Handpicked: How to Grow a Blueberry Bush!

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blueberrybush

 
Blueberry bushes are a perennial that are a great way to add foliage to your yard without wasting valuable vegetable and fruit gardening space.  They produce attractive green foliage during the winter and produce giant blue berries during the fall and summer months. A single blueberry bush can yield over 20 pounds of berries each season when properly cared for. You do need to have 2 different species because they have to cross pollinate each other in order for the berries to produce. There are 3 types of blueberry bushes: low bush, high bush and hybrid bush and each of these have different species of blueberries that you can buy. When 3 or more species are planted next to each other you will have a longer harvest. However, planting blueberries in your yard does require a few tricks to be successful.

 

Blueberries are extremely picky about soil conditions. They require an acidic soil that is well fertilized with organic matter and it must be well draining. Good organic matter includes peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Fertilizing is done during the early spring and again late spring but if the plant is new you need to wait 4 weeks before you fertilize it. When purchasing fertilizer, look for kinds that have ammonium sulfate and potassium sulfate on the bottle. Fertilizer should be ½ cup of 10-10-10 per plant.

 

When planting new plants wait until early spring or fall, plant early morning, add plant food to the hole before planting, place plant into hole, cover with soil and immediately water. Place blueberry bushes 2 to 3 feet apart, alternating species so there’s a different species on each side of the middle plant.  Dig holes that are at least 20 inches deep and width of the hole should be two times the size of the root ball.  It’s important to note that the older the plant is the faster it’s going to start producing. Blueberry bushes younger than 3 years old are going to take a year before they begin to produce.

 

Mulch blueberry plants to keep moisture in, using a thick covering of straw or wood chips that is 2 to 4 inches deep. When berries start to become ripe you might see an increase in bird activity on your property.   To protect berries from being eaten, cover the bushes with a netting material.

 

Wait until blueberry bushes are 3 to 4 years old before you prune them. Once they are old enough you’d want to prune  them differently depending on what kind they are. High bush need to be pruned by removing wood that is 6 years or older, that is drooping towards the ground or taking up center space. Low bush require all stems around the base to be pruned back.

 

Pests, insects and disease can be controlled by netting when the berries are about to be ripe so birds and other animals don’t eat them. Insects require an insecticide, preferably an organic natural one. Diseases can be treated with a fungicide. Blueberries are known for getting powdery mildew which can be easily treated by removing the affected parts or spray down with a fungicide. Blueberry maggot is a common insect for blueberry bushes that needs to be treated at the first site of them.

 

As you can see, growing blueberry bushes is not complicated when you understand what you need to do to plant and maintain them.   I hope you’ll give it a try!

Handpicked: Long Overdue Update!

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My teeny yellow squash

If you missed my first Handpicked post, you can get caught up HERE.

Well, I took a bajillion pictures of my Welch’s Harvest Garden win, so that I could show you all that I got from it.  The only problem is that they’re on the OTHER computer…the dead one.  One of these days I’ll scurry it off to Best Buy and pay them to retrieve my data…which wasn’t backed up.  Don’t. say. anything.  That’s precisely why I haven’t gone yet.  😉   Suffice it to say, it was a neat package of supplies.  It contained a circular garden bed that we’re using for strawberries, plastic trays, tags, small composter, several packets of seeds, 6 full size bags of Miracle Gro potting soil, and several high quality gardening tools.  It really was a nice win, and one I couldn’t be more thrilled to have received.

After spending a decent amount of time ooohing and aaahing over our goodies, we  became very ambitious about starting our seeds.  Since we had a wealth of them, we knew we’d have to find some alternative to starting them in the basement or our neighbors would finally have concrete proof of our insanity.   We decided to move our project to the 3 car garage.  Half of the single car space housed our seeds and lights/natural light.  The other half was/is consumed by the vintage tractor.    And really, don’t get any preconceived notions about the 3 car garage.  We do NOT eat money for lunch.  Not. even. close.  As a matter of fact, the garage may well be approximately half the size of the house…hmmm, maybe more?!? :/  Back on topic, my plans to cover them individually with ziploc baggies to greenhouse them quickly went by the wayside with so many trays.  We opted to mist them and then loosely cover them with sheets of plastic wrap.  That worked incredibly well.  In mid-May, we moved the seeds outside on table tops, so that they wouldn’t be harmed by any residual frost and prepare them for their new home.

