Tag Archive: Blueberry

Love Blueberries? Thank the Blueberry Bee!

Love Blueberries? Thank the Blueberry Bee!

The Southeastern blueberry bee uses buzz pollination on a blueberry plant. Photo credit: Tyler Jones, UF IFAS.

This time of year, blueberry bushes are flowering and small fruit are coming onto the wild and cultivated bushes in north Florida. Many of us, myself included, look forward to the late-spring harvest of blueberries, taking our children out to u-pick operations and digging out family recipes for blueberry-filled desserts.

What many do not know, however, is that there’s a specialized bee that literally lives for this season. During the last few weeks, this little insect has been furiously pollinating blueberry bushes during its short, single-purpose lifetime.

The Southeastern blueberry bee, Habropoda labriosa is active only in mid-March to April when blueberry plants are in flower. They are smaller than bumblebees, and the yellow patches on their heads can differentiate males. Blueberry pollen is heavy and sticky, so it is not blown by the wind, and the flower anatomy is such that pollen from the male anther will not just fall onto the female stigma. Blueberry bees must instead attach themselves to the flower and rapidly vibrate their flight muscles, shaking the pollen out. Moving to the next flower, the bee’s vibrations will drop pollen from the first flower onto the next one. This phenomenon is called “sonicating” or ‘buzz pollination” and is the most effective method of creating a prolific blueberry crop.

Blueberry bees do not form hives, but create solitary nests in open, sunny, high ground. Females will dig a tunnel with a brood chamber large enough for one larva, filling it with nectar and pollen. After laying an egg, the female seals the chamber and the next generation is ready. The species produces only one generation of adults per year.

By the time we are picking fresh blueberries next month, you probably won’t see any blueberry bees around. However, we should all consider these insects’ short-lived but vitally important role in Florida’s $ 82 million/year blueberry industry!

For more information, check out the beautifully illustrated USDA Forest Service publication, “Bee Basics—An Introduction to our Native Bees,” or North Carolina State University’s entomology website.

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Author: Carrie Stevenson – ctsteven@ufl.edu

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Carrie Stevenson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/05/01/love-blueberries-thank-the-blueberry-bee/

Celebrate National Blueberry Month!

blueberry-monthDid you know that July is National Blueberry Month? Blueberries are in season now, and reasonably priced at grocery stores, fruit stands, and farmers’ markets.  Many growers also offer a “pick your own” service which can be a fun family outing.  The good news is that this delicious treat has many health benefits.  Blueberries are low in calories- only 80 calories per cup but are packed with nutrients.  A handful of blueberries satisfy the recommended intake of dietary fiber.  They are also high in vitamin C- one serving provides 25% of your daily requirement.  Blueberries are also high in manganese, which helps the body process cholesterol and nutrients such as carbohydrates and protein.

Blueberries are a native North American plant, and it was only within the last 100 years that we have been able to grow them commercially.  All thanks to Elizabeth White, the daughter of a New Jersey farmer, teamed up with USDA botanist Frederick Coville to domesticate the blueberry.  They spent years identifying blueberry plants with desirable qualities for cultivation.  They harvested and sold the first cultivated crop of blueberries in 1916- exactly 100 years ago!  Until 20 years ago, blueberries could only be grown in northern climates like New Jersey, Maine, and Michigan.  Thanks to the University of Florida, southern blueberry cultivars were developed through research that don’t require as many chilling hours and bear more fruit.  Although Florida is not currently the leading producer of blueberries, we are quickly catching up with 25 million pounds produced annually!

Fun Facts about Blueberries:

  • Blueberries are relatives of the rhododendron family
  • The perfect blueberry should have a “dusty’ appearance
  • Don’t wash your blueberries until you are ready to eat them (washing speeds up the spoiling process).
  • To freeze blueberries, place them unwashed, on a cookie sheet and flash freeze.  Then place them in quart-size freezer bags to use later in smoothies, crumbles, cobblers, or ice cream.
  • Recent studies show that blueberries may have the potential to aid in memory loss, vision loss and even slow down the aging process
  • Native Americans recognized the nutritional value of blueberries and used them for medicinal purposes as well as flavorings
  • Early American Colonists used blueberries to dye fabric and also to color paint

This month, celebrate the blueberry by planting a bush, visiting a U-pick farm, or making a tasty home-made blueberry treat.  Fresh From Florida (a division of the Florida Department of Ag) has lots of free and delicious recipes.  Try Florida Blueberry Parfait, Blueberry Breakfast Casserole, Blueberry and Blue Cheese Salad  or even Blueberry Barbecue Sauce!

