Two flavorful new berry varieties — one a blackberry and one a strawberry — are helping growers in the South produce better quality and yields in 2009.

• Natchez, a thornless blackberry variety with large, sweet fruit is generally available for the first time this season. The variety was released by the University of Arkansas in 2007 but plants haven’t been plentiful until this season.

“There should be an adequate supply of Natchez plants,” says John R. Clark, University of Arkansas professor and director of the university’s fruit breeding program. “With its market appeal and early ripening, Natchez will play a key role in the expanding blackberry business in the southern United States. It will enhance the quality and profitability of a blackberry crop.”

The thornless, upright variety features large, sweet berries and consistently high yields. It ripens early, on about the same schedule as the standard variety Arapaho, and it will probably replace Arapaho as an early ripening, thornless option, says Clark.

“The fruit of Natchez are elongated, somewhat blocky and very attractive with an exceptional glossy, black finish,” says Clark.

The fruit is large, averaging eight to nine grams. The quality is rated good, and it stores well.

In northwest Arkansas, a planting strategy might be to plant Natchez to begin harvesting blackberries about June 5, then follow with Ouachita to begin June 12, Navaho on June 20 and Apache on June 25.

“This would start the blackberry season more or less at the time that strawberries play out and allow harvest well into July or later depending on location,” says Clark. “That kind of continuous supply would be a great benefit to the retailer.”

The blackberry varieties might overlap a bit but that can be managed. “By planting several varieties, you spread out the labor needed to pick them and you also spread the risk,” he says.

Natchez has performed well in tests from Georgia to North Carolina to Arkansas and should be well adapted to all the region. It has also done well in other states extending to California, but it has not been tested yet in Florida in areas with reduced chilling.

Natchez is named for a Native American tribe, as are all the floricane-fruiting blackberry varieties developed at the University of Arkansas.

For additional information on Arkansas fruit varieties, you can visit the Web site www.aragriculture.org/horticulture/fruits_nuts/default.htm, Clark says.

• Galletta is a new early-ripening strawberry variety with big, attractive, high-quality berries. Developed at North Carolina State University, Galletta was introduced with some fanfare last spring .

But like the Natchez blackberry variety, only small quantities of Galletta could be grown in 2008 due to the shortage of plants. The availability of plants is better for 2009.

“It will take a while to catch on,” says Jim Ballington, the North Carolina State University plant breeder who developed the variety. “But it continues to look good and appears to be broadly adapted from Charleston, S.C., up to Maryland.”

One of Galletta’s strongest selling points is that it ripens early in the growing season. In central North Carolina, that would be in late April to early May, a week to 10 days earlier than Chandler, the most widely grown strawberry variety in North Carolina. Along the Carolina coast, Galletta may ripen as early as mid-April, Ballington says.

There has been considerable interest among commercial growers in Galletta because its fruit quality is better than Sweet Charlie, the earliest variety previously available to North Carolina growers, says Ballington.

“Galletta’s flavor is good, and it has more aroma than some other varieties,” he says. “The exterior is very glossy, the surface is shiny and it just looks good. I think it will be seen as a good choice for an early variety to start the season and produce a very large, very attractive high-quality strawberry.”

One grower commented to Ballington after the 2008 growing season that farmers may want to try fresh dug Galletta plants rather than plugs. With plugs, the grower says he had a problem with getting too much ripe fruit at one time.

“That’s a problem we sometimes have with Chandler also,” says Ballington.

Galletta was named for Gene Galletta, formerly a small fruit breeder at North Carolina State and USDA.

e-mail: cebickers@aol.com