Lowbush Blueberries

Latin: Vaccinium Angustifolium
Harvest Start: ???
Harvest End: September???

We had a large, overgrown, field and had hired someone to come by and mow it down for us. We were considering turning it into pasture, but wanted to be able to see what we had available to us underneath all of the roses. We contacted the local go-to guy and he refused… he was too busy with clamming, so he directed us to a guy that does this semi-professionally. After negotiating a price he agreed to send someone out the next morning with a tractor and a rotory cutter.

The next morning, after chatting with the fellow, he started mowing. I cringed everytime he made a quarter pass of the field as his blades made a horrible screeching sound glancing off the granite boulders scattered throughout the field. Finally, after about a half-hour, I heard one final screech, and the engine was idled down. I spent the next 20 minutes walking the field looking for the blade that had flown out from under the mower. I thanked him, paid him for the work he was able to do, and sent him on his way.

We later learned that was why the go-to guy didn’t want to do it in the first place! He could have told me in the first place and saved me 50 bucks.┬áSo much for that…

That afternoon The Wife and I went out to mope and look at the mowing that had taken place when she noticed something along the cut line.

We have lowbush blueberries growing wildly on the property. A quick walk of the area showed not only a few, but the entire field was covered in wild blueberry. Blueberries are a highly valuable commercial product… Forget pasture, this is a goldmine we are sitting on, all we have to do is cultivate and encourage the berries that are already on our land.

Maintenance

Blueberries have an interesting life cycle with relatively simple maintenance. In the wild, blueberries rely on fire for their competative advantage. When a field is cleared by wild-fire, the blueberries are able to spring back from their roots. They are extremely well adapted to recovering from damagte to the shrub, and reproduce best through cutting them back, thereby encouraging them to grow more vigourasly. This kills off their competition and encourages them to grow even more.

For us this means one of two things: we either need to burn our fields periodically, or mow them down. Since I am not comfortable burning fields (bad childhood memories of field burns getting out of control), and I don’t think my neighbors woudl appreciate it, I think we will stick with mowing. Most blueberry farms recommend mowing every other year, basically you harvest in the first year, mow it down in the second, and then pick it again the year after that.

That sounds easy, except for the part where the guy we hired to mow threw blades all over the place trying to mow the field.

Hmmm… not sure how to solve that problem…. (Flail Mower? Ohhh… I want a flail mower…)

Weeds

Dogbane

We do have a problem with Spreading Dog-Bane. This weed is notorious for co-existing with blueberries. It follows the same reproductive pattern, but grows signficantly taller than the berry bushes, choking them for sunlight.

Searches of the internet have turned up nothing for dealing with dogbane. THere are no chemicals that will take it out, leaving mechanical control means: hand pulling, and mowing. Hand pulling is labour intensive, and back breaking. I have tried it in several spots only to find that after 8 hours of pulling I have barely made a dent in the field, and I hurt everywhere. Mowing sounds good, except for the part where I have a bunch of blueberries underneath that I don’t want to mow.

I am wondering if a sickle mower may do the trick. Since the dogbane grows taller than the blueberries, a sickle mower could just cut the tops off all of the dogbane, leaving the blueberries behind. As a test, I have cut a path through the field with a weed whacker (definitely not the right tool for the job), and have found this moderately successful. Perhaps an investiment in a sickle mower is something to look into.

The sickle mower test would have to wait until the roses have been dealt with…

Roses

We have a lot of roses on the property. Fields of the thorny devil weed grow everywhere. The under brush of the forests is choked with them. I hate their grabby little thorns, and their sturdy stalks.

Harvesting

I have yet to come up with a good way to harvest blueberries.

There are berry picking rakes, and I would like to give them a try, but I have read that they leave a lot of leafs in the picking, and are indiscriminant about berries that are ripe and berries that are still coming along. Most commericial growers simply leave the ripe berries on the vine until they are all ready, then pick them all. Unfortunately, we have discovered that our berries are available earlier in the year than other people’s. This gives us a competitive advantage if we harvest early, but that means we have to leave the unripe berries behind to ripen while we pick the early ones. Rakes are likely out.

This means that the berries have to be picked by hand. So far the best technique is a simple one: find a bunch of berries; hold your bowl under the bunch with your left hand; with your right, grab the branch and push the berries off with your thumb. This causes a half-dozen to fall off in a second and allows you to move on to another bunch.

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