Additional UF/IFAS Resources about Blueberries:

 

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Author: Heather Kent – hckent@ufl.edu

Heather Kent is the Regional Specialized 4-H Agent in the Northwest Extension District.

Heather Kent

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/07/08/celebrate-national-blueberry-month/

Jefferson County U-Pick Blueberry Farm Tour June 13

Jefferson County U-Pick Blueberry Farm Tour June 13

Blue Sky Farm bushes MCJWhether you are a part time or full-time farmer, U-pick blueberries can provide additional farm income.  For the past several years, a Jefferson County farmer, Pete Crosby has been developing his operation.  Blue Sky Farm is nearing its grand opening, and is celebrating by inviting the public to come out to tour the farm Saturday, June 13, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and even handpick some blueberries to take home. Visitors should come prepared by bringing along water, a hat, sunscreen, as well as closed-toe shoes and socks for protection from the critters.  The farm is located three miles from the courthouse in downtown Monticello, at  1180 Ashville Highway.

Blue Sky Farm was established in 2012, when over 350 blueberry bushes were planted by hand. Nearly four years later, they are finally ready to be harvested. For the first several years, Pete concentrated on promoting vigorous vegetative growth by pruning back flowers. Now most of the blueberry bushes are heavy with fruit and have begun to ripen into their deep, bright shades of blue.

Blue Sky Farm uses sustainable farming methods, including a drip irrigation system, which slowly delivers water precisely to the root zone of the bushes using drip tape. A barrier weed cloth is used to assist with weed control, although any weeds that do grow are controlled through hand-weeding. The blueberry bushes are fertilized using an organic fertilizer that is incorporated into the soil and then heavily mulched with pine needles from pine trees that grow on site. Over time, this pine straw mulch decomposes, adding valuable organic matter to the soil, which is very important for healthy growth of the bushes. Also, blueberries require a soil pH between 4.0 and 5.5 for optimum growth, which is lower than most other fruits and vegetables. Pine straw mulch is highly acidic, which helps maintain the low soil pH and allows the blueberries to thrive. Except for the blueberry bushes, Blue Sky Farm is largely wooded, allowing habitat for a diversity of beneficial insects, which help control pest populations.

Blue Sky Farm closeup MCJThe blueberries grown on Blue Sky Farm are mostly various rabbiteye cultivars, which are the best varieties that can be grown in our hot and humid Northwest Florida climate. All blueberries require a certain number of “chilling hours” in the winter in order to produce fruit in the summer. But rabbiteye blueberries have been developed to grow well with fewer chilling hours, making them an excellent choice for growers in our area.

One of the early varieties grown on Blue Sky Farm is called “Climax,” whose berries usually begin ripening in May in our area. Although early-season blueberry varieties are not usually as productive as later-season varieties, they do an excellent job of jump-starting the blueberry season. Some mid-season varieties grown on Blue Sky Farm include “Bright-well,” “Bluebell,” and “Titan.” Bright-well are light blue in color and firmer than some. Bluebell ripens up a few at a time during the month of June, making them an excellent variety for blueberry grazing. Titan is a new cultivar developed by the University of Georgia, which produces blueberries that can grow two to four times the size of your average blueberry. Blue Sky Farm also grows a few late-season varieties, including “Tifblue,” which is a very popular variety that produces berries that are large, firm, and highly flavorful.

Blue Sky Farm anticipates being open additional weekends this summer, as peak blueberry season runs from about mid-June to mid-July. Given fluctuations in rainfall, temperature, and other environmental factors, anyone interested in picking blueberries should first check the Blue Sky Farm website at http://www.bskyfarm.com, as it is updated regularly during the season.Blue Sky Farm blueberries MCJ

 

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Author: mjameson – mjameson@ufl.edu

mjameson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/05/30/jefferson-county-u-pick-blueberry-farm-tour-june-13/

Small Farm Blueberry Production for the Panhandle

Small Farm Blueberry Production for the Panhandle

Blueberry Cluster - Image Credit UF / IFAS - Jim Olmstead,

Blueberry Cluster – Image Credit UF / IFAS – Jim Olmstead,

In the Florida Panhandle, blueberry jam, blueberry cobbler and fresh blueberries seem to be a staple. This is because there are many local, u-pick, direct-market, and wholesale growers who provide a top quality product.

