I’ve never met a blueberry I didn’t like. Then again, I have yet to taste a rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium asheii), native to southeastern U.S. and highly acclaimed there. I also have yet to taste Cascades blueberry (V. deliciosum), native to the Pacific northwest. With “deliciosum” as its species name, how could it not taste great? And those are just two of the many species of blueberry that I’ve never tasted that are found throughout the world.
The blueberries with which I am most familiar are those that I grow, which are highbush blueberry and lowbush blueberry. I grow blueberries because they are beautiful plants, because they are relatively pest free, because they are delicious, and because they fruit reliably for me year after year.
I have to admit that highbush blueberries, at least to me, all taste pretty much the same. They have nowhere the broad flavor spectrum of apples. Tasting the same is fine with me; as I wrote, they are delicious. Depending on the variety, the berries do vary in ripening season, size, and other less obvious characteristics. One very important influence on flavor is how they are picked. Blueberries turn blue a few days before they are at their peak flavor, which is okay if you’re marketing them and just want them blue. But the best tasting tasting, dead-ripe ones are those that drop into your hand as you tickle a bunch of berries, which makes a good case for growing them near your back door.
Lowbush blueberries also taste pretty much the same from plant to plant, but their flavor is decidedly different from that of highbush blueberries, a more metallic sweetness. Few varieties of lowbush blueberry exist, so most plants are just random seedlings anyway. Not to disparage that, though; they’re also all delicious — if picked at the right moment.
A Different Blueberry
My idea that all highbush blueberries taste pretty much the same was recently challenged. New highbush varieties have been bred or selected since this native fruit went, over the past 100 years, from being harvested from mostly from the wild to being mostly cultivated. Over the years I’ve been very pleased with the nine varieties I had been growing, spreading out the harvest season from late June until early September.
Then the new variety, Nocturne, bred by Dr. Mark Ehlenfeldt of the USDA, caught my eye. Besides being billed as having unique flavor, Nocturne was also said to be notable for its jet-black fruits which, before they turn jet black, are vivid red-orange in color. What attracted me wasn’t the fruit’s unique colors, but its allegedly unique flavor atypical, so the description read, of either rabbiteye [which is in Nocturne’s lineage] or highbush.”
So I called Mark to learn more about the variety. One of the original breeding goals back 25 years ago, when Nocturne’s carefully selected parents were mated, was to get a rabbiteye variety that, blooming later than most, would be less susceptible to spring frosts. Chemically, two significant differences between rabbiteye and highbush blueberries are their organic acids. Rabbiteyes have mostly malic and succinic acids, yielding a flatter taste profile than highbush fruits, whose citric acid makes for a brighter, sharper flavor. Other species were also thrown into the mix, including Constable’s blueberry (V. constablaei), a native of higher elevations in southeastern U.S., and contributing late blooming and excellent flavor.
Long story short: Nocturne is significant for being a variety with significant rabbiteye parentage that is winter hardy to well below zero degrees Fahrenheit and late blooming. It has excellent flavor, juicy sweet, and sprightly, and quite different from my other highbush varieties. Nocturne tastes even juicier than it is. Which do I like better? Neither, I like them all. Nocturne, now in its third year here on the farmden, now has a permanent place in my Blueberry Temple.
Learn the Ins and Outs of Growing Blueberries
If you have the space, grow blueberries. To that end, I will be holding a zoom workshop/webinar on growing blueberries on August 12, 2020 from 7-8:30 pm EST. I’ll cover everything from planting right through harvest and preservation. If you’re new to growing blueberries, you’ll learn how to grow this fruit successfully. If you already grow blueberries, you’ll be able to grow them better. If you’re an expert on growing blueberries, you don’t need this workshop/webinar. Registration ($35) is a must as space is limited; registration link is
https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_NSTrunuTRkOcRfS-frQuYg. For more information, go to https://leereich.com/workshops.
On a totally different topic, I’d like to followup on my end-of-harvest-season treatment of asparagus. Weeds have always been somewhat problematic in my asparagus bed. Harvest ceases at the end of June so plants can grow freely and feed energy to the roots which will fuel the following year’s spears in spring. Weeds quickly move into this hard-to-weed area.
As I wrote on this blog a few weeks ago, this past June, at the end of asparagus harvest season, I mowed everything, weeds as well as emerging asparagus spears, to the ground with my scythe. I then blanketed the ground with a thick mulch. I first laid down an inch depth of compost, which will feed the soil as well as smother roots, and then topped that with another inch or two of wood chips.
There was the danger of smothering the emergence of new asparagus shoots, but plenty have pushed up through the mulch.
As far as weeds, there are very few. Most of them appear at the grassy edge of the bed.