April 20, 2020
It’s short-but-sweet blueberry season in Florida.
“It’s a gamble every year” says Stephen Gran, Hillsborough County Extension Director, as farmers bet on a good growing season plus a profitable market.
If you want to try growing blueberries in Florida, Alicia Whidden, a commercial agriculture agent specializing in small fruits and vegetables, says they need an acidic environment, and she recommends mulching with pine bark. Blueberries also like moist but not wet conditions, so good drainage is crucial. She said the easiest way to keep blueberry plants happy is by planting them in large pots, so you can regulate their moisture and acidity.
Florida blueberry plants are a variety called southern highbush, as opposed to northern highbush grown north of the state. They’re characterized by a sweet, large berry with a silvery blush, and require fewer hours of chilling, so they’re able to tolerate Florida’s heat and mild winters. Whidden says there are many varieties of the fruit growing in Florida, including one with a crunchy, tangy bite that tastes like an apple.
Florida growers have the advantage of a very sweet berry that doesn’t have to be shipped far, so it comes to market quickly. But it’s always risky, says Gran. Florida’s blueberries have a small window between the time the South American blueberries finish, and the more northern markets start.
“It’s all about crop efficiency and the cost of production locally, versus the same thing in other regions,” Gran explains. “Once our cost of production is more than the cost of the berries coming out of other growing areas, that’s when our market dries up.”