Ripe for the Picking: Blackberry Harvesting Tips and Recipes

The blackberry is an iconic summer berry and right now they are ripe for the picking.

Blackberries, rich with exquisite flavors, are just as good on their own or baked into a pie. Picking blackberries is easy and a great summer activity to enjoy with family and friends. Not to mention, there are endless recipes and ways to enjoy blackberries.

These harvesting tips will ensure that you are berry successful in picking the best blackberries.

The Blackberry Harvest:

Blackberries start to ripen in July and August, but watch for early bloomers in late June. For the best flavors, it is important to pick ripe blackberries — the ones that are dark black in color and look quite plump. If the berry is a light purple or red or is quite firm, it may need a few more weeks to ripen. Not all berries will ripen at the same time so it is important to check before the birds get to them.

The picking part is easy! Most blackberries have thorns so be sure to use caution when reaching deep inside the bush for the perfect blackberry. For the healthiest blackberry bushes, use Espoma’s Holly-tone fertilizer.

When you get home, pour the blackberries on to a shallow pan to pick out any moldy or overly ripe blackberries. Blackberries keep in the fridge for about a week, but it is best to use them as soon as possible. The final step is to pick out your favorite recipe and enjoy the sweet taste of summer blackberries.

See our top recipe picks below!

 Favorite Blackberry Recipes:

Mini Blackberry Pies: Do you need desert ideas for your mid-summer party? Here is a recipe for mini blackberry pies. These delicious mini pies will be a party favorite!

Blackberry Jam: Try this delectable blackberry jam recipe and your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will never be the same! Not only will you not have to buy jam this summer, but store some away in a cool dry place and you will have homemade blackberry jam all winter.

Blackberry Sorbet: Cool off in the hot summer months with this sweet and savory blackberry sorbet. This recipe is easy to make and easy to store in the freezer for another day.

Blackberry Syrup: Blackberry syrup is a tasty substitute for maple syrup! Try the syrup on your favorite breakfast foods and a smile is guaranteed.

Ready to grow more berries? Learn how Garden Answer grows blueberries in containers!

Grow Healthy Berries Using:

7 Ways to Drink a Strawberry

Summer is in full swing and it is HOT!

With the heat, comes sitting on the porch enjoying a nice, cold drink. While some enjoy sweet tea and others enjoy lemonade, we love to use freshly grown strawberries for a special treat.

We walked you through planting strawberries in the spring and how to fertilize regularly with Espoma’s Holly-tone to give your plants proper nutrients. Now it’s time pick your juiciest freshest strawberries and enjoy them in a new way.

Check out this vertical strawberry planter:

7 Ways to Drink a Strawberry                                            

Strawberry Iced Tea via Divas Can Cook

This summer drink is a great alternative to a traditional sweet tea by adding the perfect amount of strawberry sweet to add a hint of flavor. It is genuinely a Yin and Yang moment.

Strawberry Shortcake Milkshake via A Spicy Perspective

Strawberry Shortcake in a glass? This decadent sweet treat will have your friends asking for seconds all summer long!

Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade via Life’s Ambrosia

Give your Lemonade a twist this summer by giving it a little sparkle. Sparkling drinks are a great way to cool down by keeping it light!

Strawberry Rosé via Tammilee Tips

For all the folks that want to Rosé all Day, this take on a traditional rose is delicious. Just try to keep your guests from staring in on a strawberry wine serenade.

Strawberry Mojito via Vanilla and Bean

Everyone loves a pink drink! Take a spin on the classic mojito and add in fresh strawberries. Not only does it change the color, but it will change how you drink mojitos.

Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri via Delish

Summertime classic, made fresh.  This sure-fire classic will have everyone asking for the recipe. The flavors really come out with the freshness only a home grown strawberry can provide.

Strawberry Basil Soda via The Kitchn

The soda craving is real. Replace the syrupy sweet soda with a refreshing fresh strawberry basil soda. You will be surprised on how well the two complement each other.

Check out our dinner recipes using homegrown strawberries to impress any guest.

For the juiciest strawberries use:

5 Unusual Containers to Grow Strawberries

There are very few things better than a sweet, juicy strawberry from your garden. Summer and strawberries go hand in hand, so if you aren’t already growing them, get them in the ground now.

