Training Caneberries

A few years back, the farm management decided that marionberries and boysenberries would be a welcome addition to our produce offerings. We have a lot of good farmers in our midst here, but none of us had much experience growing caneberries (berries that lose their core and look like a thimble – blackberries, raspberries, boysenberries, etc.). The plants, however, grew and thrived and bore a whole lot of fruit.

Problems arose during harvest and again when the plants needed pruning at the end of the season. Most caneberries produce fruit on year-old canes, so during the spring, summer, and fall, both last-year’s growth and new sprouts must be encouraged to thrive, meaning that the crew had to pick fruit that was hidden in the interior of the plants behind a thorny veil of new growth. This system made the harvest slow and sometimes painful. In the fall and early winter as they pruned, the crew again had a hard time disentangling the old, spent canes from the ones that would produce the following year’s fruit, which took extra time and did some damage to the newer canes.

Last summer, a woman name Brigida joined the crew. She had extensive experience working on other berry farms and offered up a solution to ease both harvesting and pruning. We’re trying it for the first time this spring, and so far, it seems to be working really well.

Last fall, the crew cut and removed all the old canes. As the plants have greened up this spring, it’s been easy to distinguish the year-old canes from the new growth (next year’s productive canes). When the new shoots were about 18 inches tall, all the shoots in one area were gathered together in a bundle, flattened on the ground, and pinned down to keep them from growing up into the older canes.

As the new canes continue to grow, they will be flattened and pinned again and again until there’s a whole line of canes running horizontally along the ground.

At harvest time, the crew will only have to contend with the thorns of the fruit-bearing canes that are growing on the trellis, so the fruit will be easier and faster to pick. At the end of the season, those spent canes will be clearly separate, so the crew can cut and haul them off without damaging next year’s production.

When the old canes are gone, the newer canes will be unpinned from the ground and trained up onto the trellising for the next summer harvest.

We are hoping for a good marionberry and boysenberry year. We should begin harvesting the fruit in July and will have berries available at our farmers’ market booths, in our CSA, and at our farm stand.