By Memorial Day weekend, we were ready to start planting.  We prepared our 5 beds with a mixture of vermicompost (worm casting) and Miracle Gro.  As of right now, we have bean stalks fit for Jack to climb.  If poor Jack had any friends, they could come along and climb the tomato plants, corn stalks or anything else we’ve got going out there.   With the way this day is going, I think I may suggest this notion to my children.

So, for the record, we’ve got zucchini, broccoli, yellow squash, corn, strawberries, rhubarb, tomatoes, carrots, onions, green beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, bush beans and radishes…really, I think my husband just wants to grow them because he can grow anything.  Blech.

Also, as you may recall, I had high hopes for an embedded educational opportunity for my son in all of this. I had lofty visions of incorporating discussions of the American Indians, our Cherokee ancestry, and our companion (Three Sisters) planting adventure.  He was less than interested.  Thankfully, he’s signed up for all kinds of projects this summer to further his intellectual growth.  Pfft…And so, my attentive friends, the Three Sisters planting method makes use of the symbiotic relationship between corn, beans and squash.  The corn stalks provide a wonderful support for the climbing beans.  The beans don’t compete with the corn for nutrients since legumes supply their own nitrogen.  And the lowly squash provides a nice ground cover to prevent the soil from overheating, drying, and it also crowds out weeds!  Weed is a four letter word around my house!  Aargh!  In all seriousness, this is a lost planting art form (commercially) with the advent of mechanical harvesters.  However, it remains very useful knowledge for the home gardener.  It makes excellent use of limited space and provides a wonderful yield.   If you haven’t done it yourself, I highly recommend it.

There you have it – my garden update.  Next up, and by next up I mean next week, I’ll be showing you how to construct your own rain barrel on the cheap.

Handpicked Part 1: Seedlings of Many Kinds

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I mentioned in passing that I would be sharing my gardening experiences with you this year.  To do that, I have to backtrack a bit and get some of you up to speed.  Last fall, I won a home garden kit from Welch’s Harvest Grants.  It’s a prize valued at $300 and contains a vegetable garden seed collection, circular raised bed, seed starting kit, plant markers, hand tool set, and a bin composter and pail.  No, I still haven’t opened it.  This list is based on the information that I still have from the *Congratulations You Won* e-mail that I thought was spam. Haha!  I laugh, but seriously, you’ll soon see how timely that win was.




How It Began
This is a personal growth series for me as much as it is about plant growth.  While much of this is what I call *duh* stuff to some, I never learned a thing about gardening or growing ANYTHING…ever.  My mother can grow houseplants like no one else.  Edible gardening…I love you, Mom.  That’s all I’ll say.  My Dad (in his extreme youth) was a coal miner in Kentucky before he came to Michigan and completed high school, and ultimately, his PhD in Education.  I have no idea if he could grow anything.  I never saw him get dirty.   I think it’s safe to say he wanted to escape that life and was determined to live differently.  Me?  Before I met and married my husband, I wanted to scale my life back…way back and actually considered becoming Amish.  Odd, I know, but looking back now I can clearly see that I very desperately wanted a different life.  How did I come up with that?  Who knows really.  I had attained a level of education and financial ease that I worked hard to achieve and gotten to a  *now what?* place in my life.  After sitting a spell in that new place, it wasn’t long before I knew that none of it mattered.  I was surrounded by people who tied a person’s worth and value to superficiality alone and I wanted nothing to do with those *friends* making that assessment.  It wasn’t me.  And so, the seeds of change were planted – cliche as it is to say.  Shortly thereafter, I ran into an old high school friend (story for another time), my husband. We now have our gorgeous, talented, stunningly gifted…urp..kids.  Of course, I still greatly value my education, but I greatly value many things more…my family history, my ancestor’s core values and the way the sun shines on my son’s hair.  I’m sure you understand.


My Family History and Farming
Most of my mother’s family were tenant farmers and never owned any land.  They believed that God would sustain them, and perhaps, wanted to demonstrate that to others by living that way.  I dunno.  Perhaps they never had enough money to buy land. For the most part, I don’t believe that question will ever be answered.

The other side of my mother’s family was Quaker and did own quite  a bit of land they farmed successfully.  On my father’s side, there is a significant amount of Cherokee.  And yes, it is documented not myth.  I don’t think I need to elaborate on their connection to the land.  And the other side of his family owned some land, but not acreage, and were largely miners by trade for many, many years.

