For new blueberry growers
If you are interested in growing blueberries, the first question to ask is not only how to grow a better blueberry plant, but how to market your berries. Growing a productive plant isn’t often difficult, but to get a good return on your fruits will need some advanced planning and thinking. I hope this quick resource guide will provide you necessary resources to be successful.
Finding the right blueberry markets
There are a few ways to market your berries. Pick your own or U-pick is for small acreage growers who want to operate a family farm without worrying about picking cost. Successful U-pick operations are typically located close to population centers and places where can be easily accessed by the public. Farmers market is another way for small acreage growers to market their berries. However, availability of labor for picking the fruits and transportation logistics need to be first considered. You need also to know which farmers market to get into and the regulations for that particular farmers market. If you are thinking about growing commercially, you will need to find a packer to accept your berries. You need to decide if you want to concentrate on the fresh market or the processed market. It will be helpful to talk with packers and visit a few commercial fields before you get started because the availability of labor or machine to pick your berries may very well limit your operation.
Finding out the cost of operation
Once you have decided on the blueberry market to sale your berries, you want to find out the cost of establishing a new planting. A good starting point will be to get the enterprised budget from the Blueberry economics publication and calculate your initial investment. Please note the berry price used in the economics publication was not a reflection of current market conditions. You can obtain the previous years’ blueberry production and pricing information from the Oregon Agricultural Statistics Service. Remember, the cost of plants will be your biggest intial investment.
Selecting cultivars and order your plants early
Knowing your operational cost, you now ready to choose the right blueberry cultivars for your operation. For small acreage growers, cultivars with good fresh market qualities such as size and sweetness should be considered. You will also need a few cultivars which span the whole summer. Examples for early season cultivars are Duke, Patriot, and Spartan. Cultivars such as Bluecrop, Toro, and Bluegold can be your mid-season varieties, while Brigitta and Darrow can be your late season ones. If you decided to grow commercially, cultivars such as Duke, Liberty, Draper, Aurora, and Legacy are all good fresh market berries and can also be machine picked for the processed market. Cultivars such as Reka and Rubel can be excellent processed berries to be picked by machine. Some rabbiteye cultivars can also be grown in Oregon to capture the very late fresh market. For a detailed description of these and other blueberry cultivars, you can visit the link at Blueberry cultivars for Oregon. Also, you will need to order your plants early to allow sufficient time for delivery due to a tight supply for some cultivars.
Getting started with a soil test
After you have ordered plants, it will be time to have the field ready for planting. A soil test is a must to obtain information about soil pH and organic matter. You can visit the following link for how to take a soil sample for testing at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/html/ec/ec628/. The ideal soil for blueberries should have a pH between 4.5-5.5 and soil organic matter more than 3%. To lower the soil pH to the desirable range, elemental sulfur is usually used. For a detailed explanation on how to lower soil pH, you can visit Growing blueberries in your home garden. If your soil is heavy and has low organic matter content, fir sawdust will be needed as a soil amendment during planting. A fir sawdust mulch is often used on top of the planting beds to conserve water and control weeds. So sawdust will need to be purchased prior to planting. Additional nitrogen will be needed if you amend soil with sawdust during planting, a rule of thumb is to mix 7 lbs of nitrogen per unit of sawdust when the beds are prepared. It is also very important to work the soil well and remove any perennial weeds.
Planting date and new planting management
Most growers prefer to plant in the fall before the raining season starts because the raining spring weather often makes planting related maneuvers difficult. Grass middle can be established using a mix of fescue and rye grass right after fall planting. A typical planting spacing is 10 feet between the rows and 3 feet within the rows. About 1452 plants will be needed at this planting density. Irrigation is a must for blueberries because blueberry plant roots lack root hairs and are sensitive to drought stress. Drip irrigation tends to work better with a fertilizer injection unit in a raised bed production system. Overhead sprinkler system is also widely used by many growers. The use of overhead sprinkler irrigation with fabric weed mat on raised bed is not recommended due to problems in fertilizer application. A detailed blueberry fertilizer guide for young and mature fields can be found here. Other things to be considered are spray licenses and pesticide reporting requirements which can be found here.
Finally, the resources listed below will also help you succeed.
OSU Extension Service (your growing question answered)
Dr. Bernadine Strik, extension berry specialist 541-737-5434
Dr. Wei Yang, blueberry extension agent 503-678-1264 x 126
Oregon Blueberry Commission: 503-364-2944
Oregon Blueberry Growers’ Association: 503-663-6451
General growing guide
Blueberry pest management
Oregon farmers market resources
USDA farmers market resource guide
This fact sheet was authored by Dr. Wei Yang of Oregon State University.