Pick Your Own

Blueberries Ready to Pick in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Blueberries Ripe for Picking (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

During the recent hot spell all I could do was dream about blueberries.  Visions of blueberries danced in my head, but were far from my hands.  It was simply too hot to pick.  Thankfully, a cool front finally moved into our section of the country, and with it my renewed desire to get out and pick some of my favorite berries.  So, with the sun in the sky and a slight breeze in the air, I donned my comfy hat and supportive shoes, stopped to get my mom along the way, and off we went to pick some scrumptious blueberries.  What could be sweeter?

My Picking Partner in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

My Picking Partner (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Not that long ago, Native Americans also relished blueberries for their pleasant flavor and health benefits, often drying and storing them for winter consumption as well. During the Civil War, berries were harvested, processed and sent to Union soldiers. We now recognize that blueberries are an incredible fruit, containing fiber, vitamins B6, C and K, minerals like manganese and phosphorus, all valuable components for promoting beauty both inside and out. The blueberry is said to contain more powerful disease-fighting antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable and recent studies have shown that blueberries support brain and memory functions, aid in reducing cancer risk, and promote heart and skin health. (As for me, I just pick ’em and eat ’em because it’s fun and delicious!)

Inviting Row at Maple Bank Farm in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Inviting Row at Maple Bank Farm (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

With the domestication and cultivation of blueberries, we are now able to indulge in fruit grown at local farms as well as picking from bushes that still grow wild throughout the New England area. Although wild blueberries tend to be smaller than the domesticated shrubs, they are just as tasty and healthy. However, if you’re a blueberry lover like me, you may want to grow a few of your own if space permits. Blueberry bushes come in a variety of sizes, from just a few feet tall to over seven. Here are a few varieties recommended by the University of Maine’s cooperative extension for zones 4 and up: Taller shrubs (Vaccinium corymbosum, highbush blueberry, range from 4-7′) in order of fruiting-(E=starting in June, M=July and L=Late July to August)- Blueray (E), Meader (E), Bluecrop (M), Nelson (M-L) and Jersey (L).  For shorter bushes (Vaccinium angustifolium, lowbush blueberry, stay around 2′) Northland (E), Patriot (E), St. Cloud (M) and Blue Gold (M-L). I would add that your local nurseries probably carry a variety, and I would trust their recommendations with two notes: 1.) check that the bush is zone safe, and 2.) be sure that you purchase the correct pollinator for your shrub if necessary for fruiting.

Here’s a few growing tips that may sound daunting, but I promise blueberries are really pretty carefree if you ensure the following:

  • Good soil and Sunshine: Blueberries want lots of sun and prefer well drained, moist acidic soil.
  • Mulch: Protect the base of your bushes from weeds and grass by mulching, but not so deep that you invite voles to burrow and chew the trunk.
  • Pollination: It’s as simple as reading the tag at purchase, which will indicate which varieties will pollinate your shrub (if it’s not self-pollinating). Be sure they are within 100′ of each other.
  • Fertilizing: Espoma’s Hollytone is a popular choice for home gardeners, and it’s what I use in early spring.
  • Pruning: Necessary on older plants.  When I worked at Maple Bank, we pruned late winter/early spring, removing the unhealthy branches, usually about 1/3 of growth.
  • Netting: I don’t, and the birds graciously share with me. If you choose to net, please be careful that no innocents can get trapped and tangled.

Both Vaccinium corymbosum and Vaccinium angustifolium make wonderful garden plantings, providing beautiful indigo fruits in the summer and striking foliage in the fall.  Easy care and durable, these are shrubs that will soon become an integral part of your garden chemistry.

The Fruits of My Labor in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The Fruits of My Labor: 6 lbs. in an hour (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Please visit: blueberry.org/gardening for oodles of info about growing “Little Blue Dynamos” and pickyourown.org to find a great place to indulge nearby.  Happy picking!

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