The Invasion of the Blues
I have been growing blueberries for years and this has been a banner year for picking them. We have had plenty of rain and the weather has been perfect for growing. I have only 5 shrubs but that is enough to keep us in berries, as well as providing the birds all they want to eat. I used to cover them with nets, but they are so prolific, I let the birds have at them.
Blueberries are so unbelievably easy to grow, I am surprised that not everyone has at least one of these shrubs planted on their property. They don’t get very large and have beautiful scarlet fall foliage that makes them worthwhile to grow just for that feature alone.
I have several varieties to extend my picking season and there are more than 100 varieties to pick from. There are even dwarf ones suitable for container growing.
Blueberries require an acidic soil, 4.5 – 5.5 pH, much like rhododendrons and azaleas. If you can grow rhodies and azaleas successfully, then you are golden. But my soil tends to be more like 6.5 to 7 on the pH scale, so I add plenty of peat moss when planting. I continue to add it every year around the plants. I also mulch with pine needles and add an acidifier in liquid form periodically to keep the soil on the acid side. If you are unsure of your pH, you can always get a soil test done at a local garden center or the agricultural extension service. Add some cottonseed meal or blood meal as a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer twice in the spring. Coffee grounds rich in nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium are an inexpensive organic fertilizer to add some further nutrients to the soil.
Pests are never a problem except for the birds, and aren’t an issue if you have prolific bearers.
My blueberries are in partial shade and do fine with that light. They will also perform well in full sun.
There is really no secret to pollination other than planting several varieties close to each other. For healthier, more productive blueberries, regardless of type or variety, you should plant different varieties so that bees can travel and cross-pollinate the plants. My bees are all over the shrubs when they are blooming.
Consistent watering of blueberries is important because they have a shallow, fibrous root system. But I rarely water my shrubs as they are pretty distant from the hose reach. To avoid watering I layer on tons of mulch around the whole area. Once in a while when we have had some long periods of drought, I run the hose out to the plants for a good soak.
The only thing that I don’t enjoy about growing blueberries is I hate to pick them! They are small and tedious to pick and take up time. The berries ripen over a couple of weeks, so you need to pick the ripe ones every couple of days. I have tried different methods, like placing a sheet underneath and shaking and pulling off the ripe ones, but I have gone back to my normal picking one by one into a Tupperware container. The shaking method pulls off too many immature berries and wastes them. I enlist help and ask people who want some berries to pick them and leave me some too.
Pruning the shrubs to make them more compact, and to get rid of older branches that bear less fruit, is a matter of a few minutes in the late winter. This annual pruning forces the shrub to produce new wood that will bear larger, more abundant berries.
Simple Seasonal Care
Winter – prune
Early spring – fertilize
Late spring – fertilize again
Summer – harvest fruit and enjoy!
Fall – mulch
Blueberries are the perfect health food. They are nutritious, have anti-oxidants, and require little preparation. Freezing easily and going well with so many foods and desserts are among their many attributes.
Everyone has recipes for muffins, pies, and cakes using blueberries so I wanted to pass along a great recipe that I use for meat! This is a great sauce and you can use either fresh or frozen blueberries.
Savory Blueberry Steak Sauce
3 T unsalted butter
2 small shallots, finely chopped
2 T flour
1/4 C sherry vinegar
1/4 C ketchup
3 T dijon mustard
1/4 C orange juice
1/4 C molasses
1/2 Tsp dried thyme
1/4 Tsp dried sage
2 C fresh or frozen blueberries
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in large skillet and saute shallots for 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, blending and stirring until mixture begins to bubble. Add vinegar, ketchup, mustard, orange juice, molasses, thyme, and sage, and stir until combined. Add blueberries and raise heat to medium-high to bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cool, stirring often for about 15 minutes until the mixture is thickened and glossy. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm over steak.
- Blueberries ready for harvest at local farms (onlineathens.com)
- Plant Some Bloomin’ Blueberries (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
- 12 Months of Blueberries (thegreenery.ca)
- Perfect Pitcher Drink Recipe: Blueberry Lavender Vodka Spritzer The 10-Minute Happy Hour (thekitchn.com)
- Blueberries Don’t Sing The Blues (forgetthepain.net)
- A Guide to Growing Your Own Berries! (berries.com)
- Maine’s Native Berries (bangordailynews.com)
- Berry Fruit Guide (berries.com)