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Peak Pick: Winter Berries

Enjoy a bit of summertime courtesy of Florida, Southern California, Central and South America. 1_0.jpg

Enjoy a bit of summertime courtesy of Florida, Southern California, Central and South America.

Late season domestic raspberry- Oxnard, CaliforniaIt wasn’t too long ago when winter meant you had to say goodbye to berries – or, if you were forward thinking enough you could tap into your stash of frozen fruit you put away during the summer. Or if you were a fresh berry snob (like me) or could never quite manage to not eat all of the berries you bought in season (like me again), you would be resigned to suffer through the winter berry famine. These days variety, technology, and effective global transportation have transformed commercial berry production – all of a sudden we have winter berries.

Strawberries under hoop plastic- Oxnard, CaliforniaWhile almost all of our berries come from Central and South America in the winter months, the U.S. does manage some strawberry production, mainly out of Florida and Southern California. It’s a dangerous and risky business, though, as berry plants have little tolerance to cold weather and many a season has been lost to a errant Nor’westerner. The risk is worthwhile if growers can bring a crop to market; berries in the summer months are one of the most profitable crops in terms of production per acre. In the winter months the yield is lower but the price for strawberries and raspberries is much higher.

Frozen berries in the field- 2007In the past few years strawberry growers have seen some success from hoop houses — a method of plant protection common in raspberry production. The plastic stretched over aluminum hoops protects the plants from rain and frost and helps maintain a higher overall temperature to bring fruit to maturity.

Strawberries right before harvest- Oxnard, CaliforniaBlackberries- The “Tupy” takes the prizeAcross the border into Mexico a variety revolution is taking place. Gone are the inconsistent, sometimes-tart-sometimes-sweet blackberry varieties of the past. Replacing them is the blackberry variety of the future, the Tupy.

First developed in Brazil at the Embrapa Pelotas research center, the Tupy was introduced into Mexico with plantings in the valley surrounding the city of Los Reyes in the state of Michoacán. It has a lower overall yield per acre but the fruit the that comes out is firmer, darker, and much sweeter than the varieties produced in the past.

The Tupy blackberry plant adapted well to Los Reyes because it needs “chill hours” to prosper (approximately 100 hours at or below freezing per season). Los Reyes and the surrounding area meet this requirement in addition to having the sandy soil and otherwise temperate climate required by the variety. Consumer acceptance of Tupy blackberries has been overwhelming. Tupy’s make up the majority of the blackberries shipped out of Los Reyes, which truly has become the blackberry capital of the world with daily shipments going to customers throughout North America, Japan and Europe (including Russia). For U.S. consumers, efficient truck transportation means Tupy blackberries can go from field to spoon within 3 to 4 days, ensuring fresh and tasty fruit. Blueberries- the winter champion for flavor

O’Neal Variety – North Carolina The prized berry of the winter months is the blueberry. A U.S. native, the blueberry has adapted well to South America and the countries of Argentina and Chile have both become major producers. And unlike the delicate strawberry and raspberries, the blueberry has also adapted well to long boat transportation.

Organic Blueberry packing line – Chillan, ChileThe fall through spring supply of fresh blueberries principally comes from Chile, and more recently Argentina, two southern hemisphere countries where Christmas is a summer holiday! The primary growing regions in Argentina are Tucuman , Concordia and Buenos Aries, while the primary growing region in Chile is called Chillan (pronounced chee-anne). The huge 1,000 mile north-south range of Chile’s blueberry growing area provides fresh blueberries beginning in the fall and extending well into the spring. While some of these blueberries are shipped by air to the U.S., most blueberries from the southern Hemisphere arrive in American markets via ocean containers, a more environmentally conscious and energy efficient way of shipping fruit. Blueberries, unique among berries, have the ability of being picked ripe and put to sleep for weeks in controlled atmosphere, making them the only berries that can come into the U.S. by boat.

Strawberry blossoms- November Oxnard, CaliforniaI was something of a purist when it came to berries – it was easy for me in the summer because I can grow all four berry varieties in my back yard. That doesn’t stop me from wanting a few in the chilly winter months — particularly for my kids Aidan and Delilah (who can put away a quart of strawberries in a single sitting). This make me glad the domestic growers are gamblers and the folks south of us are good at growing. And the wintertime is no longer a time to wish I had a berry.

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