Assessing Winter Damage

The 2014/15 winter was harsh – maybe not record breaking, but awfully cold.  The good news is that we had a lot of snow, which helped to insulate the roots of plants.  The other good news is that we never experienced a period of warming temperatures in early spring, only to dip into deep cold again.

All in all, we could have done worse.  It seems that our grapevines sustained no winter injury at all – mainly due to the fact that we only planted hybrid varieties, which we selected for cold hardiness appropriate for our growing zone.

We did loose a few blueberry bushes, but those had been weaker plants going into the winter.  Also one of our Asian Pear trees did not make it.

However, our blackberries did get hit by winter damage: probably between 15 – 20% of the fruiting canes are damaged.  Luckily this does not mean that the plant itself is dead, there will just be less berries.  (we had expanded our blackberry patch, so we probably come out even at harvest time compared to last year)

Some of our herbs did not survive the cold winter either – not surprisingly, the rosemary did not make it, but neither did the marjoram.  All other perennial herbs are growing fine and the dill self-seeded again.

Some Jam Experiments

It was time to clean out the freezer and use up last year’s berries!  We still had several containers of frozen strawberries, and a whole lot of bags of frozen blackberries.  Luckily the strawberries were ready to be used for jam, since we froze them as puree. The blackberries needed to be thawed, heated and run through the food mill to remove seeds before we could use them.

We set all the berries out to thaw on Friday, and Saturday morning at least the strawberries were ready to use. While the blackberries were slowly heating on the stove (in a 22 quart pot), we decided to experiment a bit with rhubarb-strawberry jam.  Roughly we used twice as many strawberries as rhubarb, plus lemon juice – the trick was to know how much total fruit to use in order to get a nicely set jam.  After the initial runny batch, which had the consistency of apple butter, we reduced the amount of fruit by a cup, and ended up with a soft jam, slightly tart, but nicely balanced with the sweetness of strawberries.

Here is our recipe for strawberry-rhubarb jam:

  • 1 and 3/4 cups of cooked rhubarb (chopped cleaned rhubarb is heated with very little water and cooked until soft)
  • 3 and 1/2 cup of mashed strawberries (can use fresh, we used frozen “chunky” puree) 
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 cups of sugar
  • 1 packet of low-sugar SureJell  
We followed the SureJell instructions for cooked jam.  This sized batch made 4 pint sized jars of jam.
The blackberries yielded enough puree for 5 + batches of jam.  We kept the extra out for smoothies 🙂

Still Pruning!

Good news is that we finished pruning all the blackberries – including the newest patch behind the house.   Once the pruning and weeding was finished, Lars and Jeff set the remaining trellis posts.  Jens came this weekend and helped run the trellis wires.  It looks great.

We’ve continued the grapevine pruning as well – at least whenever the weather is decent enough to go out there.  Luckily with the time change, we do have some more daylight in the evening.  Hoping this helps us get the job done faster.

Fall Finishes


Our garden is definitely finished for this season – the last vegetables to harvest this year were load of peppers (of all things).  They did really well and we managed to get 3 large bowls of peppers right before the first frost.

Jeff completely finished pruning, weeding and mowing the large blackberry patch.  He also tied up all the remaining primocanes to protect them from being blown around by winter winds. Tina finished weeding all the blueberries, and we even found time to tie up our sparse raspberry patch.


Not too much for us to do at the farm, except for finishing one last mowing  But when we visited Zach and Rachel in Ohio last week, Tina and Toben had a blast raking up all their maple leaves.


We are NOT yet finished with processing apples, as a matter of fact we just bought another “bin”, which is roughly 20 or so bushel.  We’ve been making and canning apple sauce and will be pressing more cider this coming weekend.

Blackberry Post-Harvest Maintenance

As soon as we finished picking the last of the blackberries, we started cutting out the old fruiting canes and tying up the new canes for next year’s crop. 

While the root system and crown of blackberry bushes are perennial, the canes of the plant are biennial.  During the first year of the cane’s life cycle (primocane year), it grows and initiates fruit buds.  The second year (floricane year), the canes will bloom and set fruit, then die once the fruit is ripe.  Primocanes and floricanes are present at the same time in a bramble patch.   So we are currently cutting out the dead floricanes, and tying up the primocanes for next year.  It takes two people about three hours to clean up a row of 100 bushes.



Debris in the Middle
Still found some berries