Variety Spotlight: Natchez Blackberries

This is the latest in a series of posts that I’ve done about my favorite varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs we grow at Happy Acres. To see my other Spotlights, and those from other garden bloggers, visit the Variety Spotlights page.

I’m venturing out of the world of vegetables and herbs for today’s variety spotlight, which is all about one of my new favorite fruits: Natchez Blackberry. Regular readers will know that I was a big fan of Apache blackberries back a few years ago. I even did a spotlight on it in 2013. But I decided to give Natchez a try back in 2014 and grew it side by side with Apache. Once it started producing, Natchez quickly became my favorite. I’ve trialed a couple of new varieties since then, but Natchez is still the one to beat in our garden.

Natchez blackberries

Natchez is is one of the many varieties developed out of the University of Arkansas blackberry breeding program. Released in 2007, Natchez is a truly outstanding berry in many ways. The fruits are large and very sweet, and in my garden it is high-yielding with attractive, glossy purplish-black berries. Once established, the thornless canes grow erect without the need for trellising, though in the first couple of years some support may be necessary. I tied mine to short stakes for the first two years, until they could stand on their own. The plants are disease resistant, and hardy to at least USDA zone 5.

Natchez blackberry plant 2nd year

Blackberry plants send up new shoots every spring. These canes are biennial, and live for just two years. They grow through the first season (primocanes), then flower and fruit the second year (floricanes). Shortly after fruits mature, the floricanes die and should be cut back to the ground.  After cutting back the old canes, I like to ‘top’ the new canes (primocanes) when they are about three to four feet high. That cause them to produce lateral shoots, and overall yield is increased. If the lateral shoots get too long, I sometimes nip them back too to keep the plants tidy.

Natchez canes 4th year

Natchez offers both commercial and local market shipping quality, but it’s also an excellent variety for the home gardener. The berries are early to mature, and ours usually start blooming here in early May. The berries begin ripening in mid-June, and generally give us berries for about a month. We enjoy eating them fresh, and freeze extras for use later on.

Natchez berries in late May

ripe Natchez blackberries from 2021

If you’re looking for a great tasting, high-yielding thornless blackberry for your garden, you might consider planting a few Natchez plants like I did. I hope you’ve enjoyed this Variety Spotlight, and I’ll be back soon with another variety.

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Harvest Monday May 23, 2022

It’s time once again for Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. The weather here was mostly warm and sunny last week, with a couple of days of rain that came mostly in the afternoon and evening. That let me get a lot of gardening chores done, and I am happy to have about 50% of the vegetable garden planted now. On the harvest front, the asparagus is still coming on, and we are harvesting five or six ounces of it most every day. We’ve cut a bit over seven pounds already, and will likely keep harvesting another week or two. Some of it went onto our plates for Asparagus Mimosa we had for our lunch one day.

Asparagus Mimosa

The purple leaf pac choi I have planted in containers has done well this year. We’ve used it a lot in salads, and last week I cut quite a bit to use in a stir fry dish that also featured our asparagus. Purple Magic Epic High and Purple Gem have had the best purple color of the ones I grew this year, and I got seed for both of them from Kitazawa Seed Co.

purple leaf pac choi

asparagus and pac choi stir fry

The greenhouse lettuce is struggling with all the heat, but still making plenty for salads. I haven’t started any summer types so far, so when this planting runs out that will be all the salad greens until fall. I miss having fresh greens in summer, but we usually have plenty of other things coming in from the garden at that time.

red oakleaf lettuce

I’m still pulling radishes too, ones that I started indoors then interplanted with kohlrabi. I tried several varieties this year, and all have done well. It’s the purple Bacchus and red Crunchy King in the photo.

Bacchus and Crunchy King radishes

Several of the White Russian kale plants I set out last fall survived the winter, and I harvested some last week for cooking. This is one of my favorite kale varieties, and these spring leaves were tender and mild.

