My wife and I are in the starting phases of a Pick-Your-Own Blueberry farm. We have some friends who have started one, and it is a traditional monoculture with several thousand blueberry plants, planted in a row, and that is what we were planning until I heard Paul on a podcast talking about permaculture.
I will give you a little information about our farm, and what we were planning on doing. We live on 13.5 acres and were going to plant 5 acres with several different varieties of high bush blueberry plants. We live just outside Kansas City and our soil and precipitation are not ideal for growing blueberries, but if you can get them to grow they are profitable in this area. There is one large and successful farm about 30 miles from us, and they have more business then they can deal with, so if we get one established we would have not problem moving the fruit.
So, my question for you is, if we were to choose a permaculture route we wouldn't be able to plant as many plants, and they would not be in the nice rows that are easy for customers to pick from and us to maintain, but we would be planting a wider variety of plants and probably have to irrigate less. The plan is that once the plants are established we will be able to do this full time, in addition to other things we have going, but if we will have fewer plants that might make it more difficult to do it full time.
I am not sure I have given enough information, so if clarification is needed please let me know.
If you can get a good source of pine cones, you shouldmulch your blueberries with shredded pine cones. I have had a few blueberry bushes on the back of my property and they were just hanging in there, with a fair yield. But last winter I got inspired to apply some permaculture principles to them and mulched them heavily with shredded pine cones. This year I got a much better yield from them and there have been new volunteer bushes sprouting.
Aaron - you can apply some permaculture principals without throwing out all the conventional agriculture practices.
For example, row planting can still work for bushes, providing easy access and maintenance, provided that you think carefully about the other plant varieties you want to include. Yes, you will probably have fewer blueberry plants, but your much richer variety of species should give you many opportunities for alternative harvests.
I don't know much about blueberries (the chance of me ever getting to grow them on this soil is pretty much zero) but you can make a nice polyculture orchard still based on rows. Think about what varieties will support blueberries - ideally plants that favour the acidic soil needed for blueberries - some mulch varieties to chop and drop between rows for fertility for example. I believe blueberries are a low bush - could you interplant with some taller canopy plants (fruit trees, nitrogen fixers?).
I'd recommend starting small and slow - perhaps establish 1 tenth of you final intended area in your first year as an experiment and see what works out well and what doesn't.
Moderator, Treatment Free Beekeepers group on Facebook.
Some clarification to my previous post. The variety of berries we will be planting grow between 5 and 8' tall.
We have put in a couple of rows (equaling about 130 plants) as a test plot, we are working on getting the mix of acid and mulch down on these before we put in all the plants.
Any suggestions on companion plants, and what configuration would work well.
Our land will work well with swales on contour, would you suggest having pockets of blueberries between the swales and something else planted on top of them, just not sure what will provide the greatest area to get more berries in.