How do strawberries and blueberries grow?
You may remember going to the local berry farm as a kid and filling a few pints to take home for dessert (if you didn't eat them all in the car!). The actual process of getting blueberries and strawberries from commercial production to your local supermarket, however, is a little bit more involved.
With the summer approaching, before you grab berries for your strawberry shortcakes and blueberry pies, think about the long road these tasty treats took to get from the farm to your table.
Fast Facts About Blueberries and Strawberries
Want to learn a bit more about these berries? Here's a look at some interesting facts.
When it comes to growing blueberries, there are two main types. Highbush blueberries are the plump and juicy berries you typically see in the grocery store. These represent about half of blueberry production. Lowbush blueberries tend to be smaller and sweet, they're used in production for food items as well as in jams, concentrates and frozen mixes.
American's love strawberries. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that the average American eats just over seven pounds of strawberries each year. Over 80 percent of strawberry production is for the fresh market—your local farmer's market or grocery store. The rest goes to food item production.
Where Are Berries Grown?
The U.S. and Canada grow 95 percent of all blueberries in the world, with the U.S. producing over 240 tons of each year. While 38 states grow blueberries, the vast majority of production is limited to 10 states. Washington State, Georgia, Michigan and Oregon each grow upwards of 100 million pounds of blueberries each year.
Over one billion tons of strawberries are grown in the U.S. each year. That's one third of the total production in the world. Because of its favorable climate, California is the nation's largest grower of strawberries, producing nearly 90 percent of all the crop in the U.S. Florida is the number two strawberry-producing state, and it provides much of the winter supply.
Farm to Table
When it comes to planting berries, preparation is critical for farmers. Both blueberries and strawberries start their journeys in a nursery, growing from plant cuttings. This process helps protect the plants from insect damage and disease when in their most vulnerable state.
From there, the paths and approaches are a little bit different.
Once blueberries are ready, they are planted in long rows of raised acidic soil to thrive. What you might not know about blueberries is each plant can grow upwards of six feet tall, and, because they're a favorite snack for birds, they're usually covered with nets.
Blueberries are typically planted in either the early fall or the spring, into pre-dug holes and then covered with mulch to help preserve moisture. Fertilizer is applied about a month after planting. It takes about two months for blueberries to grow, getting harvested in late July to early-August.
Most farmers harvest blueberries by hand to remove stems and bad berries, and then trucked to a sorting facility. Once sorted, blueberries are cooled between 33 and 34 degrees, then packed and loaded on refrigerated trucks for shipping.
Soil preparation really matters for strawberries. A month before planting, farmers clear and clean the soil, and then cover each row with plastic. After about two weeks, farmers plant the berries using a machine that punches a hole in the plastic. It takes about a month for the berries to grow.
In California, planting is often staggered, starting in Southern California and then moving north as the weather gets warmer. This allows continuous production, and in some areas, such as Orange Country, crops can be picked in early summer and then again in the fall with late summer plantings.
Strawberries are picked by hand, sorted and then immediately sent to a cold storage facility. There, the berries are cooled and loaded on trucks with the temperature set at 32 degrees to head to your grocery store.
The next time you're feeling a craving for berries, think about the long journey the blueberries and strawberries in your breakfast fruit cup took to get to you.