When I learnt that some ‘crazy guy’ was cultivating blueberries just outside Aegio in the Peloponnese I said to myself I must go and see for myself…
And I say crazy because it’s a really difficult and demanding job in our country to grow them!
A little history about botany now ….
Bluberries come from North America. The Indians have eaten them for thousands of years and they were able to dry them for use during the long winter months.
It is a demanding plant requiring a certain type of soil and a certain type of water to grow. And that is because where the plant comes from, the soil is acidic and the rainfall is regular and soft off the rocks and not full of salts. In Greece our soil is generally of an alkaline nature and the water is hard with lots of salts especially from well water and that is why certain plants such as the camellia, the hydrangea and gardenias don’t do well here. As the blueberries are in the same family group as camellias you can imagine how difficult it would be to grow them here in Greece.
Of course there are some places in Greece that happen to have acidic soil and in those places only, you can grow these plants.
Themis Nikolaou has such a farm- with acidic soil outside Aegio in the Peloponnese. It was strange because his farm with acidic soil is surrounded by other farms with alkaline soils no good for farming blueberries. Don’t imagine his place is big. He was just lucky that his plot was able to start growing this type of product.
I asked him how difficult and demanding it was to cultivate. He told me that it was quite difficult to cultivate even after the plants have been established as they require good soil and soft water continuously . They also need a lot of watering in the summer months because the roots are visible on top of the soil, are very thin and need lots of water. Pruning is very important as the new buds occur on the woody exterior of the old fruit so the pruner must be very experienced in the process of fructification to enable the new crop to grow successfully.
It’s not a tall plant and doesn’t get any higher than 2 metres in height so therefore is easy to harvest by hand. The worst thing as you can see from the photos is that not all the fruit ripen at the same time which causes the picking season to last over a month. This requires many man hours to strip the trees of all their fruit thereby causing the cost to the consumer to rise due to high labour costs.
The worst enemy of the crop is the locusts, that strip not only the leaves but the fledgling buds that become the fruit. Themis has to put huge nets over his entire crop to keep the locusts out and to maintain the organic status of his fruit by not using insecticides.
The locusts are very smart and still manage occasionally to get in.
As it is an organic fruit you can cut it from the bush and eat it straight away! Its magical! Still a little hot from the sun, soft and juicy, nothing is better on a hot day..
Its great to eat them cold from the fridge but eating them cut from the bush is wonderful…the workers who pick the fruit cannot resist eating quite a few berries during the harvesting process… maybe he should tell them they have been sprayed!! :)
At this point we should talk about the health benefits of blueberries; it’s not necessary to say much..they are little balls of antioxidant goodness that are really good for your body. They lower your blood sugar, cholesterol etc etc. I’m sure you are aware of their superfood status!
Talking to Themis I wanted to learn how he managed it all. He replied that he was a little lucky as there was very little knowledge amongst the local horticulturalists about how to go about cultivating them. He managed to overcome all the problems through hard work and a lot of reading up and watching youtube videos and talking to other ‘crazy people’ trying their luck growing the same thing mostly in Northern Greece.
The produce is sold fresh; even though Themis would like, in the future when things are easier, to plant more crops and make products out of it such as wine from the berries and tea from the leaves etc. For the moment he sells in some organic shops in Patras and some good supermarkets around Greece.
I should tell you that there is a type of ‘blueberry’ grown in Northern Greece that they make wine with, which bears no relation to this type from North America.
If you would like to communicate with Themis or his wife Gianna here is their FB