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Sweet Science: Northwest Blueberries Vs. Cold Snaps

Washington State University scientist Gwen Hoheisel at the university's Prosser research station cuts open fresh blueberry buds with a razor blade after a cold test in a special scientific freezer to see what fruit-starts have survived.
Anna King
/
Northwest News Network
Washington State University scientist Gwen Hoheisel at the university's Prosser research station cuts open fresh blueberry buds with a razor blade after a cold test in a special scientific freezer to see what fruit-starts have survived.

In Northwest farm-country, tiny blueberry buds are already starting to plump up. But cold snaps could kill them. And that’s a bummer for your morning smoothie. Now, Northwest scientists are trying to help farmers by studying how low blueberries can go.

Heating a good-sized blueberry patch for 10 hours could cost around $3,000, which could be a big drag on profits. So when to flip the switch is key.

Washington State University scientist Gwen Hoheisel is freezing down hundreds of blueberry buds weekly. Cutting a bud open to show how many fruit-starts survived the cold test revealed little circles of dark green -- almost like half the size of a pinhead.

“When they’re dead [from cold], they are little pinheads of brown,” Hoheisel explained.

Hoheisel said 10 more years of data would make a useful real-time model for farmers.

The two biggest variables that affect how cold blueberry buds can go throughout the year are warmth and rainfall just days prior to a cold snap.

Copyright 2016 Northwest News Network

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.