Blueberry Bonanza

Blueberries are the ultimate fruit bearing shrub for people who want to make the most use of planting shrubs for beauty, but will also produce a tasty and healthy treat.

You can buy a blueberry bush anywhere for around $25

Easy to grow and integrate into an established garden, blueberries are attractive shrubs in their own right, that people really don’t think of using when planning their landscape. Easy to fit into a small landscape, blueberries exhibit wonderful fall color as well as being attractive shrubs the rest of the year, especially in the fall when they turn  a spectacular red color as the days turn cooler.  An unexpected source of fall color for most people, and a great provider of breakfast blueberries-what’s not to love?

There is nothing like fresh picked blueberries for breakfast

A half dozen blueberry bushes are planted in the high shade of large trees on my property, and I amended the soil with plenty of moistened peat moss. Planting the shrubs about five feet apart gives them enough growing space. If you plant them in the landscape as a shrub accent in a flower bed, you can group them a little closer for a bigger impact.  I find that deer leave the shrubs alone but will browse on the ripe berries, as well as birds. Bird netting set up over a framework of PVC pipe keeps the berries going into your pies instead of feeding the wildlife. But if you plant enough bushes, you will have enough for the wildlife as well as yourself.

Blueberries used in the landscape can screen utilities

Plant as early in the spring as possible is best, though I have been quite successful planting them later in the spring and into the summer. Resistant to most pest and diseases, I have been growing my blueberries for over 25 years with bushes that keep on producing plump juicy berries.  Offering scarlet fall foliage and pale-yellow bell-shaped spring flowers, my honey bees flock to gather nectar and pollen from them, and is one of the reasons I grow them.

The flowers are creamy yellow and bell-like

 

Steps for Planting

  1. Select a spot in full sun or partial shade.
  2. Test your soil pH by digging a small sample and take to a nearby nursery to have tested. The soil pH should be optimally between 4 and 5. To acidify your soil or to lower the pH, mix a small amount of granulated sulfur into the soil several months before planting. Also mixing organic materials such as peat moss, pine bark, leaf mold, aged sawdust, and pine needles into the soil will help acidify your soil and lower the pH before planting.
  3. Buy a blueberry bush that is at least one year old or older to get a head start on bearing.
  4. Dig hole about twice as wide and deep as the root ball and add some loamy soil and compost to the hole.
  5. Place the shrub at the same level as the pot into the hole and back fill with soil and pack firmly.
  6. Water thoroughly.
  7. About one month after planting, fertilize with a general 10-10-10 granular fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion.
  8. Blueberries are self-pollinating but will grow larger fruit through cross-pollination with a companion bush.

Harvesting

Blueberries are one of the easiest plants to harvest with very little effort. The berries are held upright on small shrubs so are easy to reach with little bending over, unlike strawberries and raspberries. It is important to wait until the berry ripens completely with a rich blue color all around as the berries will not ripen any further after you pick them.  The berry will reach its full flavor and aroma a few days after the blue color appears.

Wait until the berries are deep purple before picking

Hanging an old cut off gallon milk jug around my neck, which frees both hands to pick, is the most efficient way.

Using an old milk jug with the neck cut off and a shoestring to hang it, is the best way to pick hands free

The berries ripen over several weeks, so my harvest is spread out and I enjoy them on cereal and pancakes for about a month in late June and early July. My excess berries are washed, spread out to dry, and packed into freezer baggies for future use.

Freezing my berries for later use
Weighing my berries

Container Growing

People are quite successful growing blueberries in large containers. Use the same soil mix as above and use a large enough container that the plant can grow, but that you can also move around if needed. Overwinter the container by wrapping burlap or straw around the plant and placing in a protected location from winds. Successful blueberry growing though, is having the right soil mix with plenty of peat moss added, in a container or in the ground.

A plentiful harvest

Pruning 

When your bushes get older, at least 4-5 years old, it is time to start pruning to keep them producing each year. The berries are produced on newer canes, so the best strategy is to remove older and diseased canes as well as crossing branches with a sharp pruner. Then trim the rest of the longer arching branches back by about 1/4 to 1/3. The goal when pruning is to achieve a narrow base and open top that allows sunlight to penetrate and good air circulation. The best time to do this is late winter while the bushes are dormant, and it is easy to see the structure.  To ensure plentiful harvests, you should continue to do this every year. For a great description and diagram, go to Ohio State Extension Service.

Pine straw is the best mulch for blueberries

Top 12 Garden Trends for 2014

An array of catalogs
An array of catalogs

What’s Brewing in the Garden

I don’t need to read tea leaves or get out my crystal ball to figure out what is trending in the horticulture world, just a glossy stack of 2014 seed catalogs cascading off my bookshelf. While the wind is howling and there is talk of polar vortex, I brew up a cup of hot tea, gather my reading material, and snuggle in. Here is a lowdown on what is new, what is hot, and what people are really thinking about when they plan ahead, and order their seeds for the upcoming growing season.

