By Master Gardener Marianne McNiel
As I sit here eating some delicious blueberries on my high-fiber, whole-wheat cereal, I can say that there is nothing better than fresh blueberries and raspberries from one of our local farms. Now is the time to look for these beauties at farm stands and farmers’ markets throughout the Lehigh Valley.
The blueberry plants grown on most of our local farms in the Lehigh Valley are known as northern highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum). These blueberries are grown commercially in much of the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. There are several varieties of highbush blueberries grown here in Pennsylvania. Some varieties will produce fruit well into September. In New England, a low-growing or lowbush blueberry is grown wild and commercially. If you have ever spent time in Maine during the summer months then you have probably sampled this smaller, sweet blueberry.
Raspberries are part of the Rubus genus, commonly known as brambles. Blackberries are also part of this genus, but the thornless variety of blackberry that is usually grown commercially cannot withstand our cold winters. Some local gardeners have had success with thorny or trailing blackberries but you might not see many of these growing at our local farms. On the other hand, raspberry production is common on many local farms and you will find them at your local farm stand or market. There are two types of raspberries: red and black. Yellow raspberries are a mutation of red and black while purple raspberries are a cross between red and black. However, 75% of raspberries grown in the US are red.
For the local farmer, blueberry and raspberry production are specialized skills with high stakes. The initial investment in a planting is relatively high. Good management skills are needed to produce quality fruit, and substantial labor is required. Both plants require acidic, well-drained soils with regular applications of organic matter. Frequent mulching of plants is also recommended. Raspberry plants require trellising. Both raspberry and blueberry plants require pruning every year to increase the quality of the fruit. Raspberry plants require the most pruning since their canes (the part of the plants that produces the fruit) will die after each year’s production. When properly cared for, the plants will produce fruit for many years.
If you are searching for some local berries then you may choose to find a farm where you can pick them yourself. This is a wonderful summer activity that I have enjoyed many times with my children. I have included a link to a great website for locating local farms where you can pick berries. The site is frequently updated but you may want to call first before venturing out to the farm to ensure the crop is available. We have had a cool spring so berry-picking dates may be a little later than normal. Blueberries are usually available from late June until August. Raspberries are usually available from July until October. After picking (or purchasing), raspberries should be eaten within a few days. Blueberries can last up to 14 days in your refrigerator, but they taste better when used within a few days.
If you want to sample blueberries in a festive atmosphere, the city of Bethlehem is host to a wonderful Blueberry Festival at Burnside Plantation. This year, it runs from July 18th to 20th. Here you can sample homemade blueberry pies, strudel and blueberry swirl ice cream!
Blueberries and raspberries are delicious and in season locally. You can buy them at farm stands or markets, pick them or celebrate them at a fun festival! One additional benefit of eating blueberries and raspberries is that they are both high in nutrients and antioxidants. So your doctor may miss seeing you and your family if you eat more of these wonderful local berries. Go berries!
Pick-your-own farms in Eastern PA:
Bethlehem Blueberry Festival:
Highbush Blueberry Production