White Russian kale

I used the kale to make kale and sweet potato hash to go with our dinner one night. I used one of our Purple sweet potatoes from storage, cubed and tossed with olive oil then baked in a cast iron skillet. I blanched the kale for a few minutes, then drained and chopped it before adding it to the skillet with the sweet potatoes and heating in the oven for another 10 minutes. I sometimes use the orange or white fleshed sweet potatoes for this dish as well. The purple ones made for a visual contrast with the green kale, and added a subtle sweetness to the finished dish. With added beans it would make a meal, but I served it with fish on this occasion.

kale and sweet potato hash

We managed a getaway from our chores last week for a day trip to Lincoln State Park. It’s a bit less than an hour’s drive away from us, and with school still in session the park was mostly empty on a weekday. We packed a picnic lunch for the occasion. My wife made her curried chicken salad, and I used parsley from the garden to make a tabouli salad. We always bring our own napkins and silverware, and the dishes and tablecloth are reusable and have been on many a picnic with us!

picnic lunch

After we ate, we went on a hike around the lake. There was a lovely breeze around the water, but when the trail went into the woods it became hot and humid. We still enjoyed the hour long hike, but stayed on the path since there was lots of poison ivy growing lushly along the side of the trail. For those who might not be familiar with poison ivy, remember the old saying: “leaves of three, let it be”. We have it pop up occasionally at our place too.

hiking the trail

poison ivy growing on tree

In the Wild Garden, several plants are beginning to bloom. The Jethro Tull coreopsis is covered in yellow blooms now. Many of the coneflowers are budding up too. Over in the Sun Garden, one of the pink peonies is in full bloom.

Jethro Tull coreopsis

pink peony

The Wave petunias are also blooming nicely now. I’ve got Easy Wave Sky Blue growing in several containers, including a hanging basket on the west side of the greenhouse. The blooms lighten as they age, which makes for a colorful display of light to darker blu-ish flowers on the plant at the same time.

Easy Wave Sky Blue petunias

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And please take a minute and check out what everyone is harvesting!

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Harvest Monday May 16, 2022

It’s time once again for Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. Lettuce is still plentiful here, though starting to show signs of our recent heat. It has been getting over 90°F in the greenhouse every day, and close to 100°F some days. With the outside temp hitting 90°F several days, that’s not surprising! I’m keeping everything in there well watered, and so far the lettuce is holding on and keeping us supplied.

oakleaf lettuce

Navara lettuce

greens for salads

I also pulled the first of the spring planted radishes last week. I started these indoors in a 24 cell plug flat, and it was a mix of Roxanne and Easter Egg 2 varieties. I interplanted them in a bed of kohlrabi, which is just now starting to size up. These will be great additions to our salads and for other uses. I might try roasting a few of them, and making some quick radish pickles. This was a great way to get them started, and I plan on doing this again in the future. Thanks to Steve (Steve’s Seaside Life) for giving me the idea to grow them this way!

spring radishes

Our salads often have a ‘theme’, and we had two of those last week that featured our salad greens. One was Mediterranean, and had beans and feta cheese for protein along with olives and artichoke hearts. For that I made a lemon/garlic/herb vinaigrette dressing. Another was Asian inspired,  with almonds and walnuts for protein, chow mein noodles for crunch and a homemade Sesame Ginger dressing.

Mediterranean salad

salad with Sesame Ginger dressing

We are still getting plenty of asparagus to eat from our ‘neglected’ beds. We had some of it roasted for a side dish one day for our lunch. It went well with our panini sandwich we made on some of my whole wheat sourdough bread.

asparagus harvest

roasted asparagus with panini sandwich

In the future harvest department, our thornless blackberries are loaded with blooms this year. These are Natchez, which should be the first to ripen. I also have Sweetie Pie and Osage planted. The blueberries will be ripening soon too, and it looks like a good year for them also.

Natchez blackberries

I took advantage of favorable weather last week and got around 25 tomatoes planted. My wife came to the vegetable garden to check on my progress and got this pic of me at work. She has been busy weeding and mulching the perennial beds lately. I have been working in the morning before I eat breakfast, usually starting around 6AM or so. I’m a morning person anyway, and I rarely do any serious garden work in the afternoon heat if I can avoid it!

me planting tomatoes

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And please take a minute and check out what everyone is harvesting!

