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blueberries

Colorful, sweet and juicy blueberries are a summertime treat. While blueberries are available year round at the local supermarket, they can be picked fresh from Illinois gardens during the summer months. Blueberries generally begin to ripen mid- June to early July. Depending on the weather, the season generally lasts a couple of weeks.  

If you don’t have your own blueberry plants, consider supporting local growers by picking your own berries (u-pick) at a local blueberry farm or purchase fresh blueberries at a farmers market. 

If you choose to visit a u-pick farm, there are a few simple rules to follow. Plan ahead, 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 for picking status. Only pick ripe berries.

The best blueberries are ones you pick yourself. Here are a few tips for picking blueberries. 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, blue to blue-black and have a powdery, silver-white bloom on the skins. They should easily remove from the stem.  Berries turn blue 3 to 4 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.

Avoid placing freshly picked blueberries in the sun. For optimal storage, keep berries in moisture proof container in the refrigerator. Blueberries will maintain their quality for 10 days after picking. Just before use wash fruit in cold water. 

Blueberries are delicious raw or they can be included in pies, pancakes, muffins, syrup, coffee cakes or on top of ice cream. One cup of fresh Blueberries provide 3 grams of dietary fiber and 15 percent of daily vitamin C, are low in fat, sodium and cholesterol free, and have about 80 calories.  For more information on blueberries recipes, history, nutrition and facts visit the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council website at https://ushbc.org/.

Considering growing your own blueberry bushes? 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. Locate plants in a full sun location with 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 than desired can be adjusted by incorporating granular sulfur into the soil before planting. These shallow rooted plants require at least 1 inch of water per week and will benefit from organic mulch to a depth of 4 inches.