MINERAL WELLS - Blackberries are ripening now, but a Mineral Wells farmer has enjoyed something a little different this summer - the boysenberry.
WVU Extension Agriculture Agent J.J. Barrett and Mineral Wells farmer Bob Richardson planted 25 boysenberry plants as part of an experiment through West Virginia University.
''The boysenberry is a hybrid aggregate fruit that was cultivated by cross pollinating the flowers of three other berries: the raspberry, the loganberry and the blackberry,'' Barrett said. ''The boysenberry shares many similar characteristics with other brambles.
Bob Richardson at his farm in Mineral Wells holding a boysenberry. Richardson is participating in an experiment through West Virginia University to see how well boysenberries could grow in West Virginia.
''The color, size and shape are similar to the blackberry. The complex and sweet taste (with just a touch of acid) is similar to a loganberry. The sweetness can be attributed to the raspberry. Unlike a raspberry that has a hollow core (the center remains on the plant), the center core or receptacle of the boysenberry is like a blackberry in that it is part of the fruit you eat.''
Boysenberries were originally developed in California in the 1920s-30s by farmer Rudolph Boysen. George Darrow of the USDA and Walter Knott of the famous Knott's Berry Farm transplanted some of the berries onto Knott's farm where they became popular.
In the summer of 2011, Richardson and Barrett planted 100 blackberry plants and 25 boysenberry plants as part of a WVU experiment.
Four varieties of blackberries were planted, including Ouachita, Natchez, Chester and Arapaho to test their production and hardiness in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
''The boysenberries were added to see if they could survive winter conditions here in the valley,'' Barrett said.
''Boysenberries are typically grown in temperate regions of California and Oregon on the West Coast.''
Barrett said small fruits like berries can be added to small farms to boost income and diversify.
"There is a high demand for pick-your-own fruits here in the Valley,'' he said. ''People love to come and visit a farm and take home great tasting fruits and vegetables. Berries also have proven health benefits and intense flavor."
Richardson and his wife, Kathy, are no strangers to helping the community. They have hosted blackberry production workshops on their farm in cooperation with the WVU Extension Master Gardening volunteer program.
Bob Richardson also raises cattle, chickens, bales hay and is a beekeeper. He has several rows of blackberries he shares with family and neighbors, as well as selling some. Kathy makes blackberry jelly.
"I enjoy growing the berries," said Bob Richardson. "They are a lot of work but I enjoy it. We pick a lot but sell some too. I like working with the WVU Field Days to meet people and share information to help them.
''Growing blackberries and then making them into cobbler is the best you can get."
Growing boysenberries, blackberries and raspberries can be a fun and rewarding experience for backyard gardeners and farmers, Barrett said.
Boysenberries can be eaten fresh during the growing season or used for making jams and jellies.
Their use in the kitchen is similar to that of a blackberry. They can be baked into pies or cobblers.
If purchasing boysenberries or any berry in the store or at a farmers market, they should be used within a couple of days.
People need to choose a site that is well drained and has good, fertile, loamy soil. To grow boysenberries, gardeners should find a patch of land that receives full sun and minimal wind. The soil should be tilled thoroughly, working in plenty of compost and mulch.
Plant about 3-feet apart in the row, leaving 6-8 feet between rows to pick and prune berries. Boysenberries are similar in their growth habit to blackberries.
They are a perennial plant with a shallow rot system. The canes are biennial, growing one year on a primocane and the second year producing fruit on the floricane.
The floricanes die each year after fruit production, but new canes shoot up from the roots each year. Typically the new primocanes need to be trained on a trellis to keep them off the ground and pruned.
"The boysenberries resemble blackberries when they are ripe and the berries will turn a dark purple to black color,'' Barrett said. ''The variety at Bob's farm has thorns, so they were a little more difficult to pick.
''In hindsight, we should have chosen a thornless variety. Thornless varieties of any berry make picking and pruning much simpler and quicker."
For more information on boysenberries, contact the West Virginia University Extension office at 304-424-1960.