I’m off to pick another quart of blueberries to freeze.
We’ve stuffed ourselves with berry tarts, muffins, pies and jams in the last six week to the point of gluttony!
It’s time to freeze the bounty.
I have Blue Crop, Chandler, Patriot and Pink Lemonade bushes, which are all high-bush blueberries that thrive in cold-winter climates.
Rabbit-eye varieties do best in the southern states.
Look through any catalog or website, and you’ll find information on specific USDA Climate Zones in which different cultivars grow best.
The Blueberry page on Almanac.com also provides recommended varieties of blueberries.
Blue Crop blueberries take my frigid winters in their stride and produce huge crops in July.
Growing your own fruit seems overwhelming to even seasoned gardeners. There’s the pruning, endless spraying for disease and insects and pollination issues. Most like apples, peaches and pears can be a pain to raise. But, the healthiest and one of the tastiest fruits (in my opinion), the blueberry, is simple to grow.
Chandler is the biggest berry you can grow. Most are as big as a nickle.
You amend the soil, plant the bush, mulch and water. That’s it! No spraying, no endless pruning or other maintenance. Most are self-pollinating, although two different varieties will insure heavy fruit set. In return you get gorgeous bell-like flowers in the spring, tasty fruit and vivid fall foliage in tones of red, rust and orange that accent your landscape.
Don’t listen to the garden experts with their admonitions about blueberries needing acid soil. Not true! While blueberry bushes do require soil with low pH (about 4.5 to 5.5) that is porous, you don’t have to replace your alkaline or clay soil. Just amend the planting area. What I did was to stake out a 3 by 9-foot bed for the four bushes I planted. I added a bale of peat and a cup of soil sulfur to the existing alkaline soil.
Pink Lemonade is new to the market, but it's pink berries as just as tasty as blue ones. Bushes are heavy bearers. Photo courtesy of Garden Media Group.
Blueberries have shallow root systems and they love moisture. That’s why I added the peat; it, plus the soil sulfur, brought down the pH of the bed from 7.3 to 5.2. Adding soil sulfur every spring keeps the pH in the desirable range. Test the pH before adding sulfur to see if it’s needed.
Thick mulch is a must, also. It insures that the roots stay healthy. I use pine needles from a 80-foot white pine in my yard, and I top them off with another six inches of straw. That foot of mulch insulates roots in winter so they stay frozen; freezing and thawing will kill any root system. And, the mulch keeps soil moist during growing season.
Very little pruning is needed, but it should be done in early spring while plants are still dormant. The first two years, the bush’s structure is formed, so specific cuts must be made to spur growth and form fruit buds. After that, spring pruning is a matter of removing dead canes and cleaning up any problems. Each bush only takes me five minutes to prune.
Disease problems are non-existent. Nothing seems to bother plants, except birds pecking the berries as they ripen. Bird netting, a pet cat or dog in the yard or situating bushes near a house entrance takes care of birds.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.
In stores now!
Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including Amazon.com.