Blueberries have not been a popular fruit in Britain until relatively recently, but have been a traditional American fruit for a long time. In the last few years, their winning combination of great flavour, range of components known to promote health, and great convenience has seen them rise in popularity and they can now rival strawberries at some times of year as a best seller. They are still not as widely grown in the U.K. as other soft fruits, partly because they can take over five years to produce a reasonable crop, and so are very expensive to establish. They also require very acid soils, so some farms have to grow them in pots. However, our soils are naturally acid, and with a little help from wood chips to give a good environment for the roots, and the use of polytunnels to hasten the growth of the plants in the early years, we have grown large plantations of blueberries to supply the growing market.
Early varieties of blueberries ripen from late July in Scotland. However, we mainly grow late varieties so we can supply the market in September and October when the only other blueberries available are stored Polish and Dutch fruit that are losing their quality, or expensive early fruit from the southern hemisphere. Unlike most other soft fruit crops, blueberries only crop on older bushes, so there is not the same scope to change the season, as is possible with autumn fruiting strawberries and raspberries.
There are many more varieties of blueberry commercially grown than other fruits, because there has been less experience over time, and breeding new varieties is a long process over many years. Most can produce a good flavour if grown properly, and it is only where they are grown in too hot a climate, or in the wrong soils that poor fruit is produced. We believe that the conditions in Scotland are good for producing the very best fruit, and growing the bushes in the soil gives them the best chance to do so.
Early and mid-season varieties
- We grow some early fruit to give local customers the longest season. We grow the varieties Spartan and Chanticleer, both noted for their sweet flavour
- Darrow, Chandler, Liberty and Ozarkblue are our main late varieties. All have great flavour, especially Ozarkblue for its more scented taste. We also grow Elliot and Aurora for really late fruit, and although they are not usually thought to have great flavour, in Scotland we find that in October when they are ripe they can still do much better than either stored European fruit, or early southern hemisphere fruit.
We plant one or two year old bushes bought from a nursery in the spring. Ground preparation is important as blueberries demand an acid but well drained soil, and as they have a very shallow root system, will grow very poorly if conditions are not right. We prepare ridges in the field, mix some peat in the planting holes, then cover the soil with wood chips after planting. A tape with drippers along the rows ensures we can water and feed each plant. Polytunnels are erected over the bushes to give them the extra protection that will help them to grow faster. In the first and second year in the field, we remove the flowers in the spring so that the plant puts all its resources into developing a big root and branch system. From the third year, we erect posts and wires to support the bushes, and leave the flowers so that fruit can develop. Bumble bees are needed to pollinate the flowers and produce a good crop. In the early years, the crop is still small and it is not until year five or six that we can expect to see a big crop to start paying for all the earlier work. We cover them in early spring to protect the flowers from frosts, and keep them covered all summer to guard against damage from the wind. We use older plastic that is slightly opaque so that temperatures do not get too high and ripen the fruit before all the flavour is fully developed.