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Enjoying Blueberries While They’re In-Season
by Jennifer Fishburn
July 4, 2010

Colorful, sweet and juicy blueberries are a summertime treat, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“Blueberries make a great quick, healthy snack,” said Jennifer Fishburn. “Just wash and eat. While blueberries are available year round at the local supermarket, they can be picked fresh from Illinois gardens during the summer months.”

The highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum, is a woody perennial plant that is native to North America. Besides having flavorful fruit, blueberries make an attractive landscape plant. This rounded bush has white flowers in the spring and bright, red, fall foliage color.

“Blueberry plants can be a challenge to grow because they have very particular growing needs,” she said. “Place then in a location with full sun and moist, well-drained, acidic soil that has high organic matter. Blueberries need to be grown in a soil with a pH range of 4.5 to 5.5. Soils with a slightly higher pH can be adjusted by incorporating granular sulfur into the soil before planting. These shallow-rooted plants require at least one inch of water per week and will benefit from four inches of organic mulch.”

Blueberries generally begin to ripen mid June to early July. Depending on the weather, the season generally lasts a couple of weeks.

“Pick berries in the morning after the dew has evaporated or later in the day when the fruit is naturally cool. Select fully ripe berries that are firm, dry, plump and have smooth skin. Berries should be deep purple or blue to blue-black and have a powdery, silver-white bloom on the skins. They should easily remove from the stem,” she said. “Berries turn blue three to four days before they attain maximum sweetness and flavor. Avoid picking green or reddish berries; they are not ripe. Size is not an indicator of maturity.”

Freshly picked blueberries should not be placed in the sun. For optimal storage, keep berries in a moisture-proof container in the refrigerator. Blueberries will maintain their quality for up to 10 days after picking. Wash blueberries in cold water prior to eating.

“If you don’t have your own blueberry plants, consider supporting local growers by picking your own berries at a local u-pick blueberry patch or purchase fresh blueberries at a roadside market,” Fishburn recommended.

“If you choose to visit a u-pick patch, there are a few simple rules to follow. Decide how many pounds you will purchase before you visit the patch; once you get to picking, it is hard to stop. Before leaving home, call the patch for picking status. Only pick ripe berries.”

Blueberries are delicious raw and can be included in pies, pancakes, muffins, syrup, coffee cakes or on top of ice cream. One cup of fresh blueberries provides three grams of dietary fiber and 15 percent of daily vitamin C, they are low in fat, sodium and cholesterol-free, and have about 80 calories.

For more information on blueberry recipes, history, nutrition and facts, visit the North American Blueberry Council Website at http://www.blueberry.org .

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