How To Harvest Your Blueberries Without Causing Damage
Blueberries can be an integral part of your daily diet, in everything from muffins to salads to pancakes. With that in mind, there’s nothing worse than out-of-season berries from your local grocery store. You can avoid this by growing your own blueberry bushes, but harvesting can be an inconvenient task. Learn how to harvest your blueberries without causing damage for the largest yield of beautiful berries.
Blueberry Growing Tips
The key to growing your own blueberry bushes is choosing an appropriate variety for your specific hardiness zone. Different plants and trees thrive better in their native areas, so you should double-check their preferred zones before you buy blueberry bushes.
The More the Merrier
Planting blueberry bushes is incredibly rewarding, but you should consider planting more than one variety for the best yield results. When cross-pollination is possible, your plants will naturally produce higher-quality berries.
Pro Tip: Choose varieties with overlapping bloom times to extend your overall bearing season.
Soil is another factor that influences the growth of blueberries. They prefer soil within acidic ranges, and the necessary nutrients such as iron get lost if the pH is too high. The ideal soil pH range for blueberries is 4.5 to 5.5, and you should test your soil before you plant so that you can make changes if necessary.
Ensure your plants get about one inch of water during the growing season and around five inches while the fruit is ripening. Additionally, check the soil around your bushes frequently to make sure it’s damp, and water as necessary.
Using the correct fertilizer at the right time is imperative for proper fruit-bearing, but blueberry bushes are sensitive to overfertilizing, so you should take caution. Since each fertilizer is different, be sure to follow the directions on the label and water your bushes before and after fertilizing.
Since stems are less likely to bear fruit as they age, you should remove a few of the oldest branches each year. Annual pruning keeps your blueberry bushes healthy and encourages growth for the following growing season. For the best results, prune during the late winter when the plants are dormant to avoid plant shock.
Blueberry Harvesting Tips
Growing your own blueberry bushes is no use if you don’t harvest your fruit correctly. Knowing when to pick them is the first step of the process, but harvesting blueberries is a unique process that requires a little bit of skill.
When To Harvest
Blueberries are typically ready for picking between late July and mid-August. Generally, they will be blue or purplish-blue when they’re ripe. However, consider waiting a couple of extra days to harvest even if they’re blue because bigger berries tend to have a sweeter flavor. The easier they fall off the stem, the better.
With that in mind, if you picked your berries a bit too soon, there’s still hope if they’re slightly red or purple in color. Unfortunately, you can’t ripen white or green berries once you’ve picked them.
How To Ripen
You might be able to ripen your blueberries if you picked them too soon. However, it’s not possible to ripen berries that you harvested way too soon. Keep in mind that this method only makes the berries softer and juicier; it won’t make them sweeter or give them more flavor. Do your best to let them ripen on the bush for the best and sweetest berries.
Keep the berries at room temperature, and put them in a paper bag in a cool, dark place. The paper bag works to trap the ethylene gas from the blueberries to ripen them, but it’s also breathable enough for oxygen to move in and out. If you try to use a plastic bag for this, your berries will rot from oxygen deprivation.
Many large blueberry growers are moving away from manual picking because it takes too long and requires too much staffing to be sustainable. But it’s the best option for harvesting on a smaller scale.
Even if these berries are just for your household, be sure to wash your hands before and after picking them off the bushes. Choose only ripened berries, and use your thumb and index finger to pluck them from the stems gently with your other hand directly underneath to avoid dropping them. Do your best to keep the berries out of the sun after picking them.
Handling the berries after plucking them from the bushes is just as important as making sure they’re ripe before you harvest. Because ripe blueberries are relatively soft, you should avoid overfilling your hands. Avoid squeezing them at all costs to ensure the majority stay in good shape.
Moreover, your bucket or container can also cause damage to your freshly-harvested berries. When you use a deep, large container, the weight of the berries can smash those on the bottom. Instead, opt for a shallow container with increased surface area to space the blueberries out rather than stacking them on top of each other.
Storing and Freezing Blueberries
After bringing your fresh blueberries inside, try to avoid placing them in a paper bag, sealed containers, or sunlight. These can cause them to become overripe and rot quicker; instead, put them in a shallow, open container in a shaded spot to avoid smashing them.
Keep in mind that you can keep blueberries in the refrigerator for approximately two weeks. It’s best to wash them as you need them because storing wet berries will cause them to mold quicker. If you insist on washing them beforehand, make sure they’re completely dry before putting them away in the fridge.
If you need to store your blueberries longer than two weeks, you can freeze them for up to a year. Again, it’s better to freeze unwashed berries, but make sure they’re completely dry if you wash them before you freeze them.
Spread your berries out on a cookie sheet, and place them in the freezer until they’re frozen solid. Place them in a freezer-safe container or bag until you’re ready to use them. Rinse them in cold water to dethaw them before use.
Understanding how to harvest your blueberries without causing damage is imperative for getting the full potential out of your bushes. You can yield enough blueberries to last you all year as long as you harvest, handle, and store them accordingly.