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Blueberries  RSS feed

 
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Any tips for growing blueberries in SE Iowa?
 
Posts: 412
Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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I can offer general tips, but I'm not in SE Iowa.  I'd need to know at least a few things...  Your weather patterns (incl how cold it gets in winter).  Your mineral-soil type — sandy, clayish, loamy? Or is your soil deep humic?  and soil's pH if you know that.  Also, how abundant (or not) is your water for irrigation?  And do you want to grow blueberries for your household. or for household plus sales?  (IOW, extent)
 
pollinator
Posts: 292
Location: Quebec, Canada
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Having acidic soils is a must.  They naturally grow at the edge of a coniferous forest after a forest fire or clear cutting.  They like sunny areas, but can tolerate partial shade as long as they still get adequate sun.


If your soil is not very acidic, then you will need to bring in some acidic soil as the blueberries will not thrive.   Some people think that throwing some pine needles on the ground around the plant will not make your soil acidic.  It not possible to make your non acidic soil acidic with additives. You need to have acidic soil in the first place.


I have 11 blueberry plants that I planted at the edge of our wild blueberry patch which is along the edge of a coniferous forest.

Since the birds love pecking at blueberries, you will need to net them when they start to ripen otherwise, there might not be much left for you and the once that are left will probably have peck holes in them.


 
Posts: 353
Location: SW PA USA zone 6a altitude 1188ft
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I planted 5 different blueberries 3 years ago. This is the first year I got any serious production. I have acidic clay soil so I dug up the lawn next to my garden and added to the fence. I wanted to experiment with various berries for flavor and didn't spend enough time on what production would be. This was a big mistake and I should have known better. My last property was many acres here in SW Pennsylvania, one 6a. There was a wild blueberry patch maybe 100x250 feet. I tried picking the berries and gave up out of frustration. After what seemed an eternity I had a quarter cup of berries. Extremely good flavor compared to those in the store. So, my worst plant is Northcountry, please don't buy that one. After the 3 years it's about 8 inches tall, and maybe a foot in diameter. I got a lot of berries which we mixed up with my best producer and added to our morning pancakes. Very tasty, compared to those in the store. I found that when you're picking you always get some quite not ripe berries but if you keep them in the fridge they ripen up. We always threw everything in the store berries into the recipie. That's a mistake which is easier to learn when you have berries coming off the bush over a period of time.

When I planted them out I dug up and amended the soil. After planting them I mulched them with a couple inches of mushroom manure. I later found out they don't recommend manure with blueberries. But I seem to have done OK even with my mistake. The soil here was the grass sod on top of almost pure clay. I would like to think that using the manure overcame the poor soil we have, especially near the house.

My best producing plant was the one that was identified as a Jersey blueberry. It's supposed to get 7 foot tall and I expect it'll be quite the producer when it's mature. It's about 4 foot tall now. BUT a Jersey blueberry is said by Burpee, my supplier, to Ripen in August. This plant ripened in June. The berries on the "Jersey" and the Northcountry both produced in June and the critters left the berries alone. Here in July they seem to all disappear. I have no idea whether that's something that happens everywhere or whether the critters have other better forage here in June. I did have strawberries then but the patch is too shady and there wasn't much to be had. Likewise with a Cherry tree. It's in it's third year this year and only had a few cherries. One thing I can tell you is that the rabbits in this neighborhood will eat ALL the plants if given the opportunity. I had to add a couple foot high fence with a tight weave to the 5 foot deer fencing.

In summation I'd suggest you ignor the lowbush berries and stick to the highbush varieties. For the $13 - $20 cost of the plants you'll get much more berries for the money. If you drink the best wine you might appreciate the tiny tasty berries on the lowbush plants.

 
Joel Bercardin
Posts: 412
Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Michelle Bisson wrote:Having acidic soils is a must.  They naturally grow at the edge of a coniferous forest after a forest fire or clear cutting.  They like sunny areas, but can tolerate partial shade as long as they still get adequate sun.

If your soil is not very acidic, then you will need to bring in some acidic soil as the blueberries will not thrive.   Some people think that throwing some pine needles on the ground around the plant will not make your soil acidic.  It not possible to make your non acidic soil acidic with additives. You need to have acidic soil in the first place


I agree in one way (the soil must be acidic), but I've seen how some "additives" can bring a former conifer soil back to acid enough.

One of the aspects of Permaculture is that generally people practicing some form of it try to utilize as few off-site soil additives as possible.  I still know nothing of your situation, Zane.  Mine was that I'm on an essentially sand/silt bench of originally conifer-forest soil that was cleared by former occupants about 40 years before I planted my blueberries.  Testing as near neutral at 6.8, the soil had shifted toward neutral pH in those years.