I’ve often felt a sense of loss when thinking about all of them, and their breadth of knowledge of (what I feel is) the most important skill anyone can have.  And perhaps even more saddening to me is the simple fact that I don’t have it.


My Thoughts
I have spent a chunk of my time mulling these things over and wondering how I could connect to their life experiences.  Why didn’t I do this before?  I suppose I didn’t want to fail.  I read over some gardening material and thought it was hard.  Really.  It is not any easy endeavor and much like having another child.  Gardens have strict nutritional requirements, like kids, or they’ll get sick and/or die.  They don’t like sitting next to some other *kids* or they’ll die.  Plant a taller *kid* in  front of them and they can’t see…dead again.  You see where I’m headed with this.  If it can happen to a kid dramatically, it can happen to a plant realistically.  This is what I’ve learned.


What changed?  Me.  Therefore, I’ve decided to dive in head first because, well, I won a garden AND it’s time. I can teach my son so much through this experience – about decomposition and nitrogen fixing, to name a couple….yep, things I learned in Plant Biology.  Not to mention, over time, we’ll save a ton of money.  To balance that out, I’ll hopefully develop a deeper appreciation than I already have for my ancestors and their experience while passing some of it on to my son as well.


For you, maybe you will learn about the American Indian method of companion planting.   Perhaps you’ll think about your own family history, or maybe, just enjoy a feel good read…or a laugh at my ineptitude.


Now, I’ll never be as brave as my cousins or ancestors to try and make poke salit or filter water through a series of sandy holes, but heaven knows, I respect them for their wide ranging abilities that far outweigh my book smartiness any day of the week.



And with that, this is what I did.  And really, if this doesn’t tell you that I know NOTHING, I don’t know what will. 🙂


I checked my Hardiness Zone to see where I am and determine when I should start seedlings indoors. By the way, I’m 5b/6a.  For my broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peppers and eggplant that take 8 weeks, it’s getting close to the time to start…according to this (below) chart.  Hmmm, I’m very wary of the chart. (insert time lapse) Google “last frost _____ <—your state”  That’ll probably give you something closer to an actual value. Having checked elsewhere, I see May 16th is around the approximate time of the last freeze in my area….which seems more correct as I recall hearing not to plant before Memorial Day weekend.   That said, I have a little more prep time on my side as I don’t have to do anything until late March.  Whew!


Last Expected Frost Dates by Zone – This is a very rough estimate at best.


Zone 1:June 1 – June 30
Zone 2:May 1 – May 31
Zone 3:May 1 – May31
Zone 4:May 1 – May31
Zone 5:March 30 – April30
Zone 6:March 30 – April30
Zone 7:March 30 – April30
Zone 8:February 28 – March 30
Zone 9:January 30 – February 28
Zone 10:January 1 – January 31
Zone 11Frost Free Year Round


To wrap this up, I contacted my local greenhouses a week or so ago to ask what to do.  I’ll get to what they told me in a minute, but they offered me some containers they were going to toss.  I went and picked up a bunch of little terracotta (or is it terra-cotta?) pots and some plastic containers.  It’s all about saving money, ya know, and I recommend you do the same.  After all, I don’t know how many are in the kit I received.  In my book smartiness, I also read that I’m supposed to use sterile something to prevent fungus. Yeah, like my ancestors had access to sterile anything.  Anyhoo, when I asked,  they told me (at the greenhouse) that I don’t need to do this if I don’t over water my seeds.    They did say NOT to use soil, but pre-mixed peat moss and pearlite. Gotcha, bought that.   From there, I went to the dollar store to pick up a spray bottle to mist the mix and I’ve got a ton of free ziploc bags here already.  The bottle is so I don’t drown them and the ziploc bags will cover the individual containers for a greenhouse effect.  In addition, I have enough natural light. If I didn’t, I would not bother with this because I’m too cheap to buy a light.  In short, this is what I have to get started:


1 Bag Peat Moss/Pearlite Mix
Several Individual Containers
Ziploc Bags
Seeds


Seems like I’m off to a good start, but I can’t help but think about how something that is recreational to me was life or death to my ancestors.  That sobering thought will always be in the back of my mind, as will many others, while I embark on this journey with you.  Many, MANY more thoughts later…


Have tips for me?  I’d love to hear them.  Also, if you wanna garden along with me, drop me a note or send some pictures.  I’ll post them to inspire us all.