When I was a child, my grandmother would dust me with sulfur powder before I went out berry picking. The yellow powder helped to ward off the chiggers that could make me itch and be miserable for days. So each summer I was brave and fearlessly waded into enemy territory with only a small bucket in hand.
Battling the chest-high briar thickets always left my arms and legs scratched. The mission was complete only after I had harvested enough blackberries for a cobbler or two. All my pain and suffering was rewarded, though, by the smell of that summertime treat bubbling in Grandmother's oven. A large scoop of vanilla ice cream placed on top of a bowl full of hot cobbler would melt and meld with the berry filling for an unforgettable flavor.
I still look forward to that summery dessert, but I've learned that blackberry picking doesn't have to be painful. Some of today's selections can grow as big as the end of your thumb. Train these superior berries on a trellis, and you can pick the large fruit with ease. There are even thornless selections such as 'Arapaho' and 'Navaho' that have smooth stems and still produce large, juicy clusters of fruit.
Last summer I visited Jason Powell in Jemison, Alabama, and picked king-size berries at his Petals From the Past Nursery. Along with selling plants, Jason and his wife, Shelley, have a small you-pick operation. Customers can visit the nursery and gather blackberries, blueberries, apples, figs, muscadines, or persimmons, depending on the season. But Jason says everyone flocks to the nursery when the blackberries ripen. In late May, the red and green fruit begins to swell and glisten purplish black. By mid-June, the berries are peaking. The plants produce ripe fruit for about six weeks, and each one yields 8 to 10 pounds of juicy berries.