Thursday, April 11, 2013

Blue Gold

I'm pretty sure my favorite fruit is the blueberry.

I grew up following behind my mother and grandmother, a bucket strung around my neck.  I'm sure that early on, I would eat more than went into my bucket, just like in the book Blueberries for Sal.  We picked at my Great Uncle John's farm which his family still owns so our family still has access to.  As I got older and especially as I started thinking about growing our own food, my goal shifted and I filled those buckets as fast and as full as I could whenever I had the chance.  I wrote about one of our trips there in this post.

His farm is out of state, so even though there are more than enough blueberries for us to have our fill, perfectly timing a weekend to go pick is tough and we feel badly relying on nearby family to pick for us.

I also feel badly because my very last quart of frozen blueberries is almost empty.

When we first moved to this house, we haphazardly bought a few blueberry plants and plopped them into the ground.  We crossed our fingers hoping that we had good blueberry soil.  Meanwhile, the blueberry plants died a quick and, hopefully, painless death.

Years later, I did  some research and started a notebook on all that starting a small pick-your-own blueberry patch would entail.  One of our side yards was the target planting spot.  Maps were drawn up, the shade was charted, and I got pregnant with Miriam.  So much for those plans.  Morning sickness, Jamey in school, and everything else caused us to put those plans on the back burner.

This winter I told Jamey I wanted to try again (for blueberries) and asked for some for my birthday.  It's not until June, but early spring planting is the way to go.  This past weekend, we planted the majority of the bushes he bought for me.  I have the sore muscles to prove it.  These will be for us, but hopefully we'll one day have enough to share with friends and neighbors.

I'm going to show you what we did.  While we did have our homework done this time, everyone's soil is different, so I'm not going to go into detailed specifics.  We're not successful blueberry growers yet!  So, if you're interested in planting blueberries do your own research specific to your own soil and region.

We decided to plant them at the upper end of our sunflower patch where they would receive full sun.  This spot is also right outside our kitchen windows, so I can keep a close eye on the weeds, birds, and children picking.  We already had two sweet cherry trees planted at that end, so one row has both cherries and blueberries.  The cherry trees might provide some shade, but it will be minimal since these are fruit trees that  we intend to keep well-pruned for ample production.

Blueberries need special attention for the following reasons:

1) They are particular about their soil, specifically the acidity level.  Have your soil tested and determine if you need to manipulate the soil to increase it's acidity (like we did).

2) They don't like wet feet.  By this I mean they need proper drainage.  Planting them on slight mounds and mixing in plenty of organic matter (like peat) will help with this.

3) Their roots are shallow, so they don't like to dry out.

4) They like full sun.

Our attempt is shown below.

Our sunflower patch is a patchy mess of bare ground and grass.  You can tell where the upper end of it is because of the two cherry trees.

Here Jamey is tilling the all-blueberry row.  He found very old (and falling apart) discarded railroad ties to help keep out the weeds and help hold the additional soil/peat that those rows will contain.  You can see Sam in the red shirt by his bike killing ants by lighting them on fire with a magnifying glass.  He's a boy.

Here the railroad ties have been dug homes and are in place.  I dug the holes for the blueberry bushes in this row.  The holes are five feet apart and the row is about three feet wide.

This next photograph shows Jamey tilling up the row with the cherry trees.

I prepared the holes and soil and planted those little beauties with Sam, Sadie and Miriam helping.

We then mulched them with several inches of untreated mulch.  We ran out of railroad ties.  If anyone local knows where we can score some more super-old ones for free, we'd really appreciate it.  We still have three bushes that we didn't have room for, so they will be planted along the work shop (the white building to the right).  It's shaded in the early morning, but receives intense afternoon sun (the white wall will help reflect it, too).

We planted at least four varieties to ensure pollination and chose bushes of different ages, anywhere between one and four-year-old plants, for a total of 16 bushes.  According to one source, each mature bush can produce as many as a gallon or more blueberries each year.  I'm not counting on having it that good.  Even half of that would make me very, very happy.

Our fingers are crossed once again!  If you grow blueberries, what tips do you have for us?  What do you do for them year to year?  How many bushes do you have and what is their yield?  Do you love them as much as I do (this may be a trick question because I'm pretty sure I love them best)? :-)
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  1. That's pretty cool! I'd like to have blueberries at some point. Also Apples, peaches, etc. but we have a rather small yard that is largely shaded. :( Now - here is a question for you. I can remember picking wild blueberries on my grandfather's land in PA as a kid, but it was in the mountains and all the bushes were in the woods - absolutely NOT receiving full sun. Did you find anything in your research about this? Any varieties that do well in more shady spots? I can (and might) do my own research, but if you've already found out something, why reinvent the wheel, eh? :)

    Thanks, and I will look forward to hearing how your berries do!

