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AuroraBlue makers encourage peninsula growers to figure out best ways to produce blueberries

Cultivating a following

Posted: Monday, November 13, 2006

Deterred by soggy summer weather, some Alaskans may have shied away from brushy trails and alpine hikes where they can harvest wild Alaska blueberries. While many may have settled for commercial blueberries instead, that doesn’t mean they have to go without the impressive antioxidant benefits found only in blueberry varieties growing wild in Alaska.

AuroraBlue, a dietary supplement made using wild Alaska blueberries, is produced in a Kenai nutraceutical manufacturing facility, and can be purchased for $39.95 a bottle.

Consumers aiming to draw more cash into their wallets rather than out might want to consider getting in on the production end of the AuroraBlue equation.

Kasilof-based Alaska Berry Growers harvests and supplies wild Alaska blueberries to AuroraBlue manufacturer Denali Biotechnologies and plans to hold several meetings in Alaska over the next couple of months, including one in Kenai, to help growers learn to cultivate their own berries.

Currently, Alaska Berry Growers is harvesting the berries from wild plants, but the nonprofit hopes to switch to a harvest based on cultivated Alaska blueberry plants.

“At this point, what I see is cultivation is absolutely key,” said Jack Brown, president of Alaska Berry Growers.

The nonprofit held meetings to encourage Alaskans to cultivate the berry last spring and hopes growers can share what they have learned at this year’s meetings with each other and aspiring growers.

Brown says he and others involved with the nonprofit experimented with growing Alaska blueberry plants from transplants, seeds and cuttings this summer.

Brown said he was pleased with how well his transplants were doing.

“My plants did extremely well. I might have had, maybe five percent mortality,” he said.

But transplants are expensive. Brown said Alaska Berry Growers purchases the plants from private land owners and has been selling them to individual growers for $12.25 apiece.

The two other options — growing the plants from seeds or starting them from cuttings — present difficulties of their own, but Brown predicted mastering the art of growing plants from cuttings will be the cultivated berry grower’s ticket to success.

Growing the plants by seed is easier than it is from cutting, but because a plant grown from seed can take as long as five years to mature and fruit, Brown said berry growers hope to grow berries from plant cuttings which can fruit as early as two years after being planted.

But so far mortality rates among plant cuttings has been high, he said. In his personal plot, Brown guessed only five to 10 percent of the plants he grew from cuttings survived.

He said he has heard that other growers have had greater success than he did with cuttings this summer and looks forward to hearing from them at Alaska Berry Growers’ upcoming meetings.

Brown said the meeting in Kenai will likely be held before Thanksgiving, and will be announced sometime this week.

Patrice Kohl can be reached at the patrice.kohl@peninsulaclarion.com.



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