Category Archives: Blackberries (not crowberries)

Spotted Wing Drosoplila

The Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences publishes a scientific newsletter called the New York Berry News. These newsletters publish a variety of articles relating to berries and berry production including topics like: frost protection, post-harvest care, organic farming, pests and diseases, etc. I found the newsletter of great interest because of the wide diversity of topics all related to berries and creating healthy berry habitats whether wild or cultivated. Although most of these articles are mostly concentrated on berries growing in the New York State area, I found that much of the information given can be used as helpful tips and guides for growing and managing berries here in Alaska. One of the articles I found interesting is about the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD).

The Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) is an invasive small fruit fly that is a major pest problem for raspberries, blackberries and other cane berries as well as blueberries, strawberries, grapes and other small fruits and berries. The SWD is originally native to Asia but in 2008 the first confirmation of SWD was found in California (Wold-Burkness & Hahn) and since then has spread throughout most of the fruit growing regions in the United States. Found in New York State in 2012, the SWD has caused serious crop losses in every year since (Wallingford & Loeb).

The SWD is a small fly that typically measures only about 2-3mm long, has big red eyes and a yellow/brown body (Wold-Burkness & Hahn). The abdomen has small rings around it and large clear wings. They are hard to identify against other small fruit flies, but the males do have a large black spot near the top and back half of their clear wings (Wold-Burkness & Hahn). The SWD larvae are commonly called maggots and have small tubular shaped bodies with no legs.

The adult SWD inserts its eggs under the skin of young fruit both wild and cultivated. In New York the SWD populations are relatively low during the spring months, but as fruit begins to ripen and berries are in large abundance the populations are also in large concentrations and this is why so many berry crops are suffering (Wallingford & Loeb). The adult SWD flies feed on thin skinned soft fruit such as berries, grapes, and plums. The larvae will feed on the fruit under the skin and cause the fruit tissue to be browned and squishy. Sometimes the damage to the fruit that the larvae produce will go unnoticed until after harvest and can be seriously detrimental to harvest production.

In New York pesticides are used in effort to control SWD populations but often weekly doses are needed to keep infestation levels down (Wallingford & Loeb). Weekly insecticide applications can be expensive and also damaging to the plants health and production rates and many growers are experiencing “sprayers fatigue” (Walligford & Loeb). In addition to the damage the flies cause and the damage from over spraying of pesticides, these flies can make the plants more susceptible to infestation by other insects, rot fungi and diseases (Wold-Burkness & Hahn).

There are currently many studies on the SWD and their effects on fruit production including studies relating to growth cycles, winter/cold survival, organic pest control, cultivating techniques, etc. These are relatively new pests in the United States and although I cannot find anything confirming their existence in Alaska, it seems that it is only a matter of time before we are also actively battling the Spotted Wind Drosophila. If you are looking for more information about the SWD I have attached both the New York Berry News article as well as a study conducted by the University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension Program. LH Fairbanks

Wallingfor, A. and Loeb, G. 2016. Spotted Wing Drosophila: Winter Biology. New York Berry News. 15 (2): 5-18. Available online: Accessed: 10 Oct. 2016.

Wold-Burkness, S. and Hahn, J. 2016. Spotted Wing Drosophila in Home Gardens. Insects. University of Minnesota, Extension. Available online: Accessed: 10 Oct. 2016.


Blackberries in Alaska?

