Growing Wild Blueberries has been our Focus
We have called the 200 acres of forest and fields on the Canadian Shield in the highlands of east-central Ontario home since 1976. Previous owners laboriously cleared some of the land, turning the rolling terrain into hay fields and pasture land. Our efforts on this farm have been focused on producing horticultural crops including blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. In 1979 we were fortunate to be part of a federal New Crop Development project. The project was designed to test the suitability of establishing wild lowbush blueberries as a cultivated crop in areas where wild blueberries were not growing. Most Canadian wild blueberry fruit production comes from managed wild stands in areas where wild plants already grow. Our farm does not have any wild blueberry stands but it does have the sandy-loam acidic soils that blueberry plants require for productive growth. The project assisted us to establish our first acre of lowbush blueberries in one of our fields.
Starting from Scratch to Create a Very Unique Asset
We learned to propagate our own wild blueberry plants from both seed and softwood cuttings. The original research planting was expanded to the four acre planting that we now have. Over time we established a plant propagation business and supplied other growers and home gardeners with lowbush blueberry plants. We developed procedures necessary to plant and grow the blueberries successfully under field conditions. Wild blueberries are our main fruit crop at this time. Challenges with mechanically harvesting the fruit from the cultivated crop prevented large scale adoption by other growers of cultivating wild blueberries. We have one of only a few cultivated plantings still in production. Our field planting provides all the fruit we need for our own use as well as blueberries for our commercial jam enterprise.
Special Wild Flavour
Our lowbush blueberries, because they originated from wild plant material, produce fruit that is very similar to the fruit harvested from non-cultivated or wild areas. Our customers have always appreciated the special wild flavour of our berries as well as the health benefits that the fruit provides. Stock plants for our blueberry propagation originated from plant material that was obtained from Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick along with some from northern Ontario. We have a number of different seedling lines and clonal varieties, each with a slightly different growth habit and fruit taste. All in all, the planting is a very unique collection of lowbush blueberry genetics. Blueberry plants are long lived perennials, and if the planting is properly maintained, will produce blueberry fruit indefinitely.
The blueberry field is now completely naturalized with a mat of roots and stems covering the entire field area. Rows are maintained by annual pathway mowing. One of our biggest challenges is to control unwanted vegetation that moves into the blueberry field from the surrounding area. We control many weeds by hand pulling, and suppress them through the application of organic mulches. There are perennial weeds that are very difficult to control by hand pulling. In the field areas where these weeds are prevalent we use herbicide in the non-fruiting years of the blueberry growth cycle. Under normal circumstances no sprays are applied to the fruit. Soil tests tell us which nutrients need to be replaced due to nutrient loss through fruit harvesting and natural soil processes. Commercial fertilizer is applied only as needed to keep the soil in the best condition for meeting the needs of the plants. We harvest berries by hand so that we can choose fruit that is at the proper stage of ripeness and that has the best taste. Irrigation is used for spring frost control on the blueberry blossoms and as needed during the summer to ensure quality fruit. Regular mow pruning helps the plants to remain productive.
Our Farm Products
We grow and manage a variety of both wild and cultivated berry plants. Only fruit that we grow and harvest on our farm is used in the production of our jams and jellies. Our farm products are sold during June and July at one of our local Farmers Markets. Our specialty, Wild Blueberry Jam, is also sold at select local stores.
Living with Nature
Many of the fruit plants on our farm, including the blueberries, require cross pollination in order to be fully fruitful. We do our best to minimize our environmental foot print and to provide good habitat for wild pollinators and beneficial insects as well as other wildlife. It is rewarding to see the abundant pollinators at work on the fruit blossoms in spring. Our farm offers a diverse range of wildlife habitat that includes forest, open grassland, wetlands and transition zones in between. The wide variety of fruit that is found on our farm also helps to attract a range of different bird species. When we were establishing new plantings of the various fruit crops fruit loss and damage by birds was a concern to us. Now that we are dealing with mature plantings bird damage is less of an issue. We do put bird control netting over a few of the fruit plants where we cannot afford to lose high valued production. Our attitude toward the flocks of birds has changed over the years. We are not on a bird flyway. Most of the birds we see are resident birds. They do consume some of our fruit but they also provide us with natural insect control. It is a joy to have birds around. They are great companions for us as we go about our field tasks. Our farm is home to a vast array of wild creatures, all part of the web of life that provides us with food, fresh clean air and water. It is a great blessing to live each day in such a beautiful place.