"The Lost Art of Growing Blueberries With Fire" Discussion Thread

Welcome to the discussion thread for the story, The Lost Art of Growing Blueberries With Fire. You can share your comments and thoughts about the story in the conversation below.

Thank you for the wonderful article about a favorite seasonal treat, and congratulations to Greta Rybus for the gorgeous photographs.

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It isn’t a lost art if people are still practicing it. It’s just an obsolete practice. Own up: calling it a lost art is cheap melodrama–especially as there no evidence of it being any kind of art. “Lost Art” turns up so often on this site that it has begun to lose all meaning.

It’s not even an obsolete practice. I’m from Washington County here in Maine. The heart of blueberry country. Sure, the big companies use machines but most of the smaller growers still burn by hand.

There are a few misconceptions in this article.

  1. There is plenty of information out there on growing berries. The University of Maine even has a blueberry farm where they experiment with different ideas to try to improve the fields and yield.
  2. The big companies (Wyman’s, Merrill’s) use machines to burn but most small farms still burn by hand.
  3. The big companies may flash freeze their berries but there are plenty of small farms that sell fresh to the local grocery stores, at farmer’s markets, or at road side stands.
  4. If we are tight-lipped about our blueberry growing practices or anything really, it’s for two reasons.
    A. We are raised to be private people.
    B. People from away come here, buy up
    land, and think they are so much better
    than we are. They look down their
    noses and expect us to just tell
    everything without respecting the
    process. Without respect to the
    generations that have passed down that
    hard earned knowledge.

This article reminded me of stories I’ve read in our local historical society annals regarding huckleberry cultivation. During the years of the Great Depression, many of the residents of Paxtonville in Snyder County, Pennsylvania would harvest the berries from the sides of Shade Mountain and sell them at the railroad station in town. At the time, the forest was recovering after having been clear-cut to provide prop timber for the anthracite coal mines in eastern Pennsylvania. The open areas left on the mountain provided many huckleberries. It would have been enough to pick from the areas as they existed, but residents soon learned that the berries grew energetically after an area was burned following a forest fire. Local men soon took advantage of the situation, as they set the fires, were paid by the state to fight the fires, and returned later to pick berries. It was not uncommon to look at the side of the mountain in those days to see it on fire in multiple locations. Today, no remnants of those days exist. The forest has regrown, the open areas are few and far between, the fire tower on the mountain has been removed, and the economy is vibrant enough to eliminate the need to rely on the berries for a living.

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An interesting article, but it leaves me curious as to how often the fields are burned. It says the burning improves the crop ‘the following year’, but what about the crop during the year of burning? Is the field left fallow for a year while it recovers - which would make the crop biennial? How could bushes burned to stumps in Spring - the time the bushes flower - recover in time to produce fruit a few months later the same year?

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