Note Number: AG 0637
Published: September 2002
Updated: May 2013
This Agriculture Note provides information on bramblefruit (bramble fruit) and the industry.
Bramble fruit include a whole range of berries, which are listed below. They belong to the Rubus genus and there are generally two groups - raspberries and cultivated blackberries.
The difference between the two is that when the raspberry fruit ripens, it separates from the plug or torus whereas with the cultivated blackberry varieties, the plug stays with the fruit when ripe.
Cultivated blackberries are hybrid plants of the genus Rubus, subgenus Eubatus. The wild blackberry, which is a weed, is another type named Rubus fructicosus.
The cultivated blackberries have a number of uses, ranging from fresh fruit to being processed into jams, yoghurt or pie fillings. The major areas of production are the Dandenong Ranges and Gippsland in Victoria, the higher altitude regions of NSW and southern Queensland, the Adelaide Hills, the Margaret River area of WA and throughout Tasmania.
There are a number of different types of cultivated blackberries that have different growth characteristics and habits, fruit size and shape and maturity or fruiting times. The times given below are for Victorian conditions. In other regions, these may vary because of the differences in climate. They are listed in order with the earliest maturity being first, going through to the latest varieties.
- Loganberry - a less vigorous, trailing plant (R. ursinus x R. idaeus) that can be thorny or thornless. Fruit best suited for processing. Matures mid November to mid January.
- Boysenberry - a vigorous trailing plant (R. ursinus) that can be thorny or thornless. Matures early - December to mid January.
- Silvan blackberry - trailing, thorny vigorous plant (R.ursinus) which tolerates heavier soils, good yielder. Matures early December to mid January.
- Murrindindi - trailing thornless variety (complex parentage). Matures mid December to late January.
- Youngberry - (R. ursinus). Very similar to the boysenberry but matures one week later.
- Black Satin - vigorous, semi-erect, thornless. Matures late December to early February.
- Loch Ness - semi-erect, thornless variety (European origin).Matures late December to late January.
- Lawtonberry - upright, very thorny plant (North American origin) with smaller fruit. Matures early January to mid March.
- Thornfree - semi-erect, thornless, vigorous plant (mainly European origin). Matures late January to mid March.
- Dirkum Thornless - semi-erect, vigorous, thornless, maturing early January to late February.
- Chester Thornless - similar to Thornfree.
- Smoothstem - semi-erect, vigorous, thornless. Matures late February to late March. Bramble Fruit are herbaceous plants which produce biennial canes. The new canes, called primocanes, appear every spring and in the second year, they flower and fruit as floricanes. Some of the older varieties only fruited from these floricanes but the newer varieties have been selected to produce fruit from the primocanes.
Cultivated blackberries will grow on a range of soils, provided they are well drained. The ideal soil conditions are deep, friable, soils with plenty of organic matter and a pH of 6.0 - 6.5. Brambles have a winter chilling requirement to break the winter dormancy and induce flowering so they are more suited to the cooler parts of southern Australia, and the higher altitude areas of NSW. Site selection is important. Wind can cause severe damage, sometimes the damage is obvious but usually it is less obvious and it reduces the vigour and yield of the plants. Therefore windbreaks may need to be planted. The rows should be planned to go up and down slopes, not across them and preferably in a north-south orientation. Frosts, and even snow, are usually not a problem. Some varieties, such as loganberries, are susceptible to sun-scald so southern facing slopes are preferred to northern slopes.
Careful planning needs to go into the design of a berry plantation because you need to consider a large number of factors such as existing structures or topography, windbreaks, whether the enterprise is based on a mechanical harvesting technique or using handpicking, whether you are setting up a U-Pick operation or not, distance between the plantations to your packing shed etc.
For example, most new operations will be based on hand harvesting. It is recommended that the rows should not exceed 70 metres - otherwise pickers may have to walk quite long distances. This might not seem too much of a problem except when you consider that a crop may be picked over 6 - 10 times and on any one day, pickers may visit the row 3 - 4 times. Therefore, you need to plan the site of your packing shed and the plantation to reduce the walking distances to a minimum. The best place for the packing shed is in the middle of the plantation, except for U-Pick operations.
If you are planning a U-Pick operation, there are another lot of considerations. You obviously need to allow for parking but also you need to control the flow of traffic so that the exit and entry points are the same and you can keep an eye on the customers. Having the rows in shorter blocks also allows you more flexibility in controlling the areas that the public are directed to, to do their own picking.
Headlands are necessary at the end of rows and you should allow 8 - 10 metres. Row spacings vary according to the type of achinery you have. Normal spacings are 2 – 3 metres, with the wider spacings for normal machinery. If you are planning to have a mechanical harvester, then 3 metre spacings are needed between rows.
Windbreaks also need careful planning as research work has shown that crops can suffer a 40% reduction in yield if not sheltered from wind. It is recommended that boundary windbreaks be established using a three tiered layer of tall, medium and low trees or shrubs with minor windbreaks interspersed in the rows, consisting of a single row of one species. As a general rule, windbreaks are needed every 50 metres across a plantation but this can vary according to the location.
Ideal soil conditions are a deep well-drained, fertile soil with a pH of 6.0-6.5. Weed control is essential prior to planting and throughout the life of the crop. Mulching around the plants is usually installed and the vegetation between the rows is kept mown. Green manure crops can be very beneficial if grown and incorporated into the soil prior to planting.
