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Blueberries

vaccinium corymbosum

Importance to Oregon

Oregon is well known for its blueberry industry which consistently produces flavorful, delicious berries. Blueberry farms across the state vary greatly in size and production. There are two common production methods. Traditional blueberry farms harvest blueberries and send them to a processing facility or fresh market, where as U-Pick farms allow for customers to harvest the berries themselves. Oregon is one of the top blueberry producers in the United States, and in 2016 produced 116.1 million pounds! While Oregon blueberries are an important commodity to both the state and nation, they also have a large exporting base. Oregon blueberries are exported to numerous different countries including, Argentina, France, Italy, and Japan to name a few.

History

The blueberry plant is native to North America, and has been used for human consumption long before English settlers arrived. Blueberries were very important to Native American tribes for numerous reasons. In native folklore, the elders would tell of the blueberries that were sent from the Great Spirits during a famine so that the children of the tribes had food to eat. Native Americans utilized blueberries for fresh fruit, dyes, meat flavoring, medicine, and as dried to be used throughout the winter.

Native American women harvesting blueberries.

Once English settlers arrived in Plymouth, they almost starved to death during the winter months until the Native Americans showed them how to gather and preserve blueberries (and other crops). The blueberry was eventually cultivated by the settlers and selected to produce the big, juicy blueberries that we have today. This cultivation allowed for there to be two types of blueberry bushes: lowbush and highbush.

Types of Bushes

There are two common types of blueberry bushes, which are lowbush and highbush. These different bushes have a few distinct differences.

Lowbush

The lowbush blueberry closely resembles the wild blueberry that the Native Americans used. It is shrubby and grows close to the ground at no taller than knee height. The lowbush needs cool weather, and is more commonly found in places like New England. The fruit produced from the lowbush is small compared to fresh blueberries found in the store, but they are extremely sweet. Lowbush berries are typically sold for use in jams, muffin mixes, and canned food products.

Highbush

The highbush blueberry is much taller than the lowbush shrub, and is typically larger in general. These shrubs are perennial, and have larger, less sweet fruit compared to the lowbush blueberries. The berries from the highbush are often sold as fresh market.

Blueberry Production

Planting

Blueberries are perennial plants that are typically transplanted into a field from a nursery at a couple years of age. This is because blueberry plants begin bearing fruit at about three years old. Blueberry bushes are usually planted in the early spring.

Growing

Blueberries require a certain amount of time called “chill hours” where the temperature is controlled between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. These chill hours will allow for the bush to produce blossoms and leaves properly, in order to produce fruit.

Blueberry bushes require about one to two inches of water per week, some fertilizer application, and occasional pruning. Blueberry bushes are often netted once they start to produce fruit, in order to prevent birds from eating the crop.

Harvesting

When it is time to harvest blueberries, smaller operations harvest by hand, while mechanical harvesting is becoming more popular for large operations. Blueberries are harvested from late July to mid-August. Once the berries are harvested, either by hand or machine, they are taken to a processing plant where they are chilled and then distributed.

Mechanized Harvesting

Mechanized blueberry harvest is becoming a common practice on farms. There are several different types of mechanical blueberry harvesters, but most of them operate by driving the machine over the bushes. The machine uses its paddles to shake the berries off of the bush and onto a conveyor belt where they are sorted from debris and put into crates. Once the crates are full, they are stacked at the back of the harvester.

Blueberry harvester

Pollination

Due to the difficult shape of the blueberry flower and the heavy sticky nature of blueberry pollen, most growers utilize insects (mainly bees) to pollinate their bushes. Farmers sometimes stock their fields with honey bees to insure a better pollination rate. These honey bees are attracted to to the smell of nectar and are drawn to the flowers. When on the flower, the bees rub on the stigma which leaves pollen that they have picked up from other flowers. The act of traveling to many plants, taking and leaving pollen, all contributes to the pollination of flowers.

Honey bee on blueberry blossom.

Where do blueberries grown in the world?

While blueberries are native to North America, they are grown in many other regions around the world. The United States, Canada, and South America are the three most predominant growing regions. However, blueberry plants are grown worldwide.

Nutrition

Blueberries are known for their wonderful health benefits. There are only 80 calories per cup of blueberries, however, these little fruits sure pack a lot of nutrients. Blueberries are full of beneficial antioxidants, vitamin C, and manganese. This allows them to aid in various processes such as promoting wound healing, lowering blood pressure, and processing cholesterol. Blueberries are also an excellent source of fiber which is needed in a balanced diet for a multitude of reasons.

Uses

Blueberries have had many different uses throughout the years. In the past, blueberries were easy to preserve which made them a necessity for survival over long winters. Today, blueberries are enjoyed fresh, frozen, and in many different products. Aside from consumption purposes, blueberry bushes are beautiful shrubs for landscaping. Their colorful leaves and full appearance makes them a great option for placing around the yard, as well as a tasty snack in the summer!
Fresh Blueberries
Fresh Blueberries

Dried Blueberries
Dried Blueberries

Blueberry Muffin
Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry bushes in landscape
Blueberry Bushes in Landscape

Recipe

KID FRIENDLY BLUEBERRY PIE RECIPE

READY IN: 50 minutes SERVES: 8

YIELD: 1 pie UNITS: US

INGREDIENTS
5 cups fresh blueberries

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 (15 ounce) package refrigerated pie crusts

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup sugar

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

DIRECTIONS

SPRINKLE berries with lemon juice, set aside.
FIT half of pastry in a 9-inch pie plate according to package directions.
COMBINE 1 cup sugar and next 3 ingredients; add to berries, stirring well.
Pour into pastry shell, and dot with butter.
UNFOLD remaining pastry on a lightly floured surface; roll gently with rolling pin to remove creases in pastry.
Place pastry over filling; seal and crimp edges.
Cut slits in top of crust to allow steam to escape.
Brush top of pastry with beaten egg, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar BAKE at 400° for 35 minutes or until golden.
Cover edges with aluminum foil to prevent overbrowning, if necessary.
Serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Recipe courtesy of Genius Kitchen.

Fun Facts

  1. Blueberries are extremely easy to freeze!
  2. They can be used as a natural dye.
  3. Blueberries should have a “dusty” color.
  4. The blueberry bush is a relative of the rhododendron and the azalea.
  5. April 28th is National Blueberry Pie Day.
  6. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” because their blossoms make a star shape.

AITC Resources

Blueberries for Sal

Blueberries Grow on a Bush
Blueberries Grow on a Bush

Related Resources