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July 12. 2014 7:33PM

Despite late start in growing season, North Country's blueberry picking season soon to be here


In anticipation of the July 14 start of the 2014 season, Sheila Fabrizio on Wednesday inspects the incoming blueberry crop at Windy Ridge Orchard and Christmas Tree Farm in North Haverhill. There are 1,000 pick-your-own, high-bush blueberry plants, divided among five varieties, on a two-acre parcel at the orchard which is also well known this time of year for its blueberry pancakes and blueberry wine. (John Koziol/Sunday News Correspondent)

NORTH HAVERHILL - Despite a slight delay due to a colder-than-normal spring, the 2014 blueberry season will soon be here and it should be delicious, say North Country growers and agriculture officials.

A sure sign of summer, blueberries usually arrive in the area around the first week of July, said Heather Bryant, Grafton County Field Specialist, Food & Agriculture, for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, last Wednesday.

But this year, she said, "our growing season got off to a late start. It was very cold and the soil didn't warm up as it usually does, but things are starting to catch up. We've had a few good weeks of sun."

In speaking to blueberry growers around the county, among them Sheila Fabrizio of Windy Ridge Orchard and Christmas Tree Farm in North Haverhill, Bryant said she expected the crop to be about a week behind schedule, adding, however, that "a week is not bad."

"The conditions are actually pretty favorable" for growing blueberries in Grafton County, said Bryant, where hearty varieties can succeed.

At Windy Ridge Orchard, blueberries - which are pick-your-own - extend the earning season by a month and a half, said Fabrizio, this allows the family-owned business to also sustain its efforts in the Cider House Café and The Vineyard and Winery at Seven Birches, the signature wine of which is blueberry flavored.

Before 2004 - when Fabrizio planted 1,000 high-bush blueberry plants on a two-acre parcel at Windy Ridge Orchard - the orchard's season typically began in mid-August when Paula Reds - the first of the 18 varieties of apples grown there - are ready for picking. Apples, cider, PYO pumpkins and foliage keep people coming back through October, while in November and December, the orchard is the place for cut-your-own Christmas trees and handmade wreaths and decorations.

Despite being a "small grower," Fabrizio said Windy Ridge Orchard can see up to a hundred customers a day, a far cry from the 1,000 who show up on some fall days, but still very appreciated.

The vertical, high-bush plants make it easy for just about anyone to pick blueberries, said Fabrizio, which at Windy Ridge Orchard include the Blueray, Patriot, Northland, Jersey and Bluecrop varieties.

A graduate of Woodsville Regional High School and the University of New Hampshire, Fabrizio joined the Peace Corps and served in Senegal before returning to the Granite State where she would run UNH's 4-H camps in the summers and then return to Windy Ridge Orchard to make cider donuts.

During one of those seasonal migrations, Fabrizio realized that blueberries could be the key to the orchard's success and ten years ago, she did something about it.

On Wednesday, as she got ready for the July 14 start of the blueberry season, Fabrizio said all indicators were positive.

"The size is there," she said of the berries. Many were still green, but Fabrizio said they could become blue in just a day or two. "I'm hoping that the sweetness is there and it should be with the hot, humid weather we've had lately. That encourages them to ripen and it sweetens them, too."

jkoziol@newstote.com


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