Erratic weather leads to mixed season for blueberry growers
A late freeze rolled through many parts of Virginia in mid-May, causing uncertainty among some blueberry growers, whose picking season begins in June and July.
Localities including Danville, Lynchburg, Richmond and Roanoke all saw record lows on May 10, and the mid-May freeze damaged some of the state’s blueberry bushes.
“The freeze in May caused a lot of damage to blueberries, particularly to varieties that bloom early and produce early—those got hit hard,” said Dr. Reza Rafie, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist at Virginia State University.
Rafie estimated that 10% of the blueberries grown at VSU’s Randolph Farm were damaged by the May freeze. Dwight Boston, who grows early blooming rabbiteye blueberries at Gold Hill Blueberry Farm in Orange County, said his crop was damaged extensively.
While affected areas were widespread, not all blueberry growers suffered losses. At Ratliff Tree Farm in Rockingham County, Delmer Ratliff reported his late-blooming Bonus and Nelson blueberries withstood the late freeze.
“The blueberries are looking excellent,” Ratliff said. “They might even be ahead of schedule from normal years, but we’ve got a lot of bloom and a lot of berries. We’ve also had a lot of bee activity, which is great, and everything’s looking really good for this year.”
Michael Drewry, who grows several varieties of blueberries at Drewry Farm in Sussex County, said the rush of cold weather didn’t harm his blueberries because most had already bloomed.
Barry Fitzgerald, who grows Southern highbush and Northern highbush blueberries in New Kent County, also didn’t notice a difference in his crop after temperatures dipped below freezing May 10.
And while western parts of Virginia experienced flooding rains in May, Shelly Hollins, who operates Blue Eden Farm in Hanover County, said rain came into play in central Virginia as well.
“We’ve had a lot of rain, so it’s been a struggle watching things turn blue,” said Hollins of her Northern and Southern highbush and Northern lowbush blueberries. “I think I had more that were blue at this time last year, but we’re looking good.”
The blueberry growers said pick-your-own activities would continue in some capacity as berries start to ripen in mid-June. All are committed to practicing social distancing—some of which is naturally tied into their operations.
“As far as getting out into the field, the rows are 10 feet apart, and customers will practice social distancing,” Ratliff said. “It’s all outside. It’ll be alright.”