Here in the Pacific Northwest the berries grow wild in our alpine regions, here we refer to those as Huckleberries. The wild berries do not typically get as large as cultured berries, and the leaves of the plants are smaller than the domestic plants. For many years we took a day trip to the mountain, brought along a picnic lunch and harvested the wild berries. And if we were lucky we got to them before the bear and other wild animals that enjoy those berries as much as we do. Of course we never picked more than our share and left plenty for the animals and others to enjoy. Rarely was there more than just enough for a small pie. The experience of wild foraging remains with our children and teaches responsibility as well as what to look for in the wild. It offers a learning experience in self-reliance and wilderness survival.
Blueberries are so important that the entire month of July is designated National Blueberry month and July 10 is set aside as Blueberry picking day. President Ronald Reagan was known for his love of Jelly Beans and requested blue Jelly Beans for his inauguration ceremony. Jelly Belly company came up with blueberry jelly beans in honor of his request.
Blueberries are easy to grow and can be grown in containers on a patio or balcony because they have a shallow root system. If planting in containers make sure the containers can be placed where there is ample sun and far enough apart so the branches can spread; an area of 4 feet should be ample. A container that is at least 12-14 inches deep and 14" in diameter or larger works well. They can be planted in 5 gallon buckets or containers. It is my understanding that if you live in a Home Owners Association neighborhood that 5 gallon buckets are not usually allowed, however that gives you a size reference for what you need in the way of a container.
Use good potting soil with plenty of organic material or add well aged organic material to the potting soil. It's best to purchase 2 year old plants, and there does need to be at least two plants for proper pollination.
Prepare the planting hole and add plenty of organic matter, then water the hole well before placing the blueberry plant in the hole. You can plant them about 1/4 deeper than the top of the soil in the container they were in. If the plants are root bound, gently massage the soil around those roots to loosen the soil and allow the roots to spread once they are in the ground. Tamp the ground firmly around the plant, then water well. Add about a 2 inch layer of compost or organic material around the plants.
Blueberries do like regular water, especially if they are in containers. Adding organic matter around the plants will help conserve moisture so it is readily available to the plants. The organic matter will also provide the nutrients for these acid loving plants.
The plants should have plenty of room to spread the branches and to allow for air circulation between plants. They also require some sun throughout the day.
If planting in the garden, make sure they are planted where they do not have to compete with weeds, grasses or tree roots for their water supply.
There are a variety of cultivars available and your nursery will carry those that are best for your planting zone. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Blueberries bloom in May or June and ready to harvest in July. Your local County University Extension office will have further information on growing blueberries and other crops in your region.
Do not harvest the berries during the first year. Remove the flower buds to allow the plant to branch and concentrate on establishing in the chosen plant site. The next year, do not harvest all the berries. Be conservative. After those initial two years, the plants should be well established and will produce a fair crop. But it may take up to 4 years for a sizeable crop per plant.
To Prune, only prune out dead or diseased canes or canes that are not producing, as necessary during the dormant season between October and March. The plants can be planted in the fall or the spring. Water well the first year, after that they will only need regular, moderate watering. A soaker system is ideal for watering the plants. If using mulch, make sure to add some nitrogen periodically, which tends to leach from the soil as the mulch is breaking down.
Blueberries are a sustainable crop when well established, and it is possible to plant different varieties that will produce from July through the Autumn months for successive harvesting. The benefits are numerous from a health aspect and purchase of the berries is quite expensive, so growing your own provides the added benefit of cost savings. The berries can be frozen, dehydrated or canned and of course eaten fresh or added to your favorite baked goods, pancakes or waffles.
Blueberries are generally pest and disease free as long as they receive ample water supply and air circulation along with some pruning as needed, however birds do love them, so a netting around the plants prior to fruiting will help protect the berries until they are ready to harvest.
Chickens love blueberries and are good for them; they will enjoy them fresh, frozen or dehydrated. however it makes sense to grow your own since Blueberries in our area range in price from $3.00 per pint container and up, which isn't very cost effective to treat the chickens, when there is cheaper fruit on the market.
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Follow the link for my recipe to make Blueberry Applesauce justfowlingaround.weebly.com/recipes-for-self-reliance/blueberry-applesauce
CREDENTIALS: Certified Oregon State Master Gardener since 1999. Horticulture degree 2001. Study of Herbs and Horticulture Therapy, heavy research and study of all plants and herbs. Gardening a lifetime.