PEI

Berry good season: Blueberries bountiful on P.E.I.

A bumper crop of wild blueberries is keeping growers busy on Prince Edward Island this summer.

Extra hands needed for picking

Benny Nabuurs, head of the P.E.I. Wild Blueberry Growers Association, says P.E.I. may produce 'north of 20-million pounds' of blueberries this year. (Tony Davis/CBC)

It's a big year for blueberries on P.E.I.

Last year 19-million pounds of wild blueberries were produced on P.E.I., said Benny Nabuurs, head of the P.E.I. Wild Blueberry Growers Association.

This year might be even better.

"It would appear that we're going to come north of 20-million pounds," Nabuurs said.

There was a lack of pollinators early in the season — honey bees in particular — but to the surprise of Nabuurs, crops have rebounded. He said bumblebees picked up the slack in pollination and the weather has been co-operating too.

"Certainly the weather plays a factor. First of all, we had no frost events. Or if they were, they were very isolated this year," he said.

"The rainfall came just at the right time for us for most of the growing season. If we get enough rain and the temperatures are nice and warm, that makes for a  good growing season."

The picking for wild low-bush blueberries typically lasts five weeks in a good season and the season for high-bush blueberries can be a bit longer, Nabuurs said.

Low-bush blueberries ripen all at the same time, high-bush blueberries ripen in clusters at different intervals on the same bush.

Earl MacCormac has over 250 acres of high-bush blueberries almost ready to be picked at Lorne Valley Ranch, but with a plentiful season comes the need to hire more hands for picking, something MacCormac said he struggles with annually.

Earl MacCormac has more than 250 acres of high-bush blueberries at Lorne Valley Ranch. (Tony Davis/CBC)

"Ideally I would like to have 100 to 120. There was periods last year I had upwards of 100 people picking berries for me, which is great, but my workforce was always up or down. Ideally I would love to count on 100 people showing up every morning. I'd take anybody willing to work."

Some machine picking is done, but MacCormac prefers hand picking as much as possible.

"To ensure the picturesque quality so I can ship to North America I need the gentle touch to take them off the bush, put them in the box, and run them over the grading line. Minimal bruising on the fruit so I can get that six-seven week shelf," he said.

Demand is high for Island blueberries, Nabuurs said.

Gail Coffin at Berry Hill Farm in New Glasgow has been getting calls the past few weeks for her high-bush blueberries. The U-pick just opened to the public on Thursday.

"As soon as the strawberries are over they start looking for the blueberries," she said. "It's been busy."

Gail Coffin said last year's U-pick season lasted into October. (Tony Davis/CBC)

While demand is high, Coffin said she isn't sure this year will be on par with last year.

"This year for me it won't be as good as last year, but still good picking," she said.

Last year the season was so good people were able to pick for about two months.

"We were here till the end of September, into October till it got too cold and they wouldn't ripen anymore."

Usually you can only pick for about three weeks, Coffin said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tony Davis grew up on P.E.I. and studied journalism at Holland College. He can be contacted at anthony.davis@cbc.ca

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