Nothing beats a locally grown
What makes the blueberry so special?
Blueberries are one of the very best fruits for you. They’re stuffed full of fiber and antioxidants (which help reduce effects of ageing). Blueberries are also very versatile — good straight out of the box, frozen, and in jams and pies. Not to mention they’re absolutely delicious! For me, there’s nothing nicer than a blueberry pie, hot out of oven, served with some vanilla ice cream.
How did you come to start growing them?
After my wife suggested it initially, I bought some plants for my garden to try it out and learn more about the different varieties. I also planted some bushes at the County Extension Office as a demonstration. When a larger site became available, with the ideal acidic soil conditions, I decided to take the opportunity to expand.
Was it challenging to get started?
Blueberries definitely require a lot of patience; it can take 5 or 6 years for the bushes to start producing a good crop. We also hit some bad luck initially, with the berries affected by deer, locusts and drought in the first couple of years. Although it took a while for things to get going, these conditions have actually made the plants stronger so they now produce a consistent crop.
What’s your job with the University of Kentucky, and how does it relate to blueberry growing?
My job consists of communicating the knowledge generated by UK’s agricultural research to individual growers. This can help farmers find the most effective types of crops and produce higher yields. For example, I experimented with the different blueberry varieties suggested by UK, tweaking things based on the individual conditions of my site (soil, climate and so on). To learn more about this, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you always been interested in the outdoors?
Yes. As a child, I remember helping my grandfather grow vegetables for the family. I still keep a garden at my house, and grow things like corn, tomatoes and broccoli. I also love hiking, and am working to promote physical activity through the Pine Mountain Trail. Exercise is so important for physical and mental well-being, especially for kids in school. Walking is the perfect form of exercise: it’s accessible, de-stressing, and a great way to get out into the beautiful mountains.
Do you produce anything else?
Yes. We produce maple syrup at the Extension Office. Once the tree sap is extracted from the trees, it’s reduced to a syrup before being jarred. It’s a very precious product and we can only produce a small amount as the ratio of sap to syrup is 40:1! But the end result is delicious, particularly with pancakes. I also keep bees and produce honey.
How do you manage to pick so many blueberries to sell each week?
In peak season, I employ additional people to help me pick. Pickers need to make sure the berries are all blue and fully ripe for the best flavor, though you do get faster with experience.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
Mainly competition from blueberry-loving animals! The nets are essential for keeping out birds, and an electric fence for warding off bears and deer. Picking in the hot sun is another big challenge.