You can buy fresh Australian blueberries from July to April each year, thanks to the geographic spread of our blueberry farms and the increasingly sophisticated cultivation techniques these farms use like breeding new varieties who like it hot.
Blueberry production is now centred around Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales and this is where the majority of production occurs across the summer months. Other production areas include WA, SA, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania to provide almost year-round availability of fresh Australian blueberries.
The continuing development of new varieties, suited to specific climatic zones, is enabling the industry to dramatically expand production in areas outside of northern NSW, which will lead to more fresh fruit being available outside of the traditional summer availability window. This is great news as there will be more fresh Australian blueberries available at reasonable prices nearly all year round!
Looking for a Pick Your Own farm? Check out our You Pick Guide to find a farm near you.
From field to fridge in 24 hours
Ever wondered about a blueberry’s journey to your door? How long since it was basking in glorious sunshine in an open field?
In many cases, the blueberries in your hands today may have been in that field yesterday somewhere in regional Australia. It’s an incredible journey – made even more so because blueberries must be gently hand-picked and treated with extra special care.
The Australian Blueberry Growers’ Association works hard to ensure the most plump, juicy and fresh blueberries are delivered to your local supermarket or fresh produce market each day.
Here’s how they do it
New blueberry plants are grown from small cuttings taken from established bushes. These cuttings are planted in trays, which are placed in fog houses for the first couple of months – where the plants bask in warmth and humidity, and get off to a strong start.
Once the cuttings have developed good roots, they are replanted into larger pots. For the next three months, these small blueberry plants require plenty of T.L.C. – full sun, daily watering, and a weekly dose of liquid natural fertiliser.
After about five months, when the plants are about 30cm tall, they are ready to head out into the open field. The grower typically spaces the bushes 1 metre apart in long rows. It takes 2-3 years before the bush is ready to produce flowers and fruit for the first time and 6 years to reach ‘full maturity’.
Being the delicate little morsels they are, fresh blueberries must be carefully hand-picked by people who know how to spot a perfectly ripe blueberry. Depending on the variety, most bushes are picked every 5 to 7 days. During peak harvest, farms require many extra pickers to cope with the large number of ripe blueberries.
From the field, the fresh blueberries travel in picking crates to the air conditioned packing shed. Here, they are carefully inspected for fruit quality and transferred into the familiar ‘clamshell punnet’ packs. Only the plumpest and largest fresh blueberries pass the quality test. Fruit unfit for sale is removed. Much of this is frozen or sent to processors to make into other blueberry products.
The punnets are then individually weighed to ensure they contain exactly the right amount of fresh ripe blueberries, and are then packed into cardboard trays and cooled to 4 degrees C. From here, they are loaded onto a refrigerated truck to ensure they arrive at their destination just as fresh as when they were picked.
These trucks could be headed for wholesale markets in capital cities, independent fruit shops, supermarket distribution centres – or even the airport where they are air freighted to Asia, Europe and America.
All this often happens within 24 hours of picking… so you can enjoy the freshest blueberries that Australia has to offer!