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  • Author or Editor: Matthew Arrington x
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Yield components including fruit set and berry size in northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) can be limited in key production regions like western Washington. Climactic conditions influence the activity levels of blueberry’s primary commercial pollinator, honey bee (Apis mellifera). Cool springs with frequent rainfall, which are common during the spring bloom period in western Washington, can reduce honey bee activity, pollination efficiency, and subsequent fruit set and yields. Increasing honey bee hive density may be a simple technique that growers can employ to increase the number of honey bees foraging during periods of good weather, interspersed with the poor weather, and therefore, increase fruit set and related yield components. The objective of this study was to evaluate if increased honey bee hive densities improve pollination and subsequent yield components in western Washington blueberry. Three field sites with mature ‘Duke’ plants were stocked with 10 hives/ha of honey bees (control), and three other field sites (also ‘Duke’) were stocked with 20 hives/ha (high hive density). Honey bee visitation and yield components, including fruit set and berry weight, were measured. Estimated yield, seed number/berry, and fruit firmness were also monitored. There were no significant differences in fruit set regardless of honey bee hive density. However, honey bee visitation and estimated yield increased with increased honey bee hive density. Berry weight and seed number per berry were also increased with increased honey bee hive density, although firmness was unaffected. Results indicate that increasing honey bee hive densities can help blueberry growers improve berry size and overall yields, suggesting this is a practice growers can implement if their production is constrained by insufficient pollination.

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Fruit set in northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) can be low under certain climatic conditions, contributing to reduced yields in northwestern Washington. The mechanisms influencing fruit set are complex, but reduced fruit set may be associated with inadequate nutrient availability during critical stages of flowering, ovule fertilization, and initial fruit development. Calcium (Ca) and boron (B) are of particular interest for reproductive developmental processes and are frequently applied annually by growers in the Pacific Northwest region because of the perception that these nutrients enhance fruit set and corresponding yields. Evaluation of commonly applied products containing these nutrients and their effects on fruit set and yield are of specific importance to justify the application of these nutrients. To address this, commercially available fertilizers containing Ca and B were applied to ‘Draper’ and ‘Bluecrop’ blueberry as foliar sprays, either alone or in combination, during the 2015 and 2016 growing seasons in northwestern Washington. Treatments included calcium chloride (750 and 1500 ppm Ca), calcium sulfate (150 ppm Ca), and tetra borate (125 and 250 ppm B) foliar sprays, repeated six times per season every 7–10 days from early pink bud through petal fall. No significant increases were observed for fruit set, estimated yield, and fruit quality (firmness and berry weight) across the treatments. Increased concentrations of B were observed in leaf tissues in 2015 and 2016, and to a lesser extent fruit tissues. Calcium remained unchanged regardless of treatment and tissue type. Under the conditions of this study, foliar applications of Ca and B did not lead to increased fruit set or yield. This research suggests that other approaches should be explored to increase fruit set and corresponding yields of highbush blueberry grown in northwest Washington.

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Postbloom thinning of ‘Bartlett’ pears (Pyrus communis L.) is required to produce fruit of commercially acceptable size. In the Pacific Northwestern United States, low temperatures during early stages of pear fruitlet development often limit the efficacy of commercial thinning compounds. Hand thinning, therefore, remains the standard crop load management practice. Chemical thinning protocols are necessary to reduce the cost and dependence on hand labor. The plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) was evaluated over multiple years in several ‘Bartlett’ pear orchards. ABA was applied to whole canopies at variable rates (50–500 ppm) when fruit diameter was generally between 10 and 12 mm. In three of four trials, ABA thinned in a dose-dependent manner. The relative degree of thinning for a given dose, however, was inconsistent among trials. Trees treated with ABA had a higher proportion of blank and single-fruited spurs than the control. Net photosynthesis (P n) of single leaves was reduced 75% to 90% within one day of ABA application but gradually returned to ≈80% of control levels within 7 days and fully recovered by ≈14 days. Slightly greater and longer lasting P n inhibition occurred with increasing ABA dose. Fruit weight and return bloom generally increased with increasing ABA rate. Fruit quality, when measured, was unaffected by ABA treatments. Inconsistent thinning response with ABA may be attributed to environmental factors, biological factors, or both.

Free access

Herbaceous flowering or woody plant borders adjacent to highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) fields have the potential to benefit both native pollinators and species of predatory and parasitic arthropods and birds that feed on key highbush blueberry pests, such as spotted wing drosophila [SWD (Drosophila suzukii)]. However, they may also draw pollinators away from the crop, serve as overwintering and/or refugia sites for SWD, and increase the abundance of wild birds that feed on fruit and harbor foodborne pathogens. The objective of this 1-year, observational study was to explore the potential impacts of border vegetation adjacent to commercial highbush blueberry fields on pollination, crop productivity, and arthropod and bird communities within the Pacific Northwest region in the United States. The study included three highbush blueberry cultivars (Duke, Draper, and Liberty), and three field border vegetation treatments: 1) woody perennial vegetation; 2) herbaceous vegetation; and 3) medium-height grasses (control). There was one border treatment per cultivar for a total of nine sites. No cultivar effects nor interactions for any of the variables were detected, so results were combined across cultivars. No differences in pollinator abundance, pollinator visitation rates, estimated yield, berry weight, and seed number were observed across the treatments. Herbaceous borders had more natural enemies than the woody perennial borders, but both were similar to the control. This trend is attributed to higher abundances of parasitic wasps (suborder Apocrita) in the herbaceous and control borders compared with the woody perennial borders. Increased abundances of aphids (family Aphididae), a host for parasitic wasps, likely influenced these results. Differences in predatory arthropods were not observed. Insect abundances were overall low in all field sites measured in this study, likely influenced by SWD insecticide applications. There were no differences in total wild bird density by treatment except for barn swallows (Hirundo rustica), which were greatest in the control treatment. Overall, the border treatments evaluated in this study had small-to-negligible impacts on the measured variables, and there was no clear crop production benefit. Additionally, none of the investigated border treatments negatively impacted highbush blueberry production. Taken together, border vegetation treatments can provide benefits such as reducing pesticide drift, deterring trespassers, and serving as a windbreak; but any potential benefits from a pollination or biocontrol aspect are likely diminished due to current SWD management practices.

Open Access