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Warm, dry summer boosts blackberries

Virginia-grown blackberries reach their peak in July, and local farmers are reporting an excellent crop this year despite a sweltering start to summer.

“[This year] is one of the best blackberry seasons we’ve seen in about five years,” Anne Geyer, who grows blackberries at Agriberry Farm in Hanover County, said.

Geyer explained that blackberry bushes produce fruit biennially, and the culmination of weather events over the past 18 months has dictated the quality of this year’s crop.

Beneficial weather in 2020 initiated a large quantity of flower buds, and those blossoms escaped killing frosts last winter and matured into sweet, juicy berries this summer.

“A lot of good things fell into place, but the most crucial part is that temperatures were moderate in spring,” Geyer explained. “Virginia’s climate is well suited for blackberries, which are very similar to sweet corn and tomatoes in that they don’t mind the hot weather.”

Agriberry grows up to seven types of blackberries each year. Late-season varieties like Chester and Black Magic allow the farm to harvest blackberries through October.

Agriberry sells its berries on-site in Hanover and at farmers markets throughout the Richmond area and as far north as Baltimore.

Janet Bowen of Windmill Farms in Nottoway County said her Ouachita and Triple Crown varieties are as large and sweet as they should be at this stage of the season. Bowen, who operates a you-pick operation, credited timely rains with preventing her blackberries from scalding and allowing them to grow to a proper size.

King William County grower Robbie Barber, who also runs a you-pick operation at Bell Acre Farm, agreed that the season is starting on a strong note.

He said while his varieties—Hull, Natchez, Ouachita and Triple Crown—experienced some heat stress, the arrival of rain in late June brought his crops a needed boost.

With the season just starting, Barber said intermittent rain is needed throughout the summer to ensure the berries don’t die on the vine.

“When it’s dry for too long, those berries will just stop growing and go dormant,” he said. “They’re pretty resilient, and having these days in the mid-90s won’t bother them too much as long as you have some water to sustain them.”