But not everyone has a spot in the garden for this berry, so sometimes you need to come up with interesting and unique ways to plant them.

Choose your favorite from our options below and head over to your local garden center to pick up supplies and some Holly-tone. Your fresh strawberries won’t disappoint!

5 Unique Spots to Plant Strawberries:

Bird Bath

If you have a bird bath lying around that you no longer need, plant some strawberries in there! Add large rocks or broken terra cotta to the bottom to ensure proper drainage. Fill it the rest of the way with Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix and plant your berries!

DIY Tower

Follow along with Laura from Garden Answer as she creates her own unique take on a strawberry tower. Need step by step written directions? Check it out here.

Gutter Planters

These planters, which hang on the side of the house, are perfect for anyone who needs a little space. Be sure they are fastened tightly before planting. Leave a little space between plants and the sides so they can have room to drape over the sides. Once planted, water them well with Espoma’s Grow! liquid plant food.

Pallet Planter

We’ve seen Laura from Garden Answer plant a whole vegetable garden in a pallet, but we think it would be a great place for an abundance of strawberries! Gently fill them with Espoma’s Organic Garden Soil to help them grow strong roots.

Flower Box Tower

This is another DIY-type planter. Stacking up flower boxes will help keep the planters off of the ground and away from any curious creatures that might want to eat your strawberries ! Plant a few of them up and watch them grow.

Espoma products to help you grow your best strawberries yet:

Grow! Plant FoodPotting Soil

Looking to learn more about growing strawberries? Check out all we have to say about this delicious berry!

How to Choose the Right Strawberry Variety to Grow

Strawberries are one of the most popular berries for gardeners to grow. They pack quite a punch, they are a great source of Vitamin C and dietary fiber and have only 49 calories per cup.

When you are ready to plant strawberries, start by deciding which variety will be best for your location and stop by your local garden center for supplies. Encourage strawberries to grow by adding Espoma’s Holly-tone, an organic plant food perfect for these acid-loving plants.

You can find strawberries either as June bearing or everbearing. June bearing strawberries form flower buds in the fall as the day length decreases. You’ll be able to harvest them the following early to mid-June and for three to four weeks. June-bearing strawberries produce their first crop the second year after planting.

June bearing strawberries are available in early, mid-season and late varieties. These varieties differ by the best time to harvest.  The difference between early and mid-season is only a couple of days, for late season, it’s about seven to nine days.

Though everbearing strawberries begin to bear fruit at the same time as June bearers, they will continue to produce berries throughout summer and into fall — sometimes even all of the way into October. The different varieties in the everbearing group are known as day-neutral. This means the plants do not need a certain amount of daylight to set flower buds.

The best strawberry varieties to grow

For taste. One of the most important factors in deciding which berries to grow is taste. If you’re ordering your strawberries from a catalog, look to see what the dessert quality is rated. We recommend planting the sparkle variety. These fan favorites are widely considered one of the best choices. Sparkle strawberries are medium-sized with an intense flavor and deep red coloring.

For freezing. Some people want berries that will last all season when they freeze them and not turn to mush. When you’re picking a variety, choose one that produces firm, red strawberries with a slight tart flavor. Allstar is a June-bearing strawberry that’s firm with a glossy red coloring. It produces very large berries with a mild, but sweet flavor, making it ideal for freezing and enjoying for months to come.

 

For size. Another factor to consider is size — do you want very large, large, medium or something in between? If you’re looking for a plant that grows consistently sized berries throughout the season, we recommend June-bearing Honeoye strawberries. These early season berries are large, firm and can be bright orange to red in color. It’s also known to produce plenty of berries.

For canning and jams. Most strawberries are well-suited for canning and jam. Earliglow, a June-bearing strawberry, is especially tasty. It sets and ripens its fruit sooner than virtually every other strawberry variety available. They have an excellent and sweet flavor, plus they are resistant to many strawberry diseases.

For growing in containers. Small space gardeners can still grow large berries. Seascape strawberry plants are everbearing and produce large berries that are bursting with flavor. This variety is also disease-resistant.

For a twist, grow strawberries vertically like Laura from Garden Answer does. 

