Blueberry Establishment Research and Education

May 30, 2014 in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Impact Stories

blueberry-research-emmaleaFor Current and Aspiring Blueberry Growers in Delaware

Issue:

Blueberries are a potentially profitable crop for Delaware growers, especially smaller growers. People interested in planting blueberries or having existing plantings have consulted Extension personnel for advice on establishment and management practices, as well as variety recommendations. While there are sizable blueberry plantings in neighboring states, there are only a few commercial plantings in Delaware and there is limited research and information available to guide growers in establishment, management and variety selection for blueberries in Delaware’s soils and climate. In order to thrive, blueberry plants require a unique set of soil conditions that are seldom found naturally in the state, and are different from almost all other crops grown here. Also Delaware’s hot and dry summer conditions are stressful to blueberry plants, but this may be mitigated if effective irrigation strategies and heat stress tolerant varieties are identified.

Response:

The University of Delaware Extension Vegetable and Fruit Research Program worked with a farmer planning to add an eight-acre blueberry planting to an established peach orchard enterprise to obtain support for applied research projects to address questions related to blueberry establishment and management through the Delaware Specialty Crop Block Grant program. Field research experiments were conducted at the grower collaborator’s farm in Frankford, Delaware and at the University of Delaware’s research farm in Georgetown, Delaware.

  • The field experiments addressed the following questions:
  • What readily and inexpensively available materials can be used as mulch for blueberry plantings?
  • How much peat moss should be added to the planting hole to maximize growth in the establishment years?
  • Are there lower cost alternatives to peat moss as a planting hole amendment?
  • Are two lines of drip irrigation per row better than one at promoting growth in the establishment years?
  • Do pine bark fines as a pre-plant soil amendment promote growth in the establishment years?
  • What varieties of blueberries grow well during the establishment years?

The results from this research and the personal experiences of the grower as he worked to establish the planting were presented to current and aspiring blueberry growers at the Fruit Session of the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware Annual Meeting in January 2013, at field days held at the UD research farm in May 2012 and at the grower-collaborator’s farm in June 2013. Recommendations for blueberry establishment in Delaware, which were based in part on results from the experiments we conducted were summarized in an article for the Weekly Crop Update: http://extension.udel.edu/weeklycropupdate/?p=5414.

Impact:

Participants in the field day held at the grower cooperator’s farm in June 2013 were surveyed regarding the usefulness of the tour and the information presented. All of the survey respondents indicated that the field day was “very helpful” in “educating [them] on the opportunities and challenges in growing blueberries”. Additionally, 75% of the respondents who were not currently growing blueberries commercially said that they were “more likely” to decide to grow blueberries commercially after the field day. The majority of survey respondents indicated that the field day increased their knowledge of a variety of practices important for the successful establishment of blueberries including: use of soil amendments, mulching options, soil pH management, irrigation and planting methods. This increase in knowledge around practices important for successful blueberry establishment will help aspiring growers to get their plantings off to a good start, which is important for a crop with unique soil requirements, high upfront investment costs and a decades long life.

 

The UD Extension Vegetable Program and the grower-collaborator were awarded a second Delaware Specialty Crop Block Grant for work that began in 2013 to collect yield data from some of the experiments that were already established. The results from these ongoing experiments will continue to inform recommendations, provide a venue for field days and help growers to be successful with blueberries.