- Fruits: berries (other), berries (blueberries)
- Additional Plants: native plants
- Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
- Production Systems: general crop production
Non-native blueberries will not survive in Interior Alaska. The bog blueberry, Vaccinium uliginosum, grows wild over much of the Circumpolar North. It is a staple food of the indigenous people. Most people prefer the flavor of bog blueberries to domestic blueberries, and recent scientific studies have shown that the concentrations of antioxidants in bog blueberries are about 10 times higher than in Maine blueberries. There is considerable demand for native blueberries, and they currently sell for $40 to $60 per gallon. The bog blueberry does not have rhizomes and does not propagate easily like the Maine blueberry. Many people have tried to transplant it without success. I have been working with Dr. Patricia Holloway, Professor of Horticulture, UAF, and Dr. Danny Barney, berry breeder, USDA-ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository for blueberries. We have identified a huge variability among bog blueberry plants in Interior Alaska, including such characteristics as plant height; size, shape, color and flavor of berries; number of berries per cluster, etc. A cooperator in this project is “Papa” who is over 90 years old, part American Indian and recognized as an elder among the natives of Interior Alaska. He has been operating Papa's Greenhouse near North Pole, Alaska for over 30 years. Being a Lay Minister, Papa routinely visits villages along the Tanana and Yukon Rivers. The native women take Papa to their traditional berry picking spots, so he knows of numerous berry patches and why the berries at each location are considered superior. He is very interested in learning to domesticate these berries. Our goal is to take cuttings from superior native blueberry plants, root them and establish nursery plantations on uniform agricultural soils at Knight Farms and Papa's Greenhouse, where the plants can be evaluated, managed, adapted for mechanical harvesting and increased for production and sale.
Project objectives from proposal:
Select 50 superior bog blueberry plants from diverse locations in Interior Alaska, collect 30 cuttings from each plant, and record the site characteristics and plant characteristics that make that plant desirable for propagation. (July 2013)
Root and care for the cuttings, i.e. root the 1,500 cuttings in a misting chamber, plant 1,000 of the best rooted cuttings (20 from each mother plant) in 3 1/2 inch pots, allow them to become dormant, overwinter them, start the plants off in a greenhouse the next spring, and move them outside in mid-summer to harden them off. (July 2013 - August 1, 2014)
In early August 2014, plant 10 plants from each mother plant (500 for each farm) in rows in agricultural fields where they can be evaluated for desirable characteristics for domestication and mechanical harvesting. (August 1 - August 10, 2014)
Share information about bog blueberries, their selection, propagation and management with other berry growers by a) giving a presentation to the Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association in Anchorage, (about November 2013), b) giving a presentation at the SARE Conference in Fairbanks (about March 2014), and c) holding an informal field day in cooperation with the Cooperative Extension Service at Papa's Greenhouse (about August 1, 2014).