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May Garden Update

Today I want to give a quick virtual tour of our vegetable garden here in mid May. We have had a wet and cold spring here so far, but the rain has finally stopped and the weather has turned warmer. The last week or so I have been busy clearing, planting, weeding and mulching out in the vegetable garden. I still have a lot more to do, but I have made considerable progress.

no-dig no-till test bed in March

This year I wanted to experiment with no-dig and no-till beds, and the first test bed is now completely planted. After spreading compost and other amendments, I put down woven weed barrier fabric. The material I’m using is four feet wide, and listed as “professional grade 3.2 oz” material. I secured the material along the edges with metal landscape staples. I planted broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi at one end of the bed in late April. Those plants have taken off and are doing well.

early brassica plants

One of the stem broccolis (Happy Rich) is even starting to head up already! This one produces a small main head and lots of tender side shoots. I’m also growing Artwork, Burgundy and Jacaranda this spring.

Happy Rich broccoli

The cabbage and kohlrabi are also doing well, though the slugs have found the napa cabbage varieties. I put down Sluggo Plus which should take care of them.

napa cabbage Minuet

For the brassica plantings I cut an X in the weed barrier using scissors. But it’s hard to cut, and the edges fray, so I have found a better solution. Thanks to Sue and Martyn Garrett (Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments) for suggesting I use a culinary torch to cut the holes. They also posted a great video showing the torch in action on the weed barrier fabric. I bought one myself, and quickly put it to good use cutting holes for planting the bush squashes.

cutting hole using culinary torch

the finished hole

With the holes cut in no time, I planted ten bush squashes to fill out the rest of the no-dig no-till bed. I set these transplants two feet apart, and added a little Happy Frog organic fertilizer to the planting holes.  The varieties I planted are Goldilocks, Honey Bear, Tempest, Raven, Clarimore, Mexicana, Dunja and Green Machine. I will plant the vining type squashes in another bed with trellises soon. The transplants I set out are about three weeks old now. Setting out squash transplants gives me a big jump on the season, and the summer types should begin bearing in about a month or so.

Goldilocks acorn squash

Next in line, I needed to get a bed ready for planting main crop tomatoes. That bed had quite a few weeds growing in it, mainly annual grasses. I mowed and chopped the weeds down first, then added amendments and roto-tilled lightly. I plan on using the weed barrier fabric on this bed too. I tested it on tomatoes last year, and they did quite well this way.

bed for tomatoes before tilling

bed for tomatoes after tilling

I’m hoping to start planting tomatoes soon, and after that I will move on to prepare other beds for planting. I hope you have enjoyed this tour of the garden here in May, and I hope to give another planting update next week.

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Harvest Monday May 9, 2022

It’s time once again for Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. It was another busy week here for gardening. I was able to work in the greenhouse several mornings, and work on weeding in the Wild Garden. It’s still too cold to do much planting outside, but I have squash plants ready to go in when it does warm up. Lettuce is still the star of our harvests at this point. I do enjoy going in the greenhouse and deciding which one will go in our salads.

Salanova lettuce plants

green oakleaf lettuce plants

Last week I cut one Salanova Red Butter and a big head of Slobolt. There’s quite a bit of lettuce that’s ready now, so several salads are on the menu for this coming week including lunch today.

Salanova Red Butter lettuce

Slobolt lettuce

Some of the lettuce went on fish tacos we had for dinner one night. For that occasion I made fresh tortillas using a 50/50 mix of white corn masa and White Sonora flour. The flour helps keep the tortillas pliable, while the corn gives them considerably more flavor than ones we buy. I made a mango salsa to go on the tacos, using some of our fresh cilantro and a bit of last year’s hot sauce. We sometimes serve these with pinto beans on the side, but we had a bean salad for lunch and decided that was plenty of beans for one day!

corn/flour tortillas

fish tacos

I also got a small harvest of the overwintered collards last week. These were the tender new leaves, and I sliced them thin and sautéed in a little olive oil. They cooked up in no time, and we had them with our dinner last night. The collards went well with our purple and white sweet potatoes we cooked in a cast iron skillet, and oven baked pork chops made for a special meat treat.

collard greens

collards and sweet potatoes with pork chop

The irises are still putting on quite a show here, with more and more opening almost daily.  We have most of them planted in our sun garden area, though I have a few more planted in the Wild Garden. One of them is what I call an ‘old-fashioned’ iris, since they were widely planted in the past. My parents even had a patch of them, and they didn’t have many flowers planted at all. Some of these varieties were planted here when we moved in, and we don’t know their names but we can enjoy their beauty all the same.

part of the iris collection

old-fashioned iris

Burgundy iris

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And please take a minute and check out what everyone is harvesting!

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