This week's grocery ads in The World-Herald included a deliciously good deal: 99-cent pints of blueberries.
Not too many years ago, the berries would have cost three times that price, and we would have skipped them during our shopping.
That fresh blueberries have become affordable to the broader market is largely the result of increased planting due to higher demand.
But this summer's particularly good deal also owes a debt to cooperative weather.
“Nature played a trick on us this year,” said Mark Villata, executive director of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
North American, summer-harvested blueberries just went through their first of several pickings, Villata said. And when growers went through the fields, they found far more ripe berries than normally would be the case.
“We're at the peak of harvest, and there's a little bit of a bubble on the peak,” he said.
Villata credited a relatively mild winter and benign conditions during harvest.
The underlying reason for a trend toward lower blueberry prices is increased production.
Since about 2000, when people began realizing the antioxidant benefits of the berries, the number of bushes planted has grown substantially.
Time was, blueberries were a northern U.S. crop. Now 32 states, from Florida to California to Michigan, commercially grow blueberries.
“Each year, we see record production,” he said.
Last year, 123,000 acres in North America were planted with blueberries. That was up from 71,000 in 2005, he said.
The blueberry is native to North America, and breeding has improved the productivity of the different varieties around the country.
Highbush berries are grown commercially and take about three years to become productive. Lowbush berries grow in the wild.
Villata said this year's harvest should still see plenty of success in successive plantings.
“There are still a lot of berries left,” he said.
Fresh berries are available nearly year-round in U.S. supermarkets because of the range in harvest time from South America to North America, he said.
The North American harvest typically runs from April to early October, with the peak occurring in June and July.
The South American harvest tends to run from about November into February-March.
Solar summer is over
This week marks another seasonal milestone as we inevitably slide toward autumn.
Depending on where you live in North America, solar summer — that four-month period when the sun is the highest in the sky and days are longest — ended on or about Tuesday, according to AccuWeather Inc., The World-Herald's private weather consultant.
Solar summer began in April, but seasonal warmth lags the sun's movement and length of days because of the time it takes to heat up the Northern Hemisphere after it emerges from winter.
For this reason, July and August are traditionally the hottest months of the year, even though the days have been getting shorter since the first day of summer, June 21.
Meteorologists consider summer as June, July and August, even though, astronomically, summer began on June 21 and and ends Sept. 22.