Blueberry season!

We apologize for the brief hiatus– both Werner and I work in the blueberry breeding & genetics lab at University of Florida. It’s our lab’s job to make brand-new cultivars of blueberries that can hold up to Florida’s heat and still taste good, so when blueberries are in season it’s a monthlong marathon of pick-test-pick-test-pick-test.

It’s been a good year! It looks like the warm spell in late winter got the plants to leaf out a little further ahead of fruit-bearing than they usually do, so thanks to the magic of extra photosynthesis the berries have been extra sweet and full of lovely volatile aroma compounds. Most years you get some skunky ones that taste like bubblegum and/or wet dog, and the new crosses have so many sour bushes that the poor folks taste-testing them all day get sore mouths. (The things we go through for the fruits we love.) I can’t speak for the other taste-testers, but I don’t think I’ve bit into a single wet dogger this season. I’m going to call 2013 a win.

When the plants are in extra-good condition they often get a jammy, blackberry sort of vibe to them. In a normal year you only find a couple like that but this year maybe half of them have been doing it thanks to the ideal weather. We found one bush that tasted like gingerbread! My personal winner for the year is 06-510. Sweet jammy fruit in big full handful-sized clusters right out on the tips of the branches– not only is it delicious but you can pick a bush clean in about half the time of a normal bush. We christened it “Smash-and-Grab.”

There’ve been some other field adventures, like when we found a baby corn snake (little bit thicker than a pencil) tangled up in the bird netting on some of our bushes. It was one of those red-yellow-black striped dealies so Werner and I stood there there for a minute trying to remember all those nursery rhymes about whether if X color touches Y color, will it kill you? Luckily all the rhymes we could think of agreed that this little dude was harmless so we cut the net off of him… and moved him to another plot far, far away from bird netting!

We’ll remember to get pictures next time. The little guy was wrapped up pretty bad and
looked like it was under a lot of stress so we were in a big hurry to get it out and off to a safer place. Snakes are free critter control so we don’t mind spending a few extra minutes to keep one around.

Lettuce see…

Lettuce can be grown in the summer in Florida– the only question is what types are best adapted, and how much of a nudge is needed?

Heat can contribute to bitterness. However, there are a lot of other factors at play: age, availability of water, and of course genetics. I found some lettuce variety trials from 1999 that tested lettuces grown in the summer in Florida for bitterness. Butterheads all seemed to avoid bitterness fairly well, whereas Lollo Rossa bombed. There was at least one non-bitter cultivar in each of the Romaine, Looseleaf, and Oakleaf categories as well. Good information to have as we head into this project!

A more recent trial tested Florida summer-grown lettuce cultivars for tip burn. I think this may still be working its way through the bulletin process, so I’m missing a couple important pieces of information (such as whether the lettuce was grown open or under shade, and if this was early or full-on summer). Nonetheless we have some good data: cultivars Ridgeline, Coastal Star, and Livigna all had low tipburn. Skyphos, Rex, Livigna, and Antago all had extremely low or ZERO tipburn.

You may note by comparing the two trials that few or none of the same cultivars were trialed in each one, so we have no way of knowing if there are any cultivars that score well on both bitterness and tipburn. I chalk it up to the studies being done 13 years apart and the availability of lettuce cultivars having changed a bit in that time. I’m still just kind of stoked knowing that lettuce will in fact grow down here in the summer….

If anybody wants more details and it still hasn’t made it to publication yet, make a note in the comments and I can email you the link.