Growing & Harvesting Wild Blueberries

Tradition and Technology

For over 10,000 years, native wild blueberries have grown in the thin, acidic, glacial soils of Maine and Canada, where they thrive in the cold, harsh climates and form a lush, natural carpet across the land. For generations now, many of the independent, family-owned growers have grown and harvested wild blueberries from the same barrens their ancestors did, using techniques handed down from generation to generation.

The Lowbush Blueberries

Unlike ordinary blueberries, wild blueberries only grow in the wild, right where Mother Nature put them. They can’t be planted or farmed in the ways that many industrial food crops are. Wild blueberries are spread primarily by rhizomes (underground runners), which give rise to new roots and stems. All shoots arising from the same rhizome system have similar characteristics. That’s why in every field there are thousands of different plant varieties, which account for the variations in color, size, and flavor that characterize the wild blueberry crop. Ordinary blueberries might only host a half-dozen varieties in one growing area.

Wild Diversity

Plant diversity is the reason behind the wild blueberry’s medley of naturally occurring blueberry flavors that create its unique, complex wild flavor profile. That intense flavor is extraordinary and simply cannot be matched by ordinary blueberries. It’s also wild blueberry’s plant diversity that creates its potent combination of phytochemicals that gives the wild blueberry its antioxidant power.

Growing and Harvesting Wild Blueberries

Naturally suited to acidic, low-fertility soils and cold, harsh winters, wild blueberries are a low-input crop requiring minimal management. The berries are grown on a two-year cycle. Each year, half of a grower’s land is managed to encourage vegetative growth and the other half is prepared for harvest.

Bringing Bees to the Barrens

In May, growers import a billion commercial bees to aid the native bee population in pollinating the barrens and fields. There are many bee species associated with wild blueberries, including bumblebees and honeybees. Native bees are exceptional pollinators and wild blueberry growers take care to preserve wild bees through conservation practices.

Managing the Wild Blueberry Harvest

After the harvest, which begins in late July and continues through August, the plants are pruned to the ground by mowing or burning.

Many wild blueberry crops are still harvested the traditional way, using hand-held berry rakes that were first invented in 1910. Whether hand raked or machine harvested, wild blueberries are sorted, cleaned and processed within hours of being picked, using state-of-the-art technology.

From Fresh to Frozen Wild Blueberries

Growers use winnowing machines in the fields to remove leaves and twigs before the berries are washed and frozen. Wild Blueberries are individually quick frozen (IQF) using a method that allows for the fast preservation of taste and nutrition for millions of berries. IQF berries can remain frozen for over two years without losing their flavor or nutritional value. Laser color sorters are also utilized to remove anything but the finest quality wild blueberries prior to packing.

Why Frozen Wild Blueberries

Modern Wild Blueberry Crop Management

Wild blueberry growers are strongly committed to best agricultural practices. They use sustainable management techniques to ensure healthy crops and to protect wild blueberry lands for future generations.

Focus on Sustainability

Because wild blueberries are indigenous to Maine and Canada, they are naturally resistant to many native pests. Still, growers are challenged to minimize crop damage caused by environmental stressors such as disease, drought, insect damage, and winter injury. Using Integrated Crop Management (ICM) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) throughout the crop cycle, growers monitor disease and insect levels to minimize fruit destruction without harming the environment.

Growing Economic Impact of The Wild Ones

Around the world, demand for wild blueberries has skyrocketed thanks to growing awareness of the health benefits inherent in nature’s antioxidant superfruit. In Maine alone, where over 80 million pounds of wild blueberries are produced each year, the crop has a direct and indirect economic impact to Maine’s economy of more than $250 million annually. Clearly, wild blueberries make a major contribution to the economies of Maine and Canada, the land of wild blueberries.