Q&A with Eureka blueberry grower Natalie Bell
The large, plump Eureka blueberries were created by farmer Ridley Bell. His daughter Natalie now grows Eurekas alongside her husband Paul at their farm in northern NSW. She answered some great questions about their growing and harvesting techniques from the kids at Camberwell South Primary.
What it is the biggest blueberry you have grown this year?
This year we are only just getting started, but we have grown blueberries up to 16g. If all berries we grew were this size in Australia, you might only get 8-9 berries in a punnet! Most berries we grow are between 3-4 grams per berry.
Do you grow any other plants at your farm?
We are starting to grow raspberries and blackberries, however, the main focus of our business is to produce the biggest, sweetest, best-tasting blueberries in Australia. We also provide our varieties to other farmers all over the country to grow.
When is the best time to plant the blueberry seeds?
Most of our blueberry plants are grown from cuttings, which means we take a small part of a branch, cut it off and grow it out to create a replica of the same plant. If you planted the seeds you find inside a blueberry, they would make different varieties with different characteristics.
The best time to plant a new blueberry plant that you get at your local nursery is in spring, as blueberry plants need lots of sunshine and warmth to grow.
When you plant the blueberry seeds, are there are any problems with the quality of the plants?
We grow our plants from cuttings, taking part of the plant/bush and growing it to create a new plant. Like a healthy body, blueberry plants need the right amount of water, warmth, protection and nutrients to ensure that the fruit it produces tastes good and lasts long in your fridge. We have a team of agronomists who are like plant doctors and are experts in keeping our blueberry bushes healthy and productive.
How can you tell if a blueberry is rotten or not?
At our packhouse (where we put blueberries into punnets) we have big machines that can look at every bit of fruit to ensure that you get yummy blueberries.
Once you have them at home and they’ve been in your fridge for a while, the best way is to look at them and give them a slight squeeze. If the berries are cold and soft to the touch, they might be close to turning. However, I think the best method is if they look good visually, then they’re likely to taste good.
Have you ever planted a blueberry, and it hasn’t grown? If you have, why might this be?
There can be many reasons why the plant may not have grown. This could include heat and rain after it was planted in the ground, or perhaps the plant roots didn’t adjust to the new conditions. If the plant is a rare occurrence, we just replace it with a new one the following season. Where plants haven’t grown, we send a sample to a science lab, and they tell us what is wrong. Most times we’ll have a solution to help the plants back to health once diagnosed.
How much work does it take to produce the blueberries?
A lot of effort goes into getting our blueberries to you in Coles, and a number of people do this. Just to pick blueberries on our largest farm at Tabulam we need up to 700 pickers on one day! In addition to this, we need approximately 70 staff to pack and ship the fruit, and another 10-15 people to organise getting it to Coles stores. While most of the work happens during the harvest season, we also have 90 full-time staff to manage the farm, nursery, research and development and office tasks all year round.
And to explore cooking with Eureka blueberries, we've got some excellent video recipes to share:
- Stephanie Alexander's Blueberry Roly Poly
- Courtney Roulston's Almond and Coconut Blueberry Crumble
- Michael Weldon's Fluffy Ricotta and Blueberry Pancakes.
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