DROWSY DRAGON NOTES
July 23, 2019
By Bill Burke
We have completed our first week of the 2019 harvest. Of the 16 blueberry varieties on our field, we have been picking only one so far, the variety known as "earliblue". Many blueberry farmers struggle with this variety, but for some reason earliblues do quite well in our quiet little corner of the valley. When we bought the farm 10 years ago, there were over 750 mature earliblues, and they have been perhaps our steadiest performer for the past decade.
Some of you are probably shaking your heads, thinking something along the lines of "wait, there are varieties of blueberries? I thought they were all the same." At least, that's what I thought prior to buying this place a decade back. Naturally, I've learned a lot about blueberries since. For instance, there are two basic types, high-bush and low-bush. Our berries are all high-bush varieties, and they have been selected for their suitability to our local climate and also what is known as our "hardiness zone." (our zone is 5a; the easiest way to think about hardiness zones is to liken it to the average annual extreme low temperatures. Our area's average extreme low is between -10 F and -20 F. Another common measure, especially for varietal viability is the number of freeze hours. Also, hardiness zones do change; we started out as zone 4, and in the past eight years we've warmed up enough to become zone 5a. Yes, climate change is real, and all around us.)
The most famous low-bush varieties are probably those found in coastal Maine, where locals and tourists anxiously await the yearly enjoyment of those small and delicious wild varieties. Most commercial blueberry growers cultivate high-bush varieties, of which there are nearly a 100 to choose from. Blueberries grow as far south as Mississippi, and as far north as Newfoundland. Obviously the varieties suitable for Mississippi farmers would grow as well here, and vice versa. The varieties that we grow are as follows:
Blueberries are a wonderful crop to grow. Like most brambles, blueberries possess a strong will to live, and an ability to adjust to different conditions and climates. When we first bought the farm, we had a massive problem with overgrown trees, such that nearly a third of our bushes received insufficient sunlight. In addition, our irrigation system was both expensive and flaky, an overhead "rain-bird" system that wasted water and cost nearly $200 every time we ran it. As such, we had numerous empty patches to deal with, including several hundred dead blueberry crowns. When we fixed the tree-sunlight problem, within a year several of the allegedly dead crowns suddenly sprang back to life. When we added drip irrigation to the mix, a few hundred more suddenly sprang to life! Blueberries are very smart, in other words. They have the ability to go dormant, to operate in a minimal environment and wait for help. It is an amazing process to behold!
On my next post, I'll discuss our collection of raspberry patches, both current and future. Meanwhile, it's blueberry time!