Planting can be done either into hilled beds or on to flat unhilled land. Usually if the soil is well drained, you do not need hilled up beds for blackberries but if you are in doubt at all about the drainage, you should build up the beds.
The plants are usually placed 1.5 - 2 metres apart in the rows and once established, mulch is put around them to protect them from weeds and excess moisture loss from the surface. Planting is usually done in July to September following 12 months of ground preparation. It is imperative that you use only healthy plant stocks and these can be obtained through the Rubus multiplication scheme which is managed by the Australian Rubus Growers Association.
You can propagate your own plants (check to see if the variety is not covered by Plant Variety Rights legislation) but you should take all precautions to ensure you start with healthy, disease free stocks. Cultivated blackberries are produced on trellises. There are a number of different trellis types you can construct, depending on your situation and you need to carefully read the available literature to see what best suits your enterprise. Once growing, the plants need to be pruned regularly and trained to grow along the trellis. Pruning is done to remove the dead canes and the suckers and the timing of this varies according to a number of factors.
Training the canes can be done using several different methods such as the rope, weave or fan techniques. Once again, expert advice and training is highly recommended for the new grower.
Irrigation is essential to obtain the highest yields. Sprinkler irrigation can be used but micro-spray or trickle irrigation are preferred.
Fertilisation is an ongoing maintenance job and needs careful planning. The top producers regularly have soil and leaf analyses carried out to determine fertility needs. Cultivated blackberries generally have a requirement for NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) in about equal proportions. This is often applied in two applications, the first in August - September and the second in November - December. The rates will vary but generally you would need to apply 600 - 1200 kg/ha of a NPK mixture such as 8:11:10.
There are quite a number of potential pests and diseases such as Raspberry Bushy Dwarf Virus, grey mould, anthracnose, rusts, leaf spots, root rots, crown gall, mites, caterpillars, earwigs, thrips, beetles and Rutherglen bug.
Birds are an obvious problem and often the only solution is to net the whole plantation. Harvesting is usually done by hand, although some of the bigger operators have mechanical pickers. Whatever method is used, fruit should be picked in dry conditions and packed and cooled within two hours of harvesting. Pickers need to be well trained to handle and pack the berries properly as they are very susceptible to damage.
There are two types of mechanical harvesters available, but to justify the capital outlay, you need a minimum of 5 ha of berries. Because harvesting is such a big expense, many producers try to get around this by having a U-Pick operation. This can be very successful but it needs careful planning and supervision. A good yield is about eight tonne/Ha.
Basically there are three market outlets for bramble fruit. The first is the fresh market where producers supply directly to these markets which can be local or the bigger fresh fruit markets in the capital cities. This market usually provides the best returns but bramble fruit has a very short shelf life (3 - 4 days) so this severely limits this opportunity. These berries must be hand picked to get the desired quality. The current trend is away from the fresh market, towards the processed. The second outlet is the jam or confectionary companies which are usually looking for large quantities. This option is generally only available to the bigger producers who have mechanical harvesters.
The third way of marketing is to let the customer do the work - a pick-your-own enterprise. This can be quite lucrative and a number of producers have opted to go for this. However, you need to carefully plan your block to ensure this to be a success. You need a range of varieties and fruits to lengthen the season. You also need to consider how you are going to handle the flow of traffic.
Parking, controlled entrances and exits, constant manning of the premises, public risk is just some of the issues you need to consider.
Location is also a vital factor for a successful pick-your own enterprise. If you are near a major centre, then you have an advantage although it is surprising how far some people will travel to pick their own fruit. You also need a publicity campaign, especially in the beginning. However experienced pick-your-own operators all say that word of mouth is their best method of promotion.
It is an industry that is very locally focused and is likely to remain so in the near future. Some of the larger growers do their own processing and buy additional fruit from smaller producers.
Producing bramble fruit is a costly exercise, but can be rewarding for high quality, top-yielding crops. Establishment costs are about $10,000/ha with the annual costs (including harvesting by hand) adding up to about $20,000/ha. Returns can vary tremendously with prices ranging from $2 - $8/kg for processing product, with good quality fresh fruit bringing up to $10/kg. The variation in the processors price depends on such factors as quality, variety, packaging and the supply of product from overseas.
Organisations and contacts
For further information, contact us.
- Raspberries – Agriculture Notes Series No AG0738.
- Cultivated blackberries: pruning and training, Agriculture Notes Series No AG0099.
- Cultivated blackberries: varieties, Agriculture Notes Series No AG0543.
- Raspberries and cultivated blackberries: pests and diseases, Agriculture Notes Series No AG0570
- Raspberries and blackberries: trellis construction, Agriculture Notes Series No AG0541
- Orchard nutrition 2: Soil and leaf analysis:, Notes Series No AG0090, W.K. Thompson, Knoxfield
- Birds in fruit crops, Notes Series No FF0114, Ian Temby, Flora & Fauna Statewide Programs
- 'Organic Cultivation of Bramble Fruits´, Horticulture Production Guide, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), PO Box 3657, Fayetteville, Arizona 72702
This Agriculture Note was developed by Farm Diversification Information Service in September 2002.
It was reviewed by Mark Hincksman and Neville Fernando, Farm Services Victoria in December 2011.