- Associated Press - Friday, July 10, 2015

OWENSBURG, Ind. (AP) - It was 40 years ago that Purdue University experts advised Jim and Anne Bray to forget about planting blueberries on their Greene County farm, saying they would never thrive. Southern Indiana clay soil, they said, lacked the necessary acid and sulfur.

“We didn’t take their advice,” Anne Bray said Wednesday afternoon, wading through standing water flooding her 12 acres of 5- and 6-foot tall shrubs - nearly 3,000 of them - heavily laden with nine varieties of blueberries. “We went ahead and planted them anyway.”

And in more than four decades, she has never seen the bounty that this year’s heavy spring and summer rains have produced. The berries are big, plump and juicy - full of flavor. “I’ve got to get the word out,” she told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1HQ73nv ). “We need to get these berries picked.”

Some years, drought-like conditions limit Bray’s crop, which comes on around the end of June and lasts several weeks. But when there is enough rain, blueberries thrive. And when it is really wet like the past few weeks, the excess moisture feeding the plants - which are growing in mounded soil - plumps the berries.

“We had two and a half inches of rain all at one time early yesterday evening. You should have seen it out here,” she said.

A few years back - in drier times - she installed irrigation hoses throughout the rows of bushes, but they didn’t get much use. Bray said the rural water company that serves the area shut her off. “We were draining the water tank,” she said.

She points out varieties of berries - the late blues up on the hill, the sweet and swollen Berkeleys, the smaller Bluerays that are good for muffins. She notices that the soil needs some amending. “We’ve got to get some sawdust in here.”

With more blueberries than ever, Bray is worried that rainy days are keeping pickers away. But there are benefits to rainy-day picking - insects are nowhere to be seen, and without the sun bearing down, no sunburn.

Wear rubber boots, a hat with a brim, maybe a raincoat. Douse yourself with bug spray, just in case. Take a bucket, and a few quart-sized containers for direct picking. The cost is $2.50 per pound; $7 a quart already picked. “Some people come and pick a bucket full, while some might get a hundred dollars’ worth,” she said.

The bushes stretch out in long rows. Berries grow in clusters on twig branches, five to 15 per bunch. Ripe deep purple ones, dusted with a buff grayish coating, ensconce smaller pink and then green berries maturing inside the cluster that will be ready to pick in a week or so.

In order to harvest blueberries without crushing them and also retaining the not-yet-ripe ones, hold a cluster gently in the palm of your hand and move your fingers to pull the ripe berries off. With the bounty on the bushes now, 10 berries can end up in your hand in just a few seconds.

It helps to hold a bowl beneath the cluster so none of the sweet fruit falls away to the muddy ground. And where there is standing water, expect to see some frogs hopping about.

Southern Indiana’s premier blueberry patch will be producing for three or so more weeks, Bray predicted. It is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., “no matter what the weather,” she said.

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com


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