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March 24, 2010 / Malcolm Dalebö

Blueberries are new this year



Blueberries, Vaccinium corybosum, taste delicious whether eaten fresh or cooked. Blueberries are an easy-to-grow superfood. In addition to taste and appearance, blueberries are ripe with medical advantages; they help lower cholesterol and studies suggest that blueberries also reduce the risk of some cancers. The high-bush varieties we have chosen should allow us to pick from July right through to mid October, a long enough season for even Margaret to tire of them!

Earliblue (above) – A very early variety with clusters of large, light blue fruit. Ripens from early July. A stout bush that will eventually grow up to 180cm (6 feet) high.



Bluecrop (right) – An excellent mid season variety producing large sweet fruit from late July to late August. Very hardy.

Elliott (below) – Vigorous bushes producing a high yield of juicy berries from early September through to mid October.

Where to grow
Blueberries grow best in full sun. Plants tolerate partial shade, but production declines as shade increases. Blueberries are shallow rooted and poor competitors against large rooted trees, shrubs, and weeds that compete for water, nutrients, and crowd airways necessary to good blueberry production.
The most important element is growing blueberries is soil composition. To make the most of your blueberry planting, begin necessary soil amendments the year before planting. Blueberries grow best in loose, sandy loam. Although you may run across wild blueberries growing in a bog, on closer inspection you’ll see that plants grow on small, natural hills.

Blueberries need moisture retentive, well-drained, humus-rich soil with good aeration. Soil acidity is also very important in growing blueberries. Plants need a pH of 4.0 to no more than 5.0 to thrive. Initially, bring the pH down to acceptable levels with sulphur or 4 to 6 inches of acid peat mixed into the first 6 to 8 inches of topsoil. Also, enrich soil with good organic compost.

We have a clay based soil and so we have dug out 50cm square holes, of the same depth, and filled with ericaceous compost, which will need an acid refresh every year.
Planting blueberries
Although most blueberries self-pollinate, plant two or more varieties for a larger harvest of more tempting fruits. Five plants provide enough blueberries for fresh eating, drying, and preserving for a family of four. The three that Margare and I are growing should take care of our needs!
Plant blueberries in spring after all danger of frost passes. 
Standard spacing for highbush, half-high, and rabbiteye bushes is five to six feet apart in rows eight to ten feet distant. Dig holes or make your row three to four inches deeper than the size of the root balls. Pack soil firmly around the roots of each plant.
Plant lowbush varieties one to three feet apart in rows three to four feet distant. Cover about a third of the top stems with soil to encourage runners to develop.
Feeding
Organic feeds are best as they don’t impair the flavour of the berries or lower their nutritional value as chemical-based fertilisers do. They also help the plants grow at the rate they are supposed to, which leads to less risk of attack from pests such as aphids. Use a pelleted organic chicken manure or seaweed feed during the growing season, and mulch with an acidic dressing such as bark, sawdust or leaf mould. Pine bark is the most acidic of the mulches, and helps maintain the correct pH level.
Pick the fruit as it ripens, and cover with netting to protect from birds if necessary. Once you have started growing your own berries, you won’t want to stop. They produce masses of fruit that you can eat raw, cook in desserts or add to ice creams. And the health benefits of eating berries regularly are immense.
Once established, a blueberry bush may remain productive for decades with just a minimum of care.

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