Blueberries, you love em, I love em.
Have you ever wondered how they get from the field to your favorite snack or meal?
High bush blueberries can only thrive in a more temperate climate, think Southern British Columbia, California, Florida, Louisiana and other regions with similar climates. Low bush blueberries are very different and we’ll talk about them another time! Like most berries they may not do well and can dry out in especially hot summers like the one we are having now in western Canada, but did you know blueberries still on the plant can be rehydrated? It’s true!!
Now how do farmers interact with blueberries? Blueberries are not an annual crop like we usually see in grain, oilseed and lentil farming. They are a bush that can produce berries for many years with proper care.
With the climate being blueberry friendly like in the Fraser region of British Columbia the berry plants need tending for pruning, nutrient management and taking care of pests and diseases. Blueberryes are dormant during the winter, and this is when they are pruned. Pruning helps shape them for the harvesters and pollinator access as well as taking care of damaged or dead branches. Blueberries are irrigated and like a bit more acidic soil.
In spring the plants come alive and start budding. Bud break is when the flowers start to open. Did you know that every blueberry you eat has been pollinated by a bee or other pollinator? It’s true!! No berries with our pollinator friends including bees, moths, bats and flies. Blueberries also attract other animals looking for a tasty treat – like during harvest season bears, coyotes and other animals including humans!!
Harvest season is where things get really interesting!! Many farms use workers to hand pick and pack the berries but the farm we visited uses machine harvesters run by workers. These cool harvesters carefully remove the ripe berries, and keep the unripe berries in place so they can be picked later in the season. As you can see from the videos they look a little like a mobile car wash!
The fields need to have the right kind of paths for the pickers and the workers can send a lot of berries to the packing plant every hour. Blueberries are graded by the plant workers and machines for many factors including size, color, ripeness and firmness. The best berries go out right away for fresh eating! Others, depending on grade, get used for frozen, dried and even in juices. No berries go to waste!!
After harvest the berry fields are checked for things like damage, drainage, pests and diseases that might impact next year’s crop. After the harvest there are always berries that don’t get picked by the machine or workers. These berries support the local wildlife, including animals that help keep the fields clean, eat pests and those who depend on the fruit for their winter naps.
Special thanks to Dan and the crew for letting us watch them harvest and enjoy some super fresh blueberries right off the field!! We’ll see them again later on for cranberry harvest!