The giant blueberry (family Ericaceae) is a deciduous leafy shrub typical of the flat and hilly areas of the temperate and temperate-cold climates of the North-Eastern United States of America, where it is called the “lord” among the small fruits and its popularity is constantly growing.
The giant blueberry is represented by two main cultivated species: the Vaccinium corymbosum, more suitable for cooler climates and which in Northern Italy can be cultivated up to 800 m of altitude and the Vaccinium ashei, more suitable for mild climates and cultivated also in the most southern regions.
The giant blueberry requires very acidic soils (pH < 5.5) and exposure in full sun. In optimal soil and climate conditions it reaches a height of 3-4 meters.
The leaves are deep green and give a pleasant shape and fullness to the bush; when autumn comes, the leaves turn bright red. In May, the plants are covered with clusters of white bell-shaped flowers that produce bright blue fruits in June-July.
The fruits are berries weighing an average of 2.5 g (about 5 times the weight of the common blueberry), with a thin skin and impalpable seeds; they are ripe a week after they have turned blue, the taste is then sweeter and characteristic and delicate aromas appear.
The excellent organoleptic characteristics make the giant blueberry an excellent fruit for fresh consumption; it is also very resistant to handling, facilitating harvesting, storage and transport operations and minimizing product loss due to damage. It has good storage characteristics and can easily be stored for 2-3 weeks at a temperature of 4 °C.
The giant blueberry is therefore today used with increasing interest by restaurants, ice-cream parlors and pastry shops, but it is also well suited to industrial processing (preparation of yoghurt and jams) and freezing, where it shows excellent resistance to low temperatures.
The Cultivation of Cranberry
Its cultivation covers, at world level, an area which is not negligible and is in continuous expansion; from 14,000 ha in 1985 to almost 30,000 ha in the late 90’s, and then over 60,000 ha in recent years.
The largest crops are found in North America with 35,000 ha and in South America, where about 20,000 ha are cultivated.
In Europe the areas remained negligible until the 1980s, in the 1990s they grew from 1,000 to 4,000 ha, then doubled in recent years to the current 8,000 ha with the largest areas in Poland (3,000 ha) and Germany (2,000 ha).
In Italy it has rapidly increased from 50 ha in 1991 to about 250 ha today. Production is concentrated in Trentino, Piedmont (Cuneo), Lombardy (Valtellina) and Veneto (Verona), limited quantities are produced in Tuscany, Calabria and Sicily, new plants in Emilia-Romagna and Lazio.
The cultivation of giant blueberries in Italy offers a valid alternative to local crops, making it possible to enhance the acidic soils of the plains and hills both from an agronomic and territorial point of view.
The giant blueberry, in fact, thanks to its resistance to parasite attacks, does not require phytosanitary protection and requires limited cultivation care. These aspects contribute to enhance the image of genuineness and freshness that the giant blueberry and in general all small fruits represent.
Harvesting takes place during the summer period (end of June-August), when the availability of labor is greater and can be carried out by unskilled operators such as the elderly and young people. The giant blueberry, like the other small fruits, also lends itself to forms of picking like pick your-own, which bring the consumer closer to an increasingly distant reality and taste these flavors that recall sensations of other times.
In these times, therefore, the construction of new giant blueberry plantations offers the preconditions for positive economic results for entrepreneurs, particularly in view of the situation on the Community market, which is seeing an increase in the interest in and consumption of small fruit.
A Final Trend
Twenty years ago, the consumption of cranberry in the USA was about 70 g per capita per year, similar to what it is today in Europe: today every American consumes on average almost 1,100 g per capita per year!