Maine Wild Blueberries were one of the first plants to grow in the rugged terrain left behind by receding glaciers and are known around the world for their wonderful flavor and health benefits. The first time these precious little berries were commercially harvested was during the Civil War, when the berries were canned and sent to Union soldiers. Since then, Maine Wild Blueberries have consistently grown in popularity.
Wild blueberries are not planted, but managed, and encouraged to grow in a healthy and supportable way. The barrens of Maine provide an ideal combination of soil and climate, which has enabled these vitamin-packed berries to flourish for thousands of years. Because of the typically rocky and uneven ground where they grow, and the inability to till and replant, it can be a great challenge and expense to manage this unique crop.
For many kids growing up in the region, raking blueberries was their first summer job. It was a great way to earn money in August to pay for school clothes. The history of blueberry production on our farm is a long one. These pictures show how the crew processed the berries in the 1940’s. The fruit was winnowed to remove leaves and stems and then sorted as they moved on a conveyor belt. Finally, they were packed in wooden quart boxes to be shipped out and sold on the fresh market. All of this work was done right in the field.
At Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery we have 15 acres of Maine Wild Blueberries that we manage for winemaking and wholesale processing.
Since taking over the farm, we started looking toward the future and have worked to use more sustainable practices associated with blueberry management. One of our biggest expenses is pruning the field, which has to be done every other year. Pruning has been historically done by burning the field, requiring large amounts of oil or straw as fuel and a heavy amount of labor. Pruning by flail mowing is much more economical and kinder to the earth, but with all the rocks in our field, it just wasn't possible. In 2013 we finally had an opportunity to have work done on our field which would allow us to take advantage of the modern techniques. After our harvest of 2013, two large excavators were used to pull rocks out of the field. With a specially made bucket at the end of their excavator, they delicately removed the rocks from under the blueberry plants and tamped down the soil around the plants, allowing the ground to settle back in place, almost as though it hadn’t been disturbed. After a few years of recovery time, the crop cycle should continue as before, but hopefully most of the field can be mowed instead of burned to accomplish pruning. Also, we are hopeful that a small mechanical harvester can be used the cut back on the large expense of hand raking the crop.
These pictures show some of the rock collection before it was gathered and removed from the field.