The Great Wall of China has been getting lots of attention this week, as part of the Olympics coverage. But, my Great Wall is a blackberry picking site I discovered last year with my friend Karen. In the Bay Area, August is blackberry month, and we’ve been out twice now to the site. This is a popular site, in fact that’s how we found it last year, driving by and seeing a number of pickers scattered along the hillside. We now go out prepared, with lots of containers, pruning shears and leather gloves. So far I’ve picked and frozen 14 pints of berries.

Karen and I had an interesting discussion about non-native plants while we were picking last weekend. She’s a strong proponent of controlling non-native plants, like the eucalyptus trees that were just a few yards away from our picking site. Her basic argument was that they reduce biodiversity. My argument is that, unless someone has identified a particular species that a new species has totally crowded out and made extinct (which certainly has happened over the eons), then they actually increase biodiversity by adding at least one new species. More to the point, nature adapts. Monarch butterflies now use eucalypti for habitat while migrating. And, ironically, there we were picking Himalayan blackberries, a non-native plant that is clearly invasive. Obviously, humans adapt as well. I’ll have to ask her if she thinks we should try to eradicate these blackberries like she thinks we should do with the eucalyptus. But, I digress. The issue of native vs. non-native has intrigued me for years, but it’s a topic for a different post at some later time.

I’m perfectly happy to have the berries available to harvest. The berries taste great and they freeze well. (They should be spread out on a flat cookie sheet or something similar so they freeze individually, then stored in containers after freezing. That way you can just shake out a few berries at a time as you need them.) They don’t keep well fresh, however, which is why I freeze them. They make a nice topping to cereal, ice cream or pancakes. If you’re a really motivated baker, they make a great fruit-pie filling. Because they grow well on their own, I don’t have to cultivate them; all I need to do is go to my picking spot every August and pick them. I like it when nature does most of the work and this is one urban crop where I do very little work!

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