Growing Great Blueberries

Enjoy home grown blueberries
Blueberries ripening on the bush

Blueberries are very satisfying and easy to grow.

They can cost a pretty hefty amount at the store and are really easy to grow here in the mid-Atlantic area of the US.

Blueberries are native here, so even if you choose to grow cultivar varieties which produce larger fruit like I do, you can be assured they like this climate.

Blueberries are beautiful in the landscape, having white or pink flowers in spring and bright red, yellow or bronze foliage in autumn.

There are two types of blueberries: high bush & low bush.   Low bush are generally grown in northern climates like Maine and Canada. High bush are generally grown further south and the ones mostly grown in Virginia gardens.

A question I am often asked is: Should I buy them in a container or bare root?

Either is fine.

It is best to only have bare root plants shipped vs. container grown because shipping container grown plants is pricey.

Blueberry in autumn.
Blueberry in autumn.

Bare root plants are grown in the nursery for a few years (a good company will tell you how old the plants will be that you are ordering) dug up in the dormant months, kept cool and shipped in spring.

Container grown plants would be obtained locally.

Currently, we do not have a good source of container grown blueberries locally. The nursery we liked  is going out of business because the owners are retiring. Many local nurseries sell blueberry bushes for short,  limited time in early spring. Be sure and ask them if their plants are sprayed with

grow fruit at home
Heavy fruit load not yet ripe

loads of chemicals that could kill your pollinators, including the neonicotinoids that have been so much in the news lately.

To get a great selection, we recommend ordering bare root from RainTree Nursery. They sell 2-to-3 year old blueberry plants that are good sized, at least 18” tall and bushy.

When buying blueberry plants, be sure to buy at least two varieties for pollination. Also check the ripening dates, choosing two bushes each of three varieties can extend your harvest and give you a very healthy crop.

Blueberry bush in bloom
Blueberry bush in bloom

Popular varieties include the old time ‘Jersey’, which has bright yellow leaves in autumn and ‘Bluecrop’ which has red fall color.  Another yellow fall colored variety is ‘Bluegold’, which is popular with smaller space gardeners because the bushes are more compact at 4’ high. Most highbush blueberries are 6’ high. ‘Bluegold’ and ‘Earliblue’ can start your blueberry season off, then follow on with ‘Blueray’ for mid season and ‘Elliot’ or ‘Libery’ for late season fruit.   We also really like ‘Patriot’ and ‘Northland’ as they has done very well for us.

growing blueberries
Blueberries that made it to the bowl

Container gardeners might like to try the cute ‘Top Hat’ that only grows to 18”. You can choose a variety that grows to 4’ for container culture and use a larger container.

In ground, space your blueberries as far apart as their listed mature height.  So, if a variety is listed as 6′ high, plant them 6′ apart, or a little farther, if you have room, for good aeration and light.

Three important notes about growing blueberries:

  1. Choose a sunny location. Although blueberries grow in partial shade, they need full sun to produce lots of berries.
  2. Plant them separate from your annual vegetable garden because they have different soil requirements. Blueberries want acidic soil, unlike your annual veggies.  A good mulch for blueberries is pine needles.
  3. Plant your blueberries where they will naturally get plenty of water because they are shallow rooted plants. You can dig swales to capture water for your blueberries in heavy rains.

One last note, invest in a few post and bird netting so you get your crop instead of the birds.

Hope this inspires you to try growing some blueberries at home, whether you want to eat them fresh or make summer blueberry ice cream, they are an easy and satisfying perennial crop to grow.

Mix it up! Companion Plant your Annual Vegetable Garden

Make the most of your garden space by mixing flowers and herbs with your annual vegetables.

Backyard Foodscape
Backyard Foodscape incorporates flowers and herbs along with vegetables.

Pairing the right plants together, those that gardeners have observed grow well together, allows plants to do some of your garden work for you. This accomplishes several functions as we can see…

One classic example showing some ways plants work together is the native American corn/beans/squash combination:

Poll beans climb up the corn stalk, so the corn is the support, or trellis, for the bean.  So the corn just saved you from building a pole bean trellis. The bean is a member of the legume family of plants. This plant family are what are called ‘nitrogen fixers’, which means they capture nitrogen and store it in nodules on their roots, making it available for other plants to take it in. Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so in exchange for the support the corn gives the beans, the beans feed the corn. The beans just saved you from having to add something to feed your corn. The squash plants wind all around the base of the corn and beans, providing them shade cover to keep moisture in the soil longer for all of them. The squash just saved you from watering as much or putting down mulch to hold moisture in the soil.  A couple nice additions to this already cool combo are:

  • Sunflowers in the mix to also support beans and provide seeds for humans and birds.
  • Nasturtiums attract a ‘beneficial bug’ called hoverflies.  Beneficial bugs are so named because they prey on other bugs that like to eat your food, although, in a diverse ecosystem, all bugs are beneficial to maintain balance. Hoverflies like to eat bugs like aphids and thrips.  Nasturtiums repel loads of critters who want to eat your crops including: cabbage loppers, worms and weevils; squash, cucumber and bean beetles and more.  In addition, the leaves and flowers are edible!

Companion planting is a good way to design your garden beds. See what plants go together and plant in those combinations. Start with simple combinations and then get more complex over time. Good places to start are:

  • tomatoes/lettuce/onions/marigolds/parsley
  • peppers/basil/marigolds/chamomile
  • peas/carrots/lettuce
  • bush beans/potatoes/flax
  • cucumbers/radishes/nasturtiums/dill
Squash & Nasturtiums. Nasturtiums are good companions for not only cucumbers, but also squash and melons.

