BRUCE and Marg Rossiter are expecting a fruitful blueberry season.
After making a tree change from Melbourne in 2004, the couple started a blueberry business on 16ha in Gellibrand, 176km southwest of Melbourne.
Wanting to keep the business small, the Rossiters devoted half a hectare to growing five different blueberry varieties, with the briggita the main type grown. Although blueberry plants usually take up to eight years to mature, their farm was producing blueberries much earlier.
"By about the fifth or sixth year they were producing very well," Bruce said.
"We've been picking pretty well for the last three or four years."
Almost 10 years on, the farm has 1200 blueberry plants which produce about two tonnes of fruit a year. This year, Bruce and Marg expect a harvest of about 2.5 tonnes of blueberries, and will employ up to four casual pickers to help.
"Generally we start picking in the middle of January, but we do have a few varieties which start a little bit earlier, so that's around Christmas," Bruce said.
He attributed the successful season to a high rainfall, good climate and well-drained soil.
Bruce and Marg refuse to use any pesticides or harsh chemicals on their produce, and use well-rotted cow manure to fertilise their plants.
"They're basically permanently netted because birds like to eat the flowers and spit them out," Mr Rossiter said.
Aside from selling their blueberries at the farm gate, the Rossiters sell to a local wholesaler in Geelong under the name Beechy Berries.
But Bruce said he found it difficult for his local business to compete with larger growers and supermarkets which import blueberries.
"People tend to disregard the blueberries when they're in the shops because a lot of that is imported fruit," Bruce said.
It really puts them off blueberries."
Bruce and Marg are preparing to showcase their blueberries at the Gellibrand River Blues and Blueberry Festival at Otway Tourist Park on March 2.