I spent a good chunk of last weekend tearing blackberry vines out of the ground. Blackberries are incredibly opportunistic, and will establish themselves wherever there is a consistent water supply. We find them growing all along the irrigation ditch that runs along the west side of the property and along the creek that runs from east to west, bisecting the property. The vines can have the ditch, so far as I’m concerned, but the creek is another matter. And so I rip, and I tear. 

Blackberry vines are insidious. Wherever they touch ground, they root themselves. So when you are pulling them out, you aren’t done just because you found the roots and yanked them out. Then you have to follow the vines to the next root cluster. Even pulling them out by the roots isn’t fool-proof; they leave behind rhizomes, and the vines will re-emerge in the spring. But they come back smaller, and if you keep on top of them, they are much easier to deal with once you’ve torn out the established colonies.

Now is the right time to deal with the blackberries. I don’t mean that in the proverbial “seize the day!” manner, I mean now, when the ground is soft, and the cold weather has weakened the plants, is the time to get them out. There is no way I’m dealing with these things in the summer, when the vines are robust and the ground is hard and dry.thorn

Still, they are a nightmare. The vines are like hard ropes covered with narrow, piercing thorns. When I pull these things, I cover myself from head to toe in boots, jeans, a rough leather coat, welding gloves, and a beanie. Regardless, I end up with the thorns in all sorts of odd places. Right now I have one lodged in the webbing between my second and third toe, and no idea how it got there.

I’m too cheap to buy a fresh pair of welding gloves for the job, so instead I use an old pair that has holes burned into the left thumb and forefinger. It takes me a while to figure out how to grip the plants without the thorns jabbing my exposed skin through the holes.

Initially there is a lot of cursing, but eventually I find a rhythm, and the cursing slows down. Last year I used fire to burn the dead vines out. That was fun, because introducing fire to just about any activity increases the entertainment value, but ultimately I don’t think it was any more productive. This year I am using good old elbow grease and, occasionally, a shovel for the dense clumps. So far so good, but a long way yet to go…


Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.