Another reason to use companion planting is it makes a beautiful garden, as these photos show, and remember, beauty is food too!

Container gardeners, you can do this too!  The same combinations apply, either in the same container, or containers that are next to each other.

I’ll write more companion planting, so check back.

Container Garden your Way to Yummy Food

grow great tomatoes at home
Container Grown Gold Roma Tomatoes

Happy Spring!

Tis the season we starting dreaming of gardening – what don’t have much time or space to garden?

No problem – Container garden.

Container gardening is a great place to start gardening and easy to add if you are an experienced gardener.

For the new gardener, it allows you to learn on a small scale. It is often where I recommend people start gardening, especially those who feel overwhelmed by gardening for the first time.

Experienced gardeners (and all of us really) can enjoy the convenience a container garden can provide, consider…

 

… 5 Reasons why container gardening is a great idea:

  1. It doesn’t take much space
  2. You can move the containers to where the sun and rain are
  3. You don’t have a big area to maintain
  4. You can grow loads of food
  5. You can grow food year round

Lets take a peek at each of these 5 reasons.

Grow lots of food in a containerContainer gardens can be a various sizes and shapes and tucked into or onto most any place, making they great for small space gardening. Even if you have a large yard, growing food on your deck is convenient.

Live in a townhouse where the sun is limited. You can move your container garden around from place to place to follow the sun, getting more or less light depending on what you are growing. You can move them under the eves in a big rain storm, or under the sky if they need watering.

Many people seem to not have much time these days, so having a smaller area to maintain fits with many people’s lifestyles and still allows them to eat some food from their own place.

You can get a huge yield from a well planted container garden. Amazing really how much bounty you can haul in. You can grow pretty much anything you would grow in the ground in a container.

All those crops that grow in fall and winter can grow in containers too, so you can four season garden !

 

Want more and live local … Come to our Container Garden Workshop, April 11, 2015

5 Garden Design Tips

using companion planted garden design
Using Companion Planted Garden Designs is easy !

Fall & Winter is the best time to do your garden planning.

Many gardeners just do the same thing they have always done, planting in rows, or adding the same plants to their container garden.

Here are 5 tips to help you get more from your garden:

  1. Plan out our garden spaces before you buy seed or plants to maximize your investment
  2. Learn what plants grow well together to avoid stressed or weakened plants
  3. Get professional tips on growing the plants you like to grow to boost your garden’s productivity
  4. Find out what varieties garden experts recommend to increase your success
  5. Start with quality organic seeds and plants from trusted sources

Want all that in one place  ? … check out our new Companion Planted Garden Designs at the Prior Unity Garden Store

Fall in the Garden

As we enjoy the beautiful and bountiful time of fall, there are several things we can do in the garden during this time when the weather cools down.

prepairing the fall hoop house
Hoop house prep, partially planted and preping to plant more

Get your hoop houses ready for the coming frost.  If you have not already, decide which beds you want to hoop over winter.  If you are container gardening, choose what containers you would like to cover.

Cold frames and hoop houses used last spring can be cleaned out and used to put seedlings before they go into the ground, or,  simply readied to take plants out to extend your season.  Lettuces can grow past frosty nights if protected, so you can sow some now for baby greens this fall from your protected garden areas.

If you want to create a garden for next year, or expand what you have, now is a great time to begin that process so nature does some of the work for you.

If you have bees, this is the time to check and see how they are storing honey and pollen for the winter and, depending on your mindset, be feeding them.  There are still some great stands of goldenrod around for them to gather from.

potatoes dug from the garden
Potatoes from the garden

Fall is also the time to dig potatoes, beets, carrots and other root crops.

You can still order your garlic to plant in mid to late October.

As you harvest your pumpkins and winter squash, pull out your spent spring and summer plants, store your harvest and put all that green matter either on your compost pile or directly back onto the beds as mulch.  If you had unwanted bugs on your plants, the heat of the compost pile next spring will kill any of their larvae that might be on the plant leaves.

And remember not to leave your garden beds exposed over winter, so pile those leaves on top and use them for mulch around the crops you are overwintering !

Leaves are an asset in the garden, providing mulch and breaking down into black carbon rich soil
Leaves are an asset in the garden, they provide mulch and break down into black carbon rich soil.

Companion & Follow-on Planting for Containers

Companion planting in containers works the same way as companion planting in your garden bed.  Plants are grown together or in proximity to each other so they can provide different benefits to each other.

Follow-on planting is choosing certain plants to be planted in the same space or very close to each other through the seasons.

Companion planted container garden in mid spring.
Companion planted container garden in mid spring.

In this photo there are two types of kale and one type of broccoli that were planted last fall.  In early spring the lettuce was planted.  Most of the lettuce was harvested by the time this photo was taken, althoguht one is in the right container.  Other kales had been harvested to plant the lettuce.  By harvesting the lettuce we made room to plant tomato seedlings, so …..

  • Fall planted kale – harvested in late winter and into spring made room for
  • Spring planted lettuce (and there were radishes too) which, when harvested made room for
  • Spring planted tomato seedlings
  • Once all kale and broccoli is harvested, put a few scallions, a basil, a marigold or more lettuce around your tomato
  • As your summer crops die back, are harvested or are no longer productive – plant kale again and start over !