Get The Best Berries with:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When to Plant Strawberries (Hint: Think Spring)

Juicy, sweet strawberries picked from your own garden are simply the best. Plus, taking strawberries from your own garden to your plate is so rewarding. Create a berry garden by pairing with blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.

The key to growing berries, no matter where you garden, is good-quality organic soil.

Choosing your Strawberry Plant:

The first step is to pick the type of Strawberry plant you want to grow. Take the amount of growing time Think about where you’ll plant your berries to get the best results. Visit your local garden center to find the best type of strawberry for you.

June-bearing. This traditional berry will usually produce one large harvest in late spring or early summer depending on temperature. June-bearing strawberries are available in early, mid-season and late varieties.

Ever-bearing. These scrumptious strawberries produce two to three harvests intermittently during the spring, summer and fall. Because ever-bearing plants do not send out many runners, they make great choices for containers.

Day-Neutral. Grow these to keep producing fruit throughout the growing season. They continuously fruit if temperatures are between 35-85°F. Because they produce few runners, they are great when space is limited, but the fruits are usually somewhat smaller than June bearers.

Once you’ve picked your plants, it’s time to get them in the ground. Strawberries grow best in full sun and in soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.  If your pH level is too high, add Espoma’s Soil Acidifier for ideal soil conditions.

4 Steps to Plant Strawberries

1. Plant strawberries as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring.

2. Space plants at least 20” apart. Dig holes deep and wide enough to accommodate the entire root system.

3. Plant the crown (the parts of the plant that are above ground) at soil level; firm soil around it.

4. Add compost to bed and encourage strawberries to grow by adding Espoma’s Holly-tone, an organic plant food perfect for these acid-loving plants.

Short on space or looking to grow strawberries vertically? Check out how Laura from Garden Answer grows.

 

 

Guide to Starting Root Vegetable Seeds

Who’s ready to start digging in the garden? Us too.

Root vegetable crops can often be planted as soon as the soil has warmed. They’re an easy addition to start your vegetable garden. Start your seedlings now and you‘ll be able to brag about your homegrown root vegetables at the first summer BBQ of the year.

In order to be successful, plant your seeds after springs last frost date according to your region. Stop by your local garden center to pick up your seeds and supplies, soon!

Here’s how to start root vegetable seeds:

  1. Pick Your Soil

Soil for root vegetables is important as they will grow around anything intrusive buried. That will lead to deformed vegetables. They grow best in a deep, loose soil that retains moisture yet is well-drained, such as Espoma’s Organic Garden Soil.  Choosing the right soil from the beginning will set up your crop for success. Prepare bed, loosen compacted soil and mix in Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter Plus, to keep roots strong.

Plant seeds after spring’s last frost date according to your region.

  1. Start Seeds

Sow your seeds directly into your soil. Follow instructions on the seed packets to see how deep and far apart to plant. Cover with soil, press down and lightly water.

  1. Water Regularly

Seeds need to stay moist while they germinate. Root crops need about 1 inch of water a week. Light waterings that only wet the surface will cause shallow root development and reduce the quality of crops.

  1. Feed Me

When the vegetables start to grow bigger, fuller leaves, give them a hand with Espoma’s Garden-Tone to help provide the nutrients needed for delicious vegetables.

  1. Thin plants

Some root plants like beets or radishes will benefit from thinning. Cut off the tops of weaker seedlings at the soil line when seedlings have 1-2 sets of true leaves.You can use many leaves as a tasty additions to salads. If you pull seedlings out of the ground, it is not recommended to transplant long rooted vegetables, like carrots and turnips, since the disturbance will cause roots to fork.

 

Want more veggies? Try this DIY vegetable pallet planter. 

 

6 Fall Veggies to Plant Now

August is here, summer is coming to an end, and you are just weeding and waiting. You’re in the summer slump.

Time to snap out of it! Get your garden thriving with fresh fall vegetables in your succession garden. You have a time left before the first frost comes around and you hang up your gardening tools. Don’t know what to plant? We can help with that! Give veggies a head start by planting seeds indoors.

6 Fall Vegetables for Succession Gardening

1. Collards – As one of the most cold-hardy plants, collards are great for fall weather. Collards are able to handle temperatures as low and the high teens. For a fall harvest, count back six to eight weeks before your first frost. This allows for sweeter leaves during a fall and winter harvest.

