Summer months are the harvest season for blueberries and blackberries, both of which have the potential to grow very well in Kentucky. Harvest time for blueberries, which are native to North America, is from early June through early August. Blackberry harvest is from mid-June to early October. These delicious fruits offer several health benefits, and they capture the essence of summer in their sweetness.
Blueberries are an excellent choice for both home and commercial growing. They are long-lived as fruit trees and have few pests or diseases. They also have a late blossom time, so frost rarely causes damage on well-chosen sites. Blackberries also have a long fruit-bearing life and will produce for a decade or longer in Kentucky.
Blueberries require an acidic soil, which means you will need to amend most Kentucky soils to properly suit their needs. They also require a high organic material content, so you should mix peat moss (do not substitute other materials) with the soil at the time of planting. You will need to irrigate during the summer because blueberries have a shallow, limited root system. Insufficient irrigation can compromise both this year’s and next year’s crop.
Gardeners need to prune, fertilize and irrigate blackberries for best results. Pruning technique varies depending on the type of bramble.
Blueberries in a cluster do not ripen at the same time, and only fully ripe berries should be picked. Fruit needs at least one to two days after turning blue to develop full flavor and can be left on the bush for up to 10 days without a loss in size. Flavor does not improve once the fruit is picked; consequently, you should leave blueberries on the bush for as long as possible to develop sweetness and flavor.
For best results at harvest, pick carefully, rolling blueberries from the cluster with the thumb into the palm of the hand. Handle as little as possible to avoid rubbing off the bloom (the light waxy finish on the skin) and reduce bruising. Harvest only when berries are dry. Refrigerate promptly to slow ripening and decay.
Blackberries for commercial sale are picked “firm ripe,” but home growers have the luxury of picking soft, fully ripe and juicy fruit. Pick fruit twice a week, and during hot rainy weeks, every other day. Harvest after the morning dew has dried. Pick carefully to avoid bruising the fruit; and, as with blueberries, refrigerate quickly to limit fruit rot. The sweetest, best tasting fruit is produced during dry sunny weather when nights are cooler.
For more information, see the University of Kentucky’s publications on growing blueberries and blackberries available online at http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/ho/ho60/HO60.PDF and http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/ho/ho15/ho15.pdf. Or, contact the Whitley County Cooperative Extension Service at 549-1430; email DL_CES_WHITLEY@EMAIL.UKY.EDU; or visit the office at its temporary location in Cumberland Regional Mall, 965 S. Highway 25W in Williamsburg.