NTFP Highlight: Blueberries!
In Minnesota, native blueberries thrive on acidic soils (pH 4.0 to 5.0) that are low in fertility. Blueberries are frequently found on burned-over areas from recent wildfires, areas that have been logged or sites with ledge rock or rock outcrops. Blueberries can also be found growing along the edge of bogs.
Wild blueberry plants are readily established from seed. As they grow, plants send out underground stems, or rhizomes, that grow on top of the ground. Roots develop along the rhizome and produce new stems/plants. By the end of the first year, buds are formed and over winter on the plant. The second year is dedicated to berry production.
Full sun is an essential requirement for berry production. Plants will tolerate some shade, but overtopping vegetation limits blossoms and fruit production.
Lessons in Integrated Management:
Wild blueberries and Woodlands
An excellent example of integrating blueberry production into woodland management comes from experienced foresters. In northern Itasca County, a stand of mature jack pine was harvested in 1978. The landing area, about 1.5 acres in size was designated as a permanent wildlife opening. A year later during a field inspection, the forester noticed blueberry plants that had naturally seeded into the site—a definite benefit to wildlife. The decision was made to manage the wildlife opening for berry production.
The site has been periodically mowed to the height of about 12 inches in 1980’s and 1995. Overtime, willow and hazel began to encroach into the site, overtopping the blueberry plants, and vegetation treatments have been timed to not interfere with harvesting. The managing forester is quick to note that this blueberry site is a gem and protected by silence by local families who return each year to harvest berries.
Lucille Lauer graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in horticulture in the 1980s. While on campus, Lucille was able to have direct conversations with hort researchers Dr. David Wildung and Dr. Jim Luby while they were developing new cultivated varieties of blueberry plants. Lucille was excited about the idea and looked for an opportunity to put her knowledge and skills into practice. After college, Lucille’s family returned to Grand Rapids living on eighty acres of land. Working with her family, Lucille developed and planted four to blueberries, and has established a thriving ‘u-pick’ business called Blueberry Meadows. The business was started on a shoestring and has provided gainful employment for extended family and neighbors. For Lucille, Blueberry Meadows is really about quality of life with no traffic or commute, healthy outdoor work and interactions with friends, family and neighbors who come and pick berries!
The most recent patch was established in 2006, planting two acres with Chippewa and North Blue varieties. The meadow was fenced to keep deer from depredating the site that was cost-shared through DNR. During the spring of 2010, Lucille obtained funding through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and installed a 30x 72 foot high tunnel was installed over a few rows of blueberry plants. The high tunnel will benefit the plants during cold, wet springtime weather AND to give her business an edge by producing berries earlier.