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pick your own Blueberries - Blueberry Bliss

Don and Wendy Babe bought their little slice of paradise in the early 1990’s. The orchard had been planted in blueberries 5 years earlier as part of a larger sheep farm and subsequently subdivided into the 1.6 ha lot that is now Blueberry Bliss. During this year long subdivision process the bird netting and plants were damaged in the big snow of 1992, so the initial yield from the orchard was very little. However over the years much work has taken place..... first the family needed to build a home on the property, there has been new overhead irrigation installed that has subsequently been automated, new bird netting has replaced the original snow damaged netting, a macrocarpa hedge at the back of the property has been removed and the orchard extended into that space and old plants have been replaced as needed. The result is what you see today.... a lush productive blueberry orchard.

In addition the Babes needed to learn all about blueberries..... how they grow and what they need and so on. They have been able to do this with the support of other blueberry growers locally and nationally through the national grower group, Blueberries NZ Inc.

It was one such supportive local grower who suggested the pick your own model to the Babes and in their second year of operation the Babes adopted this approach, opening their orchard up to the public. In the early years the Babes also employed pickers and packed fruit to supply to local markets, cafes and restuarants and even exported at one time. As the pick your own became more and more popular the decision was made to focus solely on pick your own. The Babes have thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of their business, welcoming families back year after year for what has become a yearly tradition for many families..... some since the very begining without missing a year!!

About Our Plants

The first plants established in the orchard, around 2000 of them, were five American High-bush varities…. namely Stanley, Jersey, Atlanta, Burlington and Dixi. As these original plants near the end of their lifespan they are replaced and new high-bush varities have been added to the mix… namely Reka, Duke, Sunset Blue, Brigitta, Bluecrop. The high-bush blueberry plants are all deciduous making the orchard a riot of colour in the autumn. As their name suggests these varities grow tall and need pruning twice a year to keep them in shape and productive. Recently a rabbit-eye variety, Sky Blue, has been planted. This type of blueberry is not deciduous. All these different varieties fruit at slightly different, but overlapping times of the season resulting in a fruiting season that lasts from mid December thru to early March.

Orchard Tasks

Weed control – blueberries produce best if they are not competing with weeds. Weeds are kept under control by weed eating, hand weeding, the occasional use of non residual herbisides (but not during the picking season) and the application of chip and untreated sawdust mulch under the plants. This mulch also helps retain moisture.

Pruning – our blueberries recieve a summer prune during the fruiting season to take off the new upper growth, letting light in to ripen the lower berries. Once the leaves have fallen the winter pruning begins to shape the bushes and promote new growth.

Irrigation – this is done by an automated overhead watering system which is also used to fight any latefrosts we might have. Blueberries like winter chilling but once the flowers arrive frosts are not so good!

Feeding our plants – soils samples are taken twice a year, before and after fruiting to determine what nutrients are missing from the soil. Based on the results of these soil tests a special fertiliser mix is produced that will supply only what minerals are needed in the appropriate quantities and this is applied by hand pre and post fruiting season. Effective Micro Organisms are also applied to the soil to improve the biology of the soil, which ensures good root health and assists in the uptake of nutrients from the soil. In times of stress organic plant based foliar fertilisers are applied to boost the immunity of the plants.

Bird Control – the orchard is covered with a netting that prevents most birds from getting to our delicious blueberries. Because this netting could be damaged in the event of a decent snow fall and because the birds are useful during the off season clearing our insect pests….the netting is rolled off to one side during the off season and rolled back on once the blueberries start to ripen. It’s all family and friends on deck for that task! Mending holes that appear in the netting is another orchard job.

Pollination – we subcontract this task out to thousands of bees that are brought into the orchard in 8 hives when the flowers begin to open. Once their job is done they are taken away so there are few bees present during picking season. We also get helped out by numerous bumble bees that find their way to us during the flowering.