Blueberries in the lower 48

Here is a video of farmed blueberries from harvest to table. This is an interesting video because it brings to life the concept of big farming for something I simply go out a pick. I find that store bought blueberries, like most fruits and vegies shipped to Alaska just don’t have the flavor that fresh does, but while watching this video and all the plump blues on the conveyor belt had my mouth watering. There is a small part in the video that tells us a little about which states produce the most farmed blueberries. I wonder how Alaskan wild berry stands would compare to the commercial berry farms. Either way, I prefer the serenity as well as the taste that goes with hand harvesting wild berry stands rather than the “run of the mill” farmed berries.

 

Blueberries From Farm to Table. 2011. Blueberries. Available online:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CTItsfpdOc Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.

Bog Blueberries, wild and cultivated

This article by author Heidi Rader is about the low bush or bog blueberry. She covers her method of picking, which is by hand, in contrast to picking with a berry picker. The pros and cons of both were interesting to think about as I had never considered how aggressive a berry picker might be toward the fruit. This article also gives out come Blueberry cultivation tips and hints for success. Rader, H. 2016. The berry best: An Alaska blueberry primer. Available Online: Blueberries.  Accessed on 28 Sep 2016.  

From the bog to the box

From the Bog to the Box

I have two acres of land just north of Fairbanks that I am currently in the process of building a home and planning a landscape on. When I think about what I want my yard to be like I think about what I want to do in my yard. I’d like to walk through the trees, enjoy the song birds and of course have an aesthetically appealing landscape. But to me the stimulation from the landscape needs to be more than simply looking pretty, I want there to be good functionality in my yard. I want pretty flowers, but I’d like them to be simple, natural and perennial. I’d also like to be able to harvest edibles from my landscape and not just from my garden and green house. These reasons along with others are why I want to manage the wild berry stands I currently have growing as well as adding a few transplants. The berry I am most interested in transplanting and managing is the Bog Blueberry.

Unconventionally I am most interested in the idea of transplanting wild bog blueberries into low but still raised garden beds that would line my driveway and possibly other pathways around the property. Although we do not currently have the house finished, I think that next summer would be the best time to begin transplanting blueberries into the driveway in order to possibly have berry production by the time we are finished with the house and I will have more time to focus on other areas of the landscape. That way, I will have a few years of experience with these before deciding what to do with the rest of the space.

I think that raised garden beds or boxes would be good for experimenting with berries because I will have complete control over the soil composition and watering/irrigating processes and this will give me more detailed information on what is and isn’t working. At the same time though, I think I will also transplant some bog blueberries into the cleared powerline on the opposite side of my property just to be able to compare notes on the original source, and both transplanted sources, completely controlled vs. simply transplanted and observed. Some key things for me to keep in mind about transplanting and box gardening are soil preferences (nutrients, water absorption and irrigation, pH levels), available sunlight, preferred pollinators, and nearby plant species.

Blueberry soil preferences: Blueberries tend to require an acidic soil composition with pH levels of 4.5-5.5. Some berries secrete root acids to help bring iron and other nutrients into a solution they can absorb but blueberries do not secrete these acids and thus they rely on organisms that thrive in acidic soils to help convert nutrients for them. Bog blueberries can thrive in a variety of moisture conditions from highly aerated to poorly drained soils, and often grow in mat layers with roots in shallow but wide areas. Loamy or peaty soil compositions are good for blueberries and adequate watering is a must. Do not let the roots dry out, while also not drowning them. Because I want to build raised beds or boxes for my blueberries I will have complete control over what I make my soils with and I plan to try to use natural loamy soils and peat from local bogs.

Sunlight: Blueberries do well in sunlight areas, often much better than in shade. Because most of my property is undeveloped I think the edges of the driveways will produce sufficient amounts of sunlight without too much heat.

Pollinators: I have a variety of pollinators that live in the nearby woods and am happy to say that there seem to be an abundance of bees in my neighborhood. Another reason my driveways will be a good place to start is because both neighbors on either side of me have bee boxes near us. Honey bees, bumble bees, hornets and a variety of other pollinators are attracted to the wild currants, raspberries and rose hips already growing here so I do not think I will have a lacking of good pollinators. Possibly Ill even be able to trade blueberry jams for honey…

Native plant species: Although I have a diverse collection of other berries, trees, bushes and some wild flowers, I do not think these native species will be of much concern for the blueberries because of the raised beds. I will have to keep up on weeding and pruning, but I do not have any super invasive species other than the raspberries that are spreading themselves about each year (I don’t mind that at all).