I dug holes, planted my young nursery-purchased plants in 50% soil taken from the holes, 25% finished compost, 25% sphagnum peat moss (which is quite acidic).  (Perhaps some people here on Permies would criticize my use of the sphagnum, which I bought.)  I also mixed in some powdered sulphur for acidity.  This mixture worked well.  It tested quite acidic with a pH meter, and the plants mostly did very well (certain varieties that I'd bought survived the first year better than others).  I covered the soil in the whole patch with sawdust & planer shavings from a local sawmill.  If the pH goes above 6.0 around any of my plants, I dig-in a bit of powdered sulphur.  My intention is to keep the pH closer to 5.0

Also, you have to keep the soil in your blueberry patch quite moist.

My result has been that desirable fungal micorrhizae established themselves in the patch within about a year.  I have bushy plants that range up to 7 ft tall, and we get a very abundant annual crop of delicious berries.

I too steer clear of the lowbush varieties, and I'll add that it's important to determine the best varieties of plants for your specific annual climatic patterns.
 
Posts: 582
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Zane, I second the highbush varieties because they can withstand cold winters.   Lowbush varieties are for warmer climates.  There are a couple major plant catalogs/websites that can give you good information that will suit your zone.   Your local nurseries that specialize in fruit trees and fruit plants ought to sell the varieties that work in your area, but I highly recommend researching them before you buy.  I think sometimes nurseries make plants available that are just popular in the moment.

Since blueberry bushes have very shallow roots, they respond well to mulch of several kinds.  I have mine in clay, but I've added shovels full of granite sand, and I add the sand on top and it disappears in about a month.  I put about 3-6 inches of mowed weeds around them during the winter.    I put coffee grounds and tea bags around the roots.   Keeping the weeds away is really important because they don't reach down far enough into the soil to compete with the weeds.  I use daffodil bulbs to keep the rodents away.  I wrap them in sheer white curtains held on with clothespins when the berries are forming to keep away the birds.

I have about 15 blueberry plants, and I've decided I will only buy the biggest blueberries I can find, because spending half an hour on one plant picking small blueberries is hard on the back, it takes too much time, and the jam has a lot more teeny seeds and skin in it.  
 
Posts: 634
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Cristo Balete wrote:... highbush varieties because they can withstand cold winters.   Lowbush varieties are for warmer climates...



Other way around :-)
 
Michelle Bisson
pollinator
Posts: 292
Location: Quebec, Canada
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Cristo Balete wrote:

Since blueberry bushes have very shallow roots, they respond well to mulch of several kinds.  I have mine in clay, but I've added shovels full of granite sand, and I add the sand on top and it disappears in about a month.  I put about 3-6 inches of mowed weeds around them during the winter.    



I would be afraid to put sand as mulch around any of my plants as the way I see it, clay and sand when dried is like mortar.  I would prefer wood chips and especially leaves as mulch to imitate the natural forest forest floor since blueberries are often growing on the edge of the forest or in forest clearings naturally and will get lots of leave litter naturally.

I agree that lowbush blueberries are grown in cold climates and highbush in temperate climates.  But there are highbush varieties that can grow in cold climates as they have been bred for this.
 
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I agree that acidic soil is important. You can lower the pH of the soil by adding sphagnum peat moss or sulfur.
 
pollinator
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Peat moss and rain water is the key in my area. The water is alkaline.

Gardenmyths.com busted the myth about pine needles being acidic after they break down. Its the only source I found that spent time studying it vs theorizing. If anyone finds info contrary to that, please please post it up.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 582
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Michelle, yeah, if I were making bricks and drying out my soil for 30 days in the sun and hot air, the clay would harden.  

But I've improved clay soil with granite sand for 30 years, because it's mostly damp under the mulch, and about an inch down.  The worms take the granite sand down even farther, and I can stick a shovel in just about anywhere I've amended with granite sand, particularly in the greenhouse where the rain does not pound the clay into a more solid form.  That's why I've upped the mown-weed mulch to keep the sun and rain off the clay.

Sure, clay is clay, with or without sand or straw,  if it dries out it gets hard.  But just add water, walk away for 20 mins or so, and you've got yourself some really great soil, full of minerals that makes food taste better and holds water in a drought like a dream.   :-)
 
Michelle Bisson
pollinator
Posts: 292
Location: Quebec, Canada
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Thanks Cristo for sharing your successful experiences with clay and sand!
 
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