).

Sometime back in the 1930s or early 1940s he acquired what he termed as
dewberry plants from an neighbor. Grandpa Pete had quite the green thumb and
these trailing blackberries grew very well for him to the point where he was
growing a half are to maybe an acre of these berries as part of our market
garden operation. The berries grew up to thumbsized fruits on a double wire
trellis system.

The thorny vines made them no fun to work with, but blackberries of such
large size and great taste sold incredibly easy and at very high prices.
There simply were no other blackberries around except for wild. We used them
as "incentives" with grocery, roadside stand and commission house buyers to
sell whatever produce we had a surplus of at the time. I couldn't count the
times where the promise of one or two flats of Pete's blacks (at a price
double or triple that of raspberries) paved the way for the sale or 10 or 20
lugs of zucchini.

The vines did require covering each winter. That year's new vines would be
pruned back and laid flat so we could turn earth over them. He occasionally
would sell some plants to other market gardeners, but none of them succeeded
in getting the crop established. I think maybe the heavy black soil of the
farm was part of the secret.

In the late 1960s, when I was in high school I did establish some plants on
a piece of ground my father owned adjacent to Grandpa's farm. I kept them
going until about 1974 when I went off to college. My grandpa kept up with
growning his blacks, albeit on a smaller scale, almost until his death at
the  age of 95. The farm was sold and the dewberries were plowed under.

When I finished college, I was off to Wisconsin and the dewberries I'd
established went untended. In fact the field they'd been in had tilled and
replanted a few times, before my father let it go fallow. So I couldn't have
been more surprised to finds those dewberries still growing among the tall
grass and brush in 2002 when my sister was putting the property on the
market after the death of our dad that February.

I rescued about 20 plants and brought them back to Wisconsin, where they've
thrived. In the summer of 2004. I harvested about 100 pints off those
plants, selling many of them for $2.50 a half pint to a local restaurant. I
covered them in the winters of 2002-03 and 2003-04 just as my grandfather
did, but did not in 2004-5. They went all but totally neglected that year.
(We're in the start up phase of a new venture which, along with a full time
job, didn't leave much time for anything else). As a result they didn't
produce as well this summer as last, but they showed good vigor and my plan
is to keep working with Pete's Blacks for a few more years and maybe market
some plants eventually. I really have to wonder if the passing decades and
neglect haven't created a tougher breed of blackberry here.

Even if that's not the case, it's worth a lot more than money to have on my
farm today such a tangible reminder of my grandfather whose been gone from
us now nearly 20 years.

Sam Finazzo
Fina Gardens
Hillsdale, WI


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