2. Kale – As part of the Brassicafamily, kale grows well in cool weather. Count back six to eight weeks before the first frost to start planting for a fall harvest. Depending on your USDA zone, you can continue planting into the fall. Maintain moisture in the leaves to ensure they are tender. Packed full of nutrients, kale is a great fall vegetable.

3. Lettuce – With different varieties, you can mix and match the lettuce in your garden. Count six weeks before the first frost to start planting. You can sow every two weeks up to the first frost for an extended crop. You can continue after the frost by using a hardier variety, such as romaines or butterheads.

4. Mustard Greens – Mustard greens have seeds that are easy to plant straight into your garden. They germinate well and grow quickly. Count back three weeks before the first frost to start planting. If you want a more successive harvest, plant every three weeks starting mid-summer. They do not grow well in summer, so starting them now is perfect for your fall flavors.

5. Beets – Beets love cold weather. In the southern states, they can be grown all winter long. In the northern states, make sure the soil is cooler (around 41F). Thinning your rows allows your beets to spread out and grow fuller. You can use the greens you thinned for a good salad mixing.

6. Turnips – Planting turnips in the fall makes the plant tenderer and sweeter than the spring. Sow your seeds in the late summer, early fall months to get a fall harvest. Start your turnips with seeds as they do not transplant well.

Remember to keep your plants watered well and fertilize regularly with Espoma’s GROW! Liquid Fertilizer.

Four Fresh Berries to Grow This Summer

Nothing says summer like the fresh taste of homegrown fruit. Berries are becoming a staple crop in everyone’s summer garden, and for good reason! Not only are these little fruits delicious, they also provide a ton of nutritional benefits. Add some berries to your garden for a harvest the whole family is sure to love.

When growing fruits in your organic garden, be sure to use Espoma’s liquid plant foods to give you healthy blooms and abundant fruit.

Here are some of our favorite berries to grow:

Blueberries

Blueberries pack a big punch for such a small fruit. They are loaded with tons of vitamins, essential nutrients and antioxidants. Blueberries are often a favorite among kids, too. What better way to get kids involved with the garden than by planting something they love?

Blueberries also thrive in containers, making them the perfect fruit for small space gardeners. The beautiful foliage they produce is just an added bonus.

Try using Espoma’s Holly Tone plant food, perfect for acid-loving fruits like blueberries and strawberries.

Strawberries

Another fan favorite, strawberries are well-loved for their versatility. While delicious on their own, they also pair well with so many different flavors. They can be used in anything from sweet pies and homemade jams to a tasty vinaigrette dressing. Whether snacking, cooking or baking, there’s no way your strawberries will go to waste!

Strawberries grow best in soil with a pH level of 5.5-7. If your pH level is too high, use Espoma’s Soil Acidifier to create the perfect growing environment.

Raspberries

The sweet summer flavor of raspberries makes a great addition to any dessert.

Raspberries often grow up instead of out, so make sure you plant with support stakes or next to a fence. A tall raspberry plant looks beautiful in any garden and draws all eyes to the beautiful red and green foliage it creates.

Blackberries

Since they don’t produce fruit the first year of planting, blackberries require a bit of patience. However, with great care we promise it will be worth the wait!

When blackberries are ready to harvest, the flavors pair very well with raspberries. Blend together in a smoothie or bake a mixed berry pie and enjoy the taste of summer.

Want to know more about growing your favorite berries? Check out our infographic

6 Fruits and Veggies for Kids

Convincing kids to eat healthy may seem like a constant battle, but it doesn’t have to be. What easier way to get kids excited about fruits and veggies than by having them plant their own?

Growing food with kids is a great interactive learning experience. Not only will they get to spend time outdoors getting their hands dirty — what kid doesn’t love that? — they also have the chance to learn more about eating healthy and the science of growing.

For best results, choose a food that you already know your child enjoys, but isn’t too difficult to grow.

6 Plants Perfect for Kids

1. Strawberries

Trick kids into eating healthy with nature’s candy! Strawberries are a deliciously sweet snack and are also extremely high in vitamin C. Plant strawberries in your garden or start inside and then transfer outdoors.

