It is the start of blueberry season with fresh, tasty berries starting to be available in Eastern North Carolina. For more than 70 years, North Carolina blueberries have been a favorite in the American diet. Blueberries were first planted for commercial production in North Carolina in 1936. They were brought to North Carolina by an entrepreneur from New Jersey looking to stretch his production season with blueberries that matured earlier in the year. Blueberries can be grown throughout North Carolina, however the major commercial production area is in the southeastern part of North Carolina with Bladen County being the largest producer.
In North Carolina, blueberries are ranked the 16th agriculture commodity in the state. When compared with other states, North Carolina is the 6th largest producer of blueberries in the nation (2015 USDA) with 7,200 acres harvested in 2016 (2016 USDA).
Harvest of blueberries generally starts in May and depending on weather, continues through July. Approximately 58% of the total blueberry crop in North America is frozen, 24% is sold fresh and 18% is canned. In North Carolina, approximately 75% is sold fresh and 25% is sold frozen.
Local blueberries can be found in many areas, including farmers markets, roadside stands, and in grocery stores. When selecting a container of blueberries, ripe berries will be plump and deep blue with a dusting of gray on the surface. Blueberries that are firm or show any hints of red are not fully ripe and will likely be tart. White and green blueberries are not ripe and will not ripen after being picked. When inspecting packed blueberries, look for smooth, blue skin. If you see wrinkled blueberries, fuzzy white mold or leakage, the blueberries are in the process of spoiling.
Blueberries will have the best taste and texture when eaten or used within a week. Refrigerate your blueberries as soon as possible to keep them up to two weeks. Blueberries are a fragile fruit so be sure to not expose them to sun and heat or in a closed bag or closed container. Sort through your blueberries, removing any with mold will help keep the others in the container from spoiling.
Celebrate the blueberry season by purchasing them at the Farm Credit Farmers Market. Fresh, local blueberries are now available at the market. The market is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10am to 5:30pm and Saturdays from 9am to 2pm. The market is located behind The Maxwell Center at 3114 Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro.
Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.