It is now blueberry season with fresh, tasty berries available in eastern North Carolina.

For more than 70 years, North Carolina blueberries have been a favorite in the American diet. Blueberries were first planted for commercial production in North Carolina in 1936. They were brought to North Carolina by an entrepreneur from New Jersey looking to stretch his production season with blueberries that matured earlier in the year. Blueberries can be grown throughout North Carolina; however, the major commercial production area is in the southeastern part of North Carolina with Bladen County being the largest producer.

In North Carolina, blueberries are ranked the 16th agriculture commodity in the state. When compared with other states, North Carolina is the sixth largest producer of blueberries in the nation (2015 USDA) with 7,200 acres harvested in 2016 (2016 USDA).

Harvest of blueberries generally starts in May and, depending on weather, continues through July. Approximately 58 percent of the total blueberry crop in North America is frozen, 24 percent is sold fresh, and 18 percent is canned. In North Carolina, approximately 75 percent is sold fresh, and 25 percent is sold frozen.

Local blueberries can be found in many areas, including farmers markets, roadside stands and in grocery stores. When selecting a container of blueberries, ripe berries will be plump and deep blue with a dusting of gray on the surface. Blueberries that are firm or show any hints of red are not fully ripe and will likely be tart. White and green blueberries are not ripe and will not ripen after being picked. When inspecting packed blueberries, look for smooth, blue skin. If you see wrinkled blueberries, fuzzy white mold or leakage, the blueberries are in the process of spoiling.

Blueberries will have the best taste and texture when eaten or used within a week. Refrigerate your blueberries as soon as possible to keep them up to two weeks. Blueberries are a fragile fruit, so be sure to not expose them to sun and heat or in a closed bag or closed container. Sort through your blueberries; removing any with mold will help keep the others in the container from spoiling.

If you are looking for where to purchase fresh, local blueberries, be sure to stop by the Farm Credit Farmers Market. The market is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market is located behind the Maxwell Center at 3114 Wayne Memorial Drive.

To celebrate blueberry season, the Farm Credit Farmers Market will be holding Blueberry Day on Friday. We will be having a blueberry dessert contest for those who have a delicious blueberry dessert to share! The contest is open to all ages. Entries will be received from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. The recipe must include 1 cup of blueberries. Contestants must be present during the contest and may enter more than one recipe. The dessert must be homemade, prepared at home, and presented ready to serve three to four judges. Recipes must be presented with the entry as the first-place winning dessert recipe will be published in local media outlets.

Along with a blueberry dessert contest, there will also be a food demonstration by Michelle Estrada, Wayne County Extension family and consumer science agent, to give you ideas for new recipes to try with blueberries along with getting to taste a prepared recipe.

Be sure to include fresh, local blueberries with your summer meals and celebrate blueberry season by attending Blueberry Day at the Farm Credit Farmers Market on June 14.

Got gardening questions? We can help! Contact the Wayne County Extension Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. One can reach the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic by phone at 919-731-1433, email at Master.Gardener@waynegov.com, or stopping by the Wayne County Extension Office at the Maxwell Regional Agricultural and Convention Center, 3114B Wayne Memorial Drive.

Learn more

• Subscribe to Wayne County Gardening e-newsletter and receive timely gardening information and announcements of upcoming extension gardening events. To subscribe, visit http://go.ncsu.edu/subscribewcg. Scroll down to enter your email address in the “address” box and click on the subscribe button. You will then receive an email which will direct you to a website to accept the subscription.

• “Like” us on Facebook to receive timely garden tips, ask questions, and learn of upcoming gardening events. www.facebook.com/waynecountygardening

Perennials and Annuals Workshop

• Growing Flowers: Perennials and Annuals Workshop will be 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Wayne County Extension Office, the Maxwell Center, 3114B Wayne Memorial Drive. The workshop will cover how you can incorporate more flowers in your landscape. Learn about perennial and annual flowers that are suited for our climate to give you ideas for ones to add to your own garden. Registration fee is $5. Pre-registration is not required. Arrive a few minutes early to register.

Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.