2. Blueberries

Another sweet snack kids are sure to love, blueberries are nutritional powerhouses. These little berries are packed with antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins C and K. They can be grown in containers or freely in the garden. Blueberry bushes can grow very tall, maybe even taller than your little ones!

3. Peas

This cold weather crop can withstand lower temps, so start planting in early spring. Sweet peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas are easy to grow and kids will love watching them grow tall on a trellis or vine. Simply snap off and pop in your mouth for a healthy snack on the go.

4. Tomatoes

With all the different varieties of tomatoes, there is bound to be at least one your child likes. Try planting bite size tomatoes, such as cherry or grape varieties, making it easier for kids to pick and enjoy. Smaller tomatoes like these are often sweeter, too, making for a better healthy snack. Don’t forget to feed with Espoma’s Tomato-tone, it is formulated specifically for boosting tomato growth. The best part is, it’s completely organic, making veggies safe to eat for you and your family.

5. Carrots

Growing carrots can teach kids another lesson in the garden – patience. Allowing your little ones to dig up these underground veggies will be well worth the wait. It’s almost like hunting for hidden treasure! Try growing in a variety of colors to create a rainbow of veggies.

6. Cucumbers

Cucumbers grow long and fast, making it exciting for kids to watch their progress. Have each child choose a cucumber and start a contest to see whose grows fastest. When ready to be picked, cucumbers are the perfect refreshing snack on a nice warm day.

No yard? No problem! Watch this video to learn how to grow edibles in containers.

Which fruits and veggies will you plant with your little ones? Let us know in the comments below!

A Seed Ahead: Preserving Tomato Seeds

You’ve had a great season tending to your tomato plants! But with the summer winding down and chilly days coming soon, you may be wondering what to do with your tomato plants now.

Get a head start on spring by preserving the seeds from your tomatoes.

Tomato seeds might be available at the store year-round, but saving your own is satisfying and easy. Luckily, September is the perfect time to begin planning for next year!

How do I pick which seeds to preserve?

The general rule of thumb is to only take ‘open-pollenated’ seeds or heirlooms. Hybrid plants often produce sterile seeds. Or, they do not produce seed with the same desirable traits of the parent plant.

Harvest seeds from tomatoes that are healthy and embody the characteristics you’re interested in preserving. For example, you could pick seeds from the juiciest tomatoes, or the ones with the most interesting colors. It’s your choice, but make sure you pick from healthy plants. Unhealthy plants could carry illnesses.

If possible, save seeds from multiple plants.tomatoes-101845_1920

Method 1: Air-dry

This method is pretty simple. Open the tomato and remove the seeds, squeeze them onto a paper towel, wait for the seeds to air dry and then store them in a jar, an envelope or even the same napkin. This method is quick and straightforward.

Method 2: Ferment

It’s not absolutely necessary to ferment your tomato seeds, but fermenting makes it easier to completely separate seeds from the gel that surrounds them. Fermenting also eliminates the bad seeds and reduces the possibility of seed-borne disease for next season.

1. Wash the tomatoes. Slice each in half across the middle (not the end with the stem). Squeeze the seeds and juice into a (labeled) glass or plastic container.

2. Set containers aside when half-full. Place containers in an area that is out of direct sunlight and out of the way, so the fruit flies and odor will not bother you.

3. Let the seeds sit for three to five days or until the surface of the container shows a whitish mold. This is a good thing! The seeds should be floating at this point. In warmer climates, you may need to add some water to keep the seeds afloat.

4. Gently scrape the mold off with a spoon. Do not remove the seeds.

5. Fill container with water and then stir it. The seeds you want will sink to the bottom.

6. Pour off the excess to remove floating seeds and pulp.

7. Repeat the process until the good seeds, at the bottom, are cleaned.

8. Pour the good seeds into a strainer, then rinse and drain them.

Storage

An airtight container works best for storage. When packaged correctly, tomato seeds remain usable for up to six years!

You can place the seeds in the refrigerator or freezer, but the seeds will last even when stored at room temperature. When you’re ready to use the seeds, if they’ve been chilling in a refrigerator or freezer, let them adjust to room temperature first to prevent excess condensation from creating any damage.

For more tomato tips, check out our total tomato growing guide!

Be sure to visit us on our Facebook page or Twitter page and tell us how you plan to preserve your tomato seeds!