Blackberries in Alaska; sounds farfetched I know. Many growers of berries in this state don’t have much luck with blackberries in most of the state (forums). They say the berries needs warmer summers with more sun and that winter temperatures usually kill the new canes that grow during the summer. In most blackberry varieties these canes will produce the next summer but have to over winter successfully to produce (motherearthnews). In the lower 48 growers usually mulch the plants heavily if they are in a colder state and keep the plants pruned to keep them from taking over adjacent plots and garden areas. Blackberries usually fall into two categories: trailing and upright both require different methods of pruning and if this is neglected the plants can quickly get out of hand (motherearthnews). Blackberries also are a very thorny plant even worse than raspberries and the trailing ones can create large brambles that are very difficult to pick. Overtime new and better varieties of blackberries have been created with certain traits being bred out and others becoming more prominent (motherearthnew). One of these traits was a faster maturing berry which would grow on the first year wood; this variety is a possible option for colder climates as one could conceivably get berries from young wood that summer ( The reason I am writing about growing blackberries in Alaska is because I have seen it done and successfully. Years ago I was visiting a farm not far from where I live. The farm had a large vegetable garden, hay fields for the small herd of cows being raised there, and a nice greenhouse. The lady who ran the green house was an excellent gardener and coxed more yields out of her tomatoes and other greenhouse crops than most others could have managed. I liked her greenhouse set up; it was simple and very productive, but the one thing which stood out the most in my mind was the very large blackberry bush that was growing up one wall. The trailing vines grew nearly 12ft in either direction and was trellised to the wall for support. This plant grew out of a 5-gallon bucket set against the wall. I had never actually seen a blackberry bush in living color so I took some time to inspected the branches and ripening berries with interest. The branches were loaded with ripening berries. I have since then asked around and it seems the lady who ran the greenhouse was and is still known for her abilities in plant growing and knowledge of greenhouse growing and berry cultivation. Some of the people who talked tome mentioned her blackberry bush. The bush it seems was a bit famous.
     Perhaps growing blackberries in a hightunnel, or greenhouse is the only way to really get good production in my area. I did not know much about her methods of how she cared for the bush so to find out I asked around, got her phone number and called her up. She was more than happy to share her experience of growing the blackberry bush with me. She said that she bought the berry through a catalog which advertised the berry as being (grow-able in Alaska). The variety was a thornless blackberry sold by Doyle; the plants are still for sail online and I found many favorable reviews though most were in the lower 48( Even Amazon sells them and says they can be grown in all 50 states though I am sure that can be taken with a grain of salt. My friend also said that the berry was very easy to grow as far as yearly maintenance. When the plant arrived it was about a foot tall with a long root system. She planted the small bush in a bucket with holes in the bottom for drainage and filled it with half potting soil, half topsoil from her garden plots. She placed it by the greenhouse wall and used it as a trellis when the bush began to put out larger branches. The fertilizer she recommended is made by (spray-n- called Bill’s perfect fertilizer. She fertilized the bush at the beginning of the year and kept it well watered. She pruned early spring and transplanted the bush the second year into a larger container than the bucket. Every fall she stored the whole plant unpruned in the farm’s rootcellar and watered it once a month with about a quart of water to keep it alive but dormant. The first year the bush produced a handful of berries and the second year it produced a gallon. It would have produced more but the third year she moved and had to give the plant and her propagated cuttings from the bush away. I asked if she had any issues with diseases or pests on the bush and she said no. I also asked if she had any pollination issues and again she said no. I guess because it was growing in the summer and the greenhouse was well ventilated, bees or flies must have pollinated it for her. She felt the whole experiment was very much worth her time and effort. I was glad to get this information straight from her. I also enjoyed finding out how, a little blackberry bush for sale in a catalog was grown, propagated and is still growing in this part of Alaska thanks to her efforts. AB Delta Junction
Spray-N-Grow. 2016. Spray-N-Grow Garden Products. Available online:. Accessed Oct. 5 2016.
Amazo. 2016. Doyle’s thornless blackberry plant. Available online:  Accessed Oct. 5, 2016.
Yelp. 2016. Recommended reviews for Doyle’s thornless blackberry. Available online:
Accessed Oct.5, 2016
Heidenreich, C., M. Pritts, K. Demchak, E. Hanson, C. Weber and M J Kelly. 2012 rev. High tunnel raspberries and blackberries. Department of Horticulture Pub. No. 47. Available online:
Accessed Oct. 3, 2016
Pleasant, B. 2016.  Plant low-maintenance blackberries. Mother Earth News. Available online: Accessed Oct. 3, 2016.
The Old Farmers Almanac. 2016. Blackberries. Available online: