Pie in the Sky?

Photo By Photo by Randall Hamasaki, courtesy of THE University of Hawaii

Blueberries are often associated with cooler growing climates, but early tests on the Big Island are proving that the crop may have a future here in Hawaii. In February 2007, Dr. Stuart T. Nakamoto, of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at UH Manoa, and his team installed two test fields, one on the wet side of Waimea, and one on the dry side. “There must be dozens of varieties of blueberries and we wanted to see which one did best.”

Challenges included a plant disease and birds. “These animals have never seen blueberries, but somehow they know they are delicious,” explains Nakamoto. “We have to cover the whole field with nets.” On the plus side, once the plants are established, they fruit in a year. And with fuel costs rising, locals are increasingly interested in Island-grown produce.

By May, the team finished its first harvest. “It’s one of the reasons we are so excited about blueberries in Hawaii—they come in during different times than the Mainland,” says Nakamoto. Like coffee, the berries are picked by hand. The researchers are analyzing which varieties produced when, the yield and the quality of the fruit.

Could a pick-your-own-berries farm be in our future? “The ultimate test will be if the farmers take it up, because there are a lot of costs involved. Our goal is to start a new industry.”