Out & About: Volunteers needed to revitalize Lebanon blueberry patch

Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-04-2024 5:01 PM

Modified: 04-04-2024 5:06 PM


LEBANON — Volunteers working to revitalize blueberry patches on conserved land near downtown Lebanon are looking for more help.

The Lebanon Conservation Commission is planning to host a blueberry pruning work day this Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. at Jackson Conservation Area, a roughly 15-acre property that is located between Forest Avenue and Reservoir Road, with access from Prospect Avenue. Participants are asked to register via lebanonnh.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=4011 and will be contacted via email if plans for the day change.

“Our goal is really just to maintain it as a community food source,” Conservation Commission Chairwoman Sarah Riley said. “This is certainly not the first stab at trying to keep the blueberries going, but it’s a larger scale effort at trying to revitalize the patch.”

The goal is to make the blueberry patches viable so that people who visit the property later this summer can pick them freely. The property’s proximity to downtown makes it a valuable community resource — one that volunteers hope to improve with continued dedication to the blueberry patches.

“It’s really nice. Not everyone knows how a blueberry grows so it’s a nice resource for people who live in a fairly urban area,” said Lynn Fisher, who lives near Jackson and has frequently walked the trails there since moving to Lebanon nine years ago. “It’s nice to have there for kids to walk up to and find some berries.”

The Conservation Commission’s efforts began in earnest last fall when around 30 volunteers gathered over two days to remove invasive species, other brambles and even small trees that had encroached into the blueberry bushes.

“We got so much hardcore weeding done,” Riley said. “So many people came out and put so much muscle into the project.”

While the bushes have continued to produce fruit, the buckthorn, multiflora rose and burning bush that volunteers removed last fall made it more difficult for pickers.

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“I’ve learned enough about those over the years to learn that they win,” said Fisher. “Over the almost decade they’ve just gotten more and more overgrown.”

This weekend marks phase two, which includes pruning the bushes themselves. That involves removing dead wood from the bushes and in some cases thinning out stems so they can produce more fruit.

The Conservation Commission’s organized volunteer days build on efforts made by individuals over the years, including Fisher and David Chapin. The idea for the work days came up after Fisher met Riley.

“It’s too big of a job for one or two people to take on,” Fisher said.

Chapin, of Lebanon, first learned about the property after attending a walk hosted by the Upper Valley Land Trust, which holds a conservation easement on the land. Chapin described it as a quiet and pleasant spot.

“There’s plenty of bird wildlife in the area and it’s fun to pick and listen to the birds chatter,” Chapin said. “Or work in the non-fruiting season and listen to the birds as you work.”

Around three years ago, Chapin asked city officials if he could do some pruning on the patches and they agreed. Each patch, he estimated, is around 40 to 50 yards long. An older patch, which Chapin described as less productive, is around 10 yards wide, with three rows of bushes. The more productive patch is around 15 yards wide with up to six rows and 100 to 125 bushes.

“I just felt (it) was something useful for the city and the city’s residents if they were able to get in there and pick,” Chapin said. “With pruning I’m sure it’ll be even more productive.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.