The Harvest is Months Away, But Growers Are Thinking Blue
Each year when winter is slowly replaced by high sun and rising temperatures, our thoughts naturally turn to planting. It means spring is on the way, and the time for taking advantage of the earth’s bounties is close at hand.
In Maine, Quebec and Eastern Canada, wild blueberry barrens are stirring. In early spring, plants begin to emerge from snow cover, and before too long, green leaves and white blossoms of fruit will appear. It’s a time when those who farm wild blueberry fields begin planning for late summer when they will finally burst with blue fruit.
Late winter on the wild blueberry barrens in Maine’s Washington County.
Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Leighton.
This year, wild blueberry plants have endured another harsh winter, but that’s part of their wild nature: they are naturally resilient to challenging winters in the Northeast. They have evolved to grow in acidic soil, thrive through wildly changing temperatures, and use their natural UV protection to survive unshielded in summer sun. In fact, these environmental challenges make them uniquely powerful when it comes to the phytonutrients they produce to protect themselves. Scientists believe that resilience may translate into superb disease prevention and aging protection when we eat them – that’s the unique power of wild.
Wild berries naturally have a distinctive taste and variations in color that their larger cultivated counterparts simply can’t match. In fact, winters with abundant snowfall are good for the crop. Snow provides protection to the plant as well as plenty of moisture, which can increase the size of the bud and the potential to have more fruit per plant. More fruit means more healthy, antioxidant-rich berries.
During March and April, growers spend their time assessing crop damage and pests in the field. They may order supplies necessary for the harvest season and to prepare fields that are “fallow” – non-crop bearing fields that are resting as part of their two-year rotation – and continue the mowing and burning of fields that would have begun in the fall. They may also prepare to bring in bees to pollinate the plants when spring is in full swing. Bringing bees to the fields is a necessary part of production, and every year wild blueberry growers import a billion bees to help pollinate their barrens. (You can read about spring bee pollination in this week’s Portland Press Herald). It’s all in service to the millions of pounds of wild blues that will be harvested in the growing areas in July and August.
But while it’s still early, and the fields are quiet and snow-covered, there’s time to reflect on the many things wild blueberries offer the area – not to mention kitchens and freezers all over the country. And it’s a perfect time to tip our hat to the growers who carefully manage and nurture them, right here in harvest country, all year long.
We have nature to thank for the wild blueberry. Wild, lowbush berries are naturally occurring berries that have been growing in Maine, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces for over 10,000 years. They differ from cultivated or planted blueberries – you can identify cultivated by their larger size – that are propagated, planted and harvested in commercial operations throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world.
Wild blueberries spread naturally and slowly here, where they survive in the glacial soils and northern climate, and those natural challenges only makes them special. Here are some of the unique advantages of the smaller, wild berry that is only grown in areas of the Northeast:
Antioxidant capacity. Wild Blueberries are being studied for their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help protect against diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Genetic diversity. Wilds consist of hundreds of different naturally occurring varietal clones – a mix that provides the intense, complex flavors that range from sweet to tart.
Smaller size means higher skin-to-pulp ratio. Because of their size, foods that contain wild blueberries have more berries in every bite. That translates to more taste, more nutrition and more antioxidants.
Wild blueberries are a cherished part of Maine and Canada – and their wild nature is why.
See Wild Blueberry Country First Hand! It’s your last chance – there are only a few days left to enter to win Five Days of Food and Fun in the Land of Wild Blueberries.
If your entry is chosen, you’ll receive transportation for two to Québec City, Canada, 4 nights lodging in the historic Château Frontenac, and a $1,000 Wild Taste dining allowance to experience the city’s culinary delights.