- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2016

MISHAWAKA, Ind. (AP) - Those who pick fruit in the Michiana region this season should be pleased with what is hanging on the vine.

Mother Nature has been kinder than she was last season to fruit growers, who also are largely pleased so far with the quality and quantity of most crops.

Plenty of sunshine in May, for example, led to excellent pollination for the blueberry crop, said John Nelson, owner of the Blueberry Ranch in Mishawaka. The 80-acre blueberry farm is expected to open next week for its six-week U-pick season, but the date hasn’t yet been set.

“Good pollination leads to good size, and the size looks really good this year. It’s also a good flavor year,” said Nelson, estimating that his crop is about 30 percent up from last season.

Last year’s “bitterly cold” winter weather hurt production of the crop, he said, which was sharply below average. But this season’s comparatively mild winter ensured the crop wasn’t injured.

Mild winter and spring weather was also a boon for other fruit crops that are widely grown in southwest Michigan, according to Bill Shane, fruit and marketing educator at Michigan State University’s Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center near Benton Harbor. Freezing spring temperatures can damage fruit buds that are blooming, but such cold weather was largely avoided this season.

“We had mild winter temperatures and a halfway decent spring bloom period with no major freezes,” said Shane on Tuesday. “Taken as a whole, the fruit crop looks better than normal here in southwest Michigan and there should be ample supplies of most varieties.”

Grapes, peaches, plums and apples, for example, are expected to be abundant this season. But tart and sweet cherry crops are lighter than last season, Shane said, because of a cool spell of spring weather during the pollination period. “The weather wasn’t warm enough in late April and early May when blooms were ready to go,” he said.

Rainfall in Berrien County has been slightly down since April compared with the same period last year, but most fruit farms have avoided drought conditions. Rainfall “has been adequate, although some places have been dry in the county,” Shane said.

Apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and grapes are expected to be in good condition this season at Pete’s U-pick in Berrien Springs. Its late owner, Kenneth “Pete” Vincent, died last year, leaving the business to be run by his widow, Marjorie, and daughter, Valerie Vincent.

Valerie said customers will be able to start picking apricots in early July. Plums, peaches and nectarines, meanwhile, will be available in late July.

Fruit crops “are about the same as last year, except for our apricots,” she said, adding that freezing temperatures in the beginning of April affected that crop. “Our first two varieties of apricots are light, but the remaining three are just as heavy as last year.”

And the fruit farm’s Marquis grapes, which should be ready for picking in early September, are looking good.

“They’re loaded and really thick,” she said.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/293hC6Y

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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