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Blackberries are blooming

The wild blackberry bushes at the edge of my backyard garden are now in full bloom. The white blossoms are a surefire sign winter is gone and the ground is warm enough to germinate and promote the growth of any vegetable seed you might want to plant.  

Unfortunately, I jumped the gun and put squash and cucumber seed in the ground too early and had to replant.  

Tomato plants are a different story. By covering and protecting them, I managed to get them through the cold nights of April without damage, and they’re two feet tall and full of blooms. They’re on track to produce ripe fruit by the third week in June.  

When Bobby Webster brings his first picking of tame blackberries to the Hartselle Farmers Market in June, I am reminded of me and my siblings picking and eating the wild blackberries that grew on our farm when I was a kid.  

Webster’s blackberries are grown on vines that have no thorns.  They’re larger and have bigger seeds than the ones we picked. They’re equally as good when used to make cobbler pies, when the seeds are not a problem.  

My siblings and I received our marching orders to go blackberry picking around the Fourth of July each year. Our mother made sure we were properly dressed to work in briars and in places inhabited by dangerous snakes. We had to wear our work shoes, long-legged pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect our skin from briar cuts and scratches. Each of us was given a picking bucket, the size of which depended on our age. 

Blackberry patches were plentiful. They existed anywhere row crops were not grown, on ditch banks, in hedgerows and on low-lying land adjacent to creeks.  

The biggest and juiciest berries were often found on bushes that were the hardest to reach. Getting to a good spot sometimes required leaving a roadway and blazing our own trail through thick woods and head-high weeds, vines and bushes.  

A picking could last two to three hours before all of our buckets were filled, and it would leave each of us with the usual signs of berry pickers – sweat-soaked shirts, blue hands and briar-pricked fingers.  

The least of our injuries were the cuts and bruises; the presence of chiggers on our skin were even more bothersome, with the itching they caused.   

The greater our success, the higher was the chance we’d be asked by our father to go back and pick more.  

“I have some customers on my peddling route who have asked if I can pick them some blackberries,” he would say. “They’ll pay $5 per gallon, and I’ll split that with you all for every gallon you pick.”  

That was all the motivation we needed.  

In the meantime, we looked forward to the cobbler pies and the jams and jellies the blackberries we picked would make.