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Sweet Science: Northwest Blueberries Vs. Cold Snaps

Anna King
Northwest News Network
Washington State University scientist Gwen Hoheisel at the university's Prosser research station cuts open fresh blueberry buds with a razor blade after a cold test in a special scientific freezer to see what fruit-starts have survived.

In Northwest farm-country, tiny blueberry buds are already starting to plump up. But cold snaps could kill them. And that’s a bummer for your morning smoothie. Now, Northwest scientists are trying to help farmers by studying how low blueberries can go.

Heating a good-sized blueberry patch for 10 hours could cost around $3,000, which could be a big drag on profits. So when to flip the switch is key.

Washington State University scientist Gwen Hoheisel is freezing down hundreds of blueberry buds weekly. Cutting a bud open to show how many fruit-starts survived the cold test revealed little circles of dark green -- almost like half the size of a pinhead.

“When they’re dead [from cold], they are little pinheads of brown,” Hoheisel explained.

Hoheisel said 10 more years of data would make a useful real-time model for farmers.

The two biggest variables that affect how cold blueberry buds can go throughout the year are warmth and rainfall just days prior to a cold snap.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.