1. Grafted Vegetable Plants

The difference between a grafted and a straight tomato
The difference between a grafted and a straight tomato

Grafted plants are relatively new, but I have only seen grafted tomato plants. A grafted plant simply means the top part of a separate plant(scion) is attached to the root system of another plant(the rootstock). The rootstock contributes vigor and disease resistance while the scion is chosen for flavor and quality. To see my review of grafted tomatoes go to Grafted Tomatoes, What’s Next?

Ann array of grated plants seen at the recent Mid-Atlantic Nurserymans Show in Baltimore
Ann array of grafted plants seen at the recent Mid-Atlantic Nurserymans Show in Baltimore

Now, you can choose from grafted double tomatoes (2 varieties on one plant), cucumber, peppers, watermelon, and eggplants, which are available from Territorial Seed Company. Another new development that is top-secret(you heard it from me!!) is the tomato plant that grows potatoes. That’s right- The plant grows tomatoes on top and potatoes underneath. Weird is right, but it makes perfect sense. The name that is being batted around for this oddity is “ketchup and fries”! Look for this in 2015.

2. Not Using GMO Seeds

Genetically Modified seeds are a no no. Virtually every catalog assured the grower that they renounced the very idea of selling them! For example from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange “we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants”. Consequently, heirlooms, which are open pollinated, are huge! Also prevalent are organic seeds. Heirlooms and organics dominate the catalogs, and some seed companies such as Landreth Seeds, sell them exclusively. Several companies such as Sow True Seed state that they are signatories to the Safe Seed Pledge, put out by the Council for Responsible Genetics. I see this as a sign that consumers have lost their faith in big agro-businesses and want to go back to basics and something simpler.

3. Planting Raised, Stackable Beds, and Container Bags 

Stackable planters from Territorial Seeds
Stackable planters from Territorial Seeds

Raised beds and stackables are everywhere. Sow True Seed’s sells bag beds, smart pots, elevated garden planters, and a raised bed garden system. The stackables are new; think of wooden crates with a fiberglass screen bottom with cedar supports to contain soil. You can stack one on top of each other, or interlock in a customized configuration to fit your space.

Another option are the big bag beds which are soft sided containers, some as wide as 50 inches to grow edibles and flowers. The one pictured below, located on my patio in winter, is a favorite of mine. It won’t crack in winter like pottery would, and the sides are breathable for good air access. They are supposed to last about 7 years.

Big Bag Bed
Big Bag Bed

4. Bee Gardening

Save the Bees Seeds
Save the Bees Seeds

Bees have been in the news for the past couple of years and people are concerned about their disappearance, wanting to do something about it. The easiest solution is to plant a bee-friendly garden, using native plants. Native plants continue to be a hot topic in gardening worlds.

Botanical Interests, is selling “Save the Bees” seeds which includes annuals, biennials and perennials.  They claim that, “The variety of colorful blooms in this mix provides plentiful food for many of the over 4000 species of bees that live in the U.S., and are waiting to visit your garden!” for $4.99.

If a variety is the least bit attractive to bees, the seed or plant company will trumpet those benefits, even when some are questionable.

To take it a step further, mason bee houses are popping up for the first time in main stream seed catalogs, and you can even buy the  larvae cocoons on line if you want to jump start your local population.

5. Planting for Health Benefits/Foraging

Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes

When I was ordering my tomato seeds, I noticed in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, that they had a chart titled “Our 2013 Nutritional Study on Tomatoes”. The chart rated 10 tomato varieties in order according to their nutrient values as was performed by a certified lab in California. I was surprised to see the wide differences between the varieties in levels of vitamins, acidity, and lycopene (flavonoid antioxidant). Generally the black and purple tomatoes surpass significantly all other color tomatoes. That is why I ordered the variety “Black Krim” which topped the list as best overall. I was following a trend which I see is in full swing, gardening for nutritional benefits as well as tasting good.

Black Krim tomato
Black Krim tomato

People are looking at health benefits when cultivating all edibles and growing lots of greens for smoothies or “groothies”. Kale is ubiquitous.

Foraging for edibles is an off-shoot of this interest with a ground swell locavore movement. Driving this movement is self-sufficiency, getting in touch with nature, free food, and seasonal eating. Eat your dandelions!

6. Herbs-Medicinal and Culinary

Lavender Phenomenal
Lavender Phenomenal

People are making their lifestyle choices with wellness in mind. Bergamot, chamomile, and comfrey are three herbs that are leading this trend of healthy choices and habits. Easy to grow in containers, windowsills, and just about anywhere – herbs, both medicinal and culinary are the next hot edible.

The herb section in all my catalogs has grown over the years. From Park Seed you can buy a pollinator herb mixture of borage, chives, sage, basil, lemon mint, catnip, sweet marjoram, oregano, and creeping thyme. Varieties of herbs have exploded and the hybridizers have been busy, especially with Lavenders. Phenomenal Lavender is a new variety which has been trumpeted, that will thrive in hot humid summers, which I endure here in the mid-Atlantic. I grew this variety for the first time last year and liked it because the flowers branched off the main stem to produce more flowers all summer long. The jury is still out until I see how it over-winters.