  2. Jane - I am loving your cookbook! Just tried the tahini recipe using sesame seeds I had in our freezer that needed to be used NOW and it turned out perfect! I used some to make a tahini sauce to put on falafel - yummy. Your blog is ALWAYS such an inspiration and encouragement to me. There is something cozy and solid and blessed in a family that really lives, and loves the place they live - evidenced by your love for one another and your plans for and care of the land you live on. Thanks for this "ministry" of encouragement and instruction that God has given you. My husband and I are retired and you have taught us so much! Isn't it "cool" that God uses younger folks to teach us older ones?! We pray for you and your family.
    - Esther in NJ

  3. My husband loves blueberries, and I wonder if we have spot to put some here... I'll do some research, as you suggest!

  4. We have 21 bushes that have FINALLY started bearing well in the last four years. (They're 10 years old now but we bought them as year old plants.) Unfortunately, they don't get as much sun as we would like as (Dummies!) we planted them on the lower part of the yard, too close to the tree line. I've never kept track of our yields but will this year. We eat them like crazy when fresh and I make jam and freeze the rest. Jam is gone and we ate the last from the freezer two weeks ago. (This is for two people primarily, although pies for company and to give away do happen!) They seem to bear heavy one year, no so heavy the next. Each spring I put a layer of peat moss on the whole patch about 3" deep. Also I put good compost around each bush in early spring. Keeping them weeded seems to help, too.

    Good luck with yours. Some of those bushes look huge so you may have berries before long. Wonderful birthday present!

  5. Wonderful! I hope you get LOTS of berries from these bushes! Sounds like you have done plenty of research to ensure success. :) On another note...I like the look of the back of your *country* and beautiful.

    Blessings to you!

  6. I have been growing blueberries for about 10 years. You will need to fertilize them in the Spring if you want lots of berries. We use Miracid by Mircle Gro - that works really well for us. Also, when the berries start forming, we cover the bushes with netting so the birds don't enjoy the berries before we do! Hope that helps!

  7. I just bought two for my dad for his birthday (2 different varieties). I know it will take a few years to produce but I am so excited to sit in his back yard and snack on blueberries. I'm completely jealous of your space- you're a lucky girl!


  8. Good Morning. I want to let you know how much I enjoy your site. You have many wonderful things on it. I thought I would share our blueberry experience. We live in the southeast and have had Rabbiteye blueberries about 8 years - only four bushes. They get full sun. We fertilize once per year with a MiracleGro product. Some years we have forgotten to fertilize but since we mulch them with pine needles and oak leaves from our property the soil gets enough acid. For us the problem can be drought conditions in the summer. This makes the berries small and dry, so we lug water hoses out to the bushes. They need about 1-2 inches of water per week. The bushes shoot up new stems every year so we trim back old slow producers.
    The kids and I have picked as much as 20 pounds in one morning! They have pretty much been one of our easiest crops. They are covered with blossoms right now. Bumblebee heaven.
    Just to let you know, we had friends make a border of railroad ties around a tree and within 6 months the tree died. I believe the ties are treated with a chemical called Creosote. I don't know how long it can leach from an old railroad tie but I would hate to see you loose your bushes. It might be worth investigating.
    Sorry to be so long winded. We have loved our experience with blueberries since they were a definite success from the beginning. Does some
    wanna-be-farmers hearts some good to have such an easy crop. Let me know if there is anything else I could tell you. I'll check back.

    Have a blessed day.
    N.K. - Daughter of an amazing God, wife to the greatest husband, homeschooling mother of 10 incredible children, grandmother to the cutest 2yr old granddaughter and arriving soon the cutest grandson ever. (Just so you know who is giving you advice.)

  9. oh good luck!!! i wish you an overflowing of blueberries!!! One of my favorite memories as a child was picking blueberries. I also tried growing them, unsuccessfully..but I blamed it on too much foot traffic where I planted them....maybe this yr, I'll try again!
    I am your newest follower..pls follow back if you can.

  10. I live in Florida and just started growing blueberries ( originally from Ohio) They did ok, but I read about adding coffee grounds to the bushes....oh my goodness it makes a great difference! I just save all my old grounds and add around the base of the bushes. Also, they need pine needle mulch. That to makes a difference. Good luck with yours! You have a beautiful home and a great blog. (amishwoman49) I don't have a blog, I just read!

  11. If you or anyone you know ever has reason to come to Barbour County, WV, there's piles of old railroad ties free for the taking in Belington. You should inquire if they would kindly transport a handful back for you. -- Katie


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