PIKETON, Ohio -- High tunnels, plastic-covered structures placed on small tracts of land, can lengthen the growing season of high-value vegetable crops, such as tomatoes. Now Ohio State University Extension horticulturists are using them to improve winter hardiness of brambles.
Shawn Wright, a horticulturist with OSU South Centers at Piketon, and Mike Ellis, a fruit pathologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, are evaluating winter injury and cane blight between blackberries grown in high tunnels and those exposed to the elements. The goal is to see if the high tunnels better protect blackberries from winter injury.
"The blackberry varieties consumers like, based on berry size and taste, aren't the most winter hardy," said Wright. "Chester Thornless is the standard blackberry variety recommended for commercial production for Ohio. It has excellent winter hardiness, but produces berries that tend to be tart. They are good for jams, pies and jellies, and some fresh consumption with a little sugar."
One of the blackberries Wright and his colleagues will be evaluating in the high tunnel trials is Triple Crown, a new variety developed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture breeding program that produces great-tasting berries, but lacks the winter hardiness of Chester.
"Consumers really like it, so we want to see if growing Triple Crown in a high tunnel provides better protection over the growing season," said Wright. "We are also using the high tunnel to test for moisture control, disease management and reduction from wind injury. If we are successful in using high tunnels for bramble production, we can help growers continue to diversify high-value crop production and niche marketing of local foods."
Blackberries have lower chilling requirements to break dormancy and produce fruit, compared to red raspberries. By early February in southern Ohio, the blackberries may have accumulated all the chilling hours required and will begin growing when the weather warms. Once blackberries break dormancy and are then exposed to hard freezes, the damage can rupture the water transporting vessels and make the plant more susceptible to disease.
"The extent of winter injury depends on the variety grown," said Wright. "With Chester, 19 years out of 20, you'll get a crop. With Triple Crown, it is much less."
Wright hopes that high tunnel bramble production will improve winter hardiness and increase production of a high-quality crop with excellent consumer preference.
The high tunnel trials are being funded in part through Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center Integrated Pest Management grants, supported by OARDC entomologist Joe Kovach.
To learn more, contact Shawn Wright at (740) 289-2071 or firstname.lastname@example.org.