7. Growing Exotic and Unusual Vegetables

Dinosaur Kale
Dinosaur Kale

Remember earlier, I said back to basics? Well, forget that!! Because I definitely see a trend to growing unique and gourmet vegetables that are nutritious as well as easy to grow. Just check out Park Seed‘s gourmet edibles which include Kale Lacinato(Dinosaur Kale), Cucumber Crystal White Pickler, Rainbow Blend Tomato, Chiogga Beet, Pepper Petite Color Blend, and Brussels Sprouts Bitesize. I attempted to order Dinosaur Kale from several companies, but it was sold out wherever I tried! I will be growing these black tomatoes that I saw in Quebec last summer. Because of their black color, supposedly the nutrient content of these should be off the charts.

Black Tomatoes
Black Tomatoes

8. Themed Seed Samplers

Renee’s Garden Seeds increases their themed seed collections every year, such as the Basil Lovers Bonanza, Fabulous and Unusual Annuals, or Collection of Collections, which is all twelve of the themed garden seeds together for $155! Landreth Seeds has the most unique collections, with one called the African American Heritage Collection. See my review of Landreth Seeds at Art of the Seed. Botanical Interests has over 30 collections and has pulled out all the stops in naming them. I am going to try “Salsa Ole Seed Collection”, and the “Weird and Wonderful Seed Collection”. The collections at Botanical Interests can only be purchased on line.

9. Growing Small/Rooftops

Rooftop garden in Quebec
Rooftop garden in Quebec

Rooftop gardening for vegetables by definition should be small and compact. The adjectives used in describing these plants are mini, tiny, dwarf, and compact. Vegetables and flowers are being downsized to fit into peoples lifestyles and space limitations, and are sprouting up on rooftops all over America. Determinate plants are popular as they do not vine and outgrow their space, and the smaller varieties have exploded in number. Container sized blueberries and raspberries are selling out everywhere as they are so easy to grow. See my Blueberry Bonanza post. Berries in general are enjoying a resurgence of popularity. Ever-bearing strawberries, ones that produce sporadically throughout the growing season, are very popular. For my post on strawberries, go to Jam Session.

Garden Sox container with a bearing strawberry
Garden Sox container with a bearing strawberry

10. Growing “Super Foods

Goji Berries
Goji Berries

This trend is an off-shoot of growing food for health benefits, but primarily so-called super foods such as berries, kiwis, quinoa, beets, and greens, fall into this category. Goji Berries are still trendy, and blueberries are being hybridized into unrecognizable colors, such as lemonade pink or peach sorbet.

A newly released berry from Proven Winners is called Sugar Mountain Blue Haskap. Sugar Mountain is a honeysuckle variety or Lonicera, but not the invasive kind. Haskaps look like elongated, oversized blueberries that growers claim is easier to grow than blueberries. They also contain high levels of antioxidants and three times the amount of vitamin C.  Haskaps can be eaten fresh or dried, or cooked into pies, just like blueberries. For a post on another superfood, Okra, go to Okra-Superfood Superstar.

Blue Haskap berry
Blue Haskap berry

 11. Fermentation

Fermentation is huge! Enjoying a resurgence are plants that can be fermented such as hops for beer, grapes for wine, cabbage for kimchi,  kombucha, and relishes. Go to Pickle Time to see how easy it is to make pickles. Beer gardens are becoming popular, with people growing different varieties of hops to try their hand at brewing.  If you are interested in kombucha, which is a fermented tea, and new to me, go to  http://www.foodrenegade.com/how-to-brew-kombucha-double-fermentation-method/.

Mixing unique cocktails with different hand-made liquors like Elderflower or infusing vodkas with fruit is hitting the scene. Plants and liquor-a marriage made in heaven! Read The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart for recipes and inspiration

Drunken Botanist
Drunken Botanist

12. Sprouts & Micro Greens

Do you notice a trend here? Edibles aren’t new on the gardening scene, they are just taking over the gardening world. Sprouting set-ups are “sprouting” all over and every time you walk into a gardening supply store, you are knocking into one.

Sprouting seeds and microgreens from Botanical Interests
Sprouting seeds and microgreens from Botanical Interests

Micro greens are an “offshoot” of the sprouting scene and you have probably seen them on restaurant menus, garnishing sandwiches, salads and soups. Micro greens are juvenile vegetable seedlings that are between 7 and 14 days old that grow in soil. Sprouts are seeds that germinate in water and are about 48 hours old. Micro greens are harvested by cutting the plant off at the soil level. Arugula, mustard, pea, beets, cilantro are some micro greens now on the market with more to come. The nutrients contained in micro greens are four to six times more intense than the mature vegetable.

Rain barrel with edibles
Rain barrel with edibles

I am sure that you noticed that of the above movements, most of the options involved vegetable or edible gardening.  As a consequence, when vegetable gardeners speak, the gardening industry listens!

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