Local blueberries ripe for the pickin'

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 25, 2008

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
The hot and humid weather of summer could not dampen the group of blueberry pickers at Bryce Kepley’s blueberry farm.
There was nothing but smiles from both young and old as they reached for the bountiful fruit on bushes loaded with ripened berries. The attitude of the group was more of a party than that of labor.
A different scenario from last season, this season’s blueberry crop has survived late frosts with a bountiful crop.
Blueberries are now available at both Pinetop Farms in Salisbury and Randy Eliums’ blueberry farm in east Rowan. Ample rains earlier this summer, with cooler than normal nighttime temperatures have also provided perfect growing conditions for this seasons’ crop.
Blueberries began ripening in early July and are now at their peak, with about two or more weeks of harvest potential.
Blueberries have become very popular in this area, not only for their delicious fruit but because research has proven that the berry also produces antioxidants beneficial in reducing many types of cancers.
There are many types of cultivated blueberries capable of growing in our area, however, rabbiteye is the most popular plant grown in the Piedmont. Tifblue, Powderblue, Woodard and Climax are a few named varieties that adapt to our growing conditions.
An acid-loving plant, blueberries need growing conditions similar to azaleas, camellias and rhododendron. Well drained, low pH organic soils are preferred for maximum growth and development. These plants also need full sun, with an ample supply of water during droughts.
Because blueberries are relatively insect- and disease-free, little or no pesticides are needed for the crop. Kepley’s blueberry operation uses no pesticides and will be a certified organic operation in a couple of years.The only real competitor for the berries is the birds, which enjoy them as soon as they begin to ripen.
Kepley’s Pinetop Farms, located at 845 Majolica Road in Salisbury, offers pick-your-own or already picked berries. The operation is open on Saturdays only to allow berries a chance to fully ripen.
Contact Kepley at 704-637-7208 on Fridays for an update on the status of the berries. Randy Elium’s berries are pre-picked. Contact Elium at 704-636-2459 to place your order.
Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Call 704-216-8970 or fax 704-216-8995.
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