Farmers wanting to add blueberries to their operations sometimes struggle to find the varieties grown by other local farmers. Vaccinium ashei (commonly known as rabbit-eye blueberry) is a species of blueberry native to Florida and adapted to the late frosts we sometimes get in Northwest Florida during the months of February and March. It is recommended that this species of blueberry be grown in this area for fruit production, not its sister species the Southern Highbush, Vaccinium darrowii. There are several dwarf cultivars of Vaccinium darrowii that can be used to great effect in the landscape, but will not produce a noticeable crop of fruit most years.

Rabbit-eye Blueberries - Image Credit Matthew Orwat

Rabbit-eye Blueberries – Image Credit Matthew Orwat

The rabbit-eye blueberry is a deciduous shrub growing to 3 to 6 feet tall and with up to a 3 foot spread. The leaves start out red-bronze and turn dark-green when fully developed. It has small, white bell-shaped flowers. It produces 5 mm diameter fruit, dark blue to black, with a pale gray wax coating.

Rabbet-eyes are self-infertile, meaning that they must have two or more varieties to pollinate each other. Therefore it is advisable to plant two or more variety cultivars close together to ensure complete fruit set. Recommended cultivars for our area include, ‘Brightwell’,’ Climax’, ‘Beckyblue’, ‘Tif-Blue’, Powderblue, ‘Woodard’, ‘Chaucer’ and ‘Bluegem’. Old, local plants can be found in gardens and in the woods, due to the fact that Works Projects Administration (WPA) workers planted them under pines in the 1930s. These can easily be propagated by cuttings or by nicking and burying a lax, or low growing stem under soil for a few months. Once the stem forms roots, it can be severed from the mother plant and transplanted.

 Unripe Blueberries - Image Credit Matthew Orwat

Unripe Blueberries – Image Credit Matthew Orwat

Blueberries grow best on acid soil at a pH of 4.0 to 5.2.  Few pests and diseases bother them, with the exception of scale, whitefly and mealybug. These are controlled with a combination of dormant oil sprays, and insecticidal soap.

Blueberries enjoy soil rich in organic matter and benefit from liberal applications of pine bark mulch. Their roots are fairly weak and should not be planted near turf or other weeds, which may out-compete them in the race for water and nutrients. Mulching eliminates this grass and weed competition. In soil where organic matter is very low, such as in high-elevation sandy areas, farmers should grow blueberries in 2 foot deep trenches filled with rotting pine bark. Blueberries enjoy being spoon fed fertilizer, since heavy fertilizer doses stop fruit set and may damage fragile root systems.

When planting, it is advisable not to include fertilizer in the planting hole. “Blueberry Special” fertilizer mixes are available which are made up of ammoniacal or urea based nitrogen sources, with an analysis of 12-4-8 and 2% magnesium. This mixture is available at many local feed and garden stores. New plants should get one ounce per application in April, June, August and October. Two year old plants should receive 2 ounces per application and older plants should receive 3 ounces per application. Fertilizer should be spread in a circle 2-4 feet in diameter around the plant for optimal root uptake. It does no good to just pour the fertilizer at the plant’s base, since feeder roots are further out from the plant.

Adapted from the Blueberry Gardener’s Guide Publication #CIR1192

Feel free to contact your local UF / IFAS County Extension Service or the author for more information about blueberry cultivation.

 

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Author: Matthew Orwat – mjorwat@ufl.edu

Matthew J. Orwat started his career with UF / IFAS in 2011 and is the Horticulture Extension Agent for Washington County Florida. His goal is to provide educational programming to meet the diverse needs of and provide solutions for homeowners and small farmers with ornamental, turf, fruit and vegetable gardening objectives. Please feel free to contact him with any questions you may have.
http://washington.ifas.ufl.edu/lng/about/

Matthew Orwat

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/03/14/small-farm-blueberry-production-for-the-panhandle/