by Marilyn Odneal, Horticulture Adviser
(Mountain Grove) – June is the month for blueberries in Missouri. The nutritious and delicious blue fruit usually starts to ripen in early June (we are a tad late this year). Missouri blueberry cultivars ripen over a four to five week stretch – not all the blueberries are ripe at the same time on the same bush. It takes several pickings before all of the blueberries are harvested from any given variety. The largest berries and yields are realized during the first three weeks of harvest.
Blueberries can stay ripe on the bush for up to 10 days, but if you wait too long, the birds will get them! Blueberries, once picked, will not continue to ripen like some other fruit so it is important to pick perfectly ripe berries. Ripe berries have a uniform blue color down to the base where the blueberry stem attaches to the bush. If this or any other area is reddish, the berry is not ripe. (OK – there has been a “pink” blueberry cultivar – Pink Lemonade – available this year, but that is the exception).
Pick blueberries when they are dry, since wet berries will invite diseases. It is easiest to pick blueberries with both hands and put them into a bucket tied at the waist. Hold your hands under the fruit and roll the berries into the hollow of the hand by a quick motion of your thumb. Work with both hands close together and in front of you. Once your hands are full, put the berries in the bucket.
Make sure you do not set the dark fruit out in the sun. Keep them in the shade or put them into a cooler as soon as possible after harvest. Don’t wash the berries until you are ready to use them so as not to promote disease. Berries will last for at least a week in the fridge.
Now, how do you find Missouri blueberries to pick or purchase? You can find information on sources of berries near you from the AgriMissouri website at http://agrimissouri.com/ The Blueberry Council of Missouri also has listings of its member farms at http://agebb.missouri.edu/hort/blueberry/view.asp.
Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at MarilynOdneal@missouristate.edu; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our Web site at http://mtngrv.missouristate.edu.