I do have a lot of work ahead of me in building the ideal beds that will contain but not limit blueberry growth as well as the effort in creating good balanced soil, and transplanting berries adequately, but I look forward to the experimenting I will be doing for the rest of the foreseeable future. LH Fairbanks

Sources:

Matthews, R. F. 1992 Vaccinium uliginosum. In: Fire Effects Information System. U.S. Department of Agrictulture, Forest Service. Available online: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.

-This is a very technical resource with a lot of valuable information although some of which must be filtered through. Lots of scientific data, but still a useful source I find myself going back to.

Townsend, M. 2005. The Basics of Blueberry Culture. Home Orchard Society. Available online: http://www.homeorchardsociety.org/growfruit/berries/the-basics-of-blueberry-culture/ Accessed 27 Sept. 2016.

-This article was presented as a handout for the talk “History and Cultivation of Blueberries” by Marie Townsend at the Home Orchards Society’s 2005 All about Fruit Show. It is simple to follow and full of good information. Not all information is specifically for the bog blueberry, but still has good tips and ideas to get started.

9/28/16 10:45 PM

I know you have lots of experience with blueberries, transplanting and edible landscapes, I look forward to learning more about this from you.

Berry growing in other climes

Here is a fruit blog dedicated to strawberries and caneberries (ie raspberries and blackberries):  http://ucanr.edu/blogs/strawberries_caneberries/index.cfm?tagname=strawberries.  It is administered by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.  Not everything is applicable to AK, but I think its an fun site to check out and see what people are dealing with in regards to berry growing in other parts of the country.

More flowering videos

I was inspired by the time-lapse strawberry video and started searching for more.  I could watch these all day long.  Here is another great one for a pear that was created by Neil Bromhall:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ttRgMj7PdQ

Highbush cranberry recipes

High bush Cranberries  This article is by author, Corrine Conlon, and in it she presents some interesting information about the high bush cranberry and some of the things she does with it, as well as some of the combinations friends of hers have concocted. She also includes a description of the plant and some of the pros and cons of picking them. Conlon, C. 2016. Gathering Alaska: Juice and jelly from highbush cranberries. Available online http://juneauempire.com/art/2016-09-21/gathering-alaska-juice-and-jelly-highbush-cranberries Accessed on: 28 Sep, 2016.

A Blueberry Farm

     I visited Washington State and biked past a blueberry farm in the Skagit Valley.  I stopped for a mini photo shoot (see attached photos). I didn’t see any signs to indicate the name of the farm, however when I did a little search on the internet, my guess is that is was a field belonging to Bow Hill Blueberries(1), established in 1947. They have 4500 plants and seem to do a thriving business including value-added products, U-pick and retail sales of fresh berries. According to their website they employ only 4-6 part-time, year-round employees and up to 25 kids and adults to had-harvest and pack 60,000 lbs of blueberries.

   I became curious about start up costs and efforts for blueberry farms and found a nice analysis put out by Oregon State University(2). Although interesting, we have such a different situation in Alaska and especially in the Interior. Some differences that I can think of:

 1. Material costs for infrastructure are higher in Alaska due to shipping
2. Plant material differs due to climate. The farms in Oregon, Washington and even in Southcentral AK can grow different cultivars of blueberries successfully. From my (limited) observations, Interior blueberries growers might be best off growing the native species.
3.Alaskans have a do-it-yourself mentality and I wonder how in demand the purchase of blueberries would be considering there are so many available to pick on one’s own for free in the wilds of AK.
4. The native bog blueberry fruits are quite small and if grown commercially the harvesting techniques and speed of harvest might be slower than larger-fruited cultivars  5. Finding laborers to pick the crop may be challenging. Value-added products might be necessary for profiting from a blueberry farm in the Interior.
Again, I have more questions than I do answers. I believe that we have a potential opportunity to capitalize on our local bog blueberry, their distinct flavor and high antioxidant levels compared to other blueberries (3). However, there is a lot to be figured out for helpful guidelines of how to profit from growing blueberries in a cultivated setting in the Interior.
1. Bow Hill Blueberries. Website
 2. Julian, James W. et al. 2011. Blueberry Economics: The costs of establishing and producing blueberries in the Willamette Valley. North Willamette Research and Extension Center, Oregon State University.
3. Dinstel, Roxie Rodgers et al. 2013. The antioxidant level of Alaska’s wild berries: high, higher and highest. International Journal of Circumpolar Health 72: 10.3402/ijch.v72i0.21188.