New Jersey ranks fifth in the nation in blueberry production and the state's crop is valued at $80.8 million.

Flickr User Andrea Pokrzywinski

Atlantic and Burlington Counties are the main harvesters of the state fruit, accounting for 97 percent of the blueberry acres harvested in 2012. Thanks to the weather this past winter and spring, this year's crop is expected to be stellar.

"The winter provided the necessary 'chilling hours' that blueberries need. That's when it has to get below 30 degrees for a period of time to allow the plant to go dormant," said Al Murray, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. "The winter combined with a perfect spring and an abundance of cooperative honeybees statewide."

The spring was slightly drier than normal which allowed blueberry farmers the luxury of providing the perfect amount of irrigation, which will result in large berries. The major varieties of blueberries grown in New Jersey include Blue Crop and Duke, named for one of the founders of Atlantic Blueberry Company in Hammonton.

How can you find the perfect blueberries? Here's what to look for:

  • Look for blueberries that are plump and fresh looking
  • Pay particular attention to their color; they should be blue, black, bluish-black or purple
  • Blueberries have a gray, waxy deposit on the skin called bloom. The bloom is a protective coating, so don't wash blueberries until ready to use
  • Freeze blueberries on a cookie sheet and then place into a freezer storage bag
  • Blueberries spoil quickly if left at room temperature, but can be stored in the refrigerator for three days
  • Avoid containers that have juice stains on them, a sign the berries are crushed
  • Wrinkled fruit means they have been stored too long; while soft, watery fruit means the berries are overripe.

Blueberries are also a major part of the state's agri-tourism industry. There are pick-your-own farms in nine counties throughout the state. To find a pick-your-own blueberry farm near you, visit www.jerseyfresh.nj.gov or www.visitnjfarms.org.