The Local Food Report: a bumper crop

This is my whole crop of blueberries this season:

It's sad really. Last year, straight out of the nursery, they were loaded. This year, nothing. I'm pretty sure I've been doing something wrong.

So when I met Anita Stanley of South Dennis at the Orleans market—when I saw her pint upon pint of beautiful, deep blue, healthy looking berries—I decided to ask for advice. Here are her tips on growing blueberries, from purchasing to planting to long-term care. Happy berry growing!

1. Choose the right varieties. Blueberries are not self-pollinating, which means you need at least two, and preferably three or more, in order to get good pollination. (Although there are some plants advertised as self-pollinating, no one I've talked to recommends planting them without at least another variety around.)

Stanley grows Bluetta, Coville, and Berkeley. Bluetta's early and sweet, Coville is big and mid-season, and the Berkeley's come in late—which also means she gets a harvest all summer long.

2. Choose a good spot. Blueberries like acid soil with plenty of sun, and they like wet feet. Don't plant them in a dry spot. (I've seen them thriving in swampy areas around here, and on the banks of ponds.)

3. Use netting! Otherwise, the birds will make off with your crop. Cheesecloth works well for individual bushes, but if you have a large patch, like Stanley does, she recommends building a fence with high posts, and netting the whole enclosure overhead.

4. Cut the plants back. For the first three years, you shouldn't prune. After that, Stanley says, prune every year so that a bird could fly in between the branches. This will stop berries and branches from overlapping, which not only makes picking difficult but also leads to smaller berries. Prune, and you'll get big berries with more space. Pruning is best done in the winter, when the plants are dormant.

5. Keep an eye out for disease. Stanley says her plants were decimated last year by winter moths—a relatively new pest for the Cape. They were only introduced to North America in the 1950s, to Nova Scotia via Europe, and they made their way south about 10 years ago. They lay eggs on the bark of the plants, which overwinter and hatch come spring. Stanley fights them by spraying the plants in December, when they're dormant and have no flowers or leaves, with horticultural oil. Horticultural oil is a kind of mineral oil, so it's fine for organic growers, and it kills the moths by smothering their eggs.

Happy blueberry growing!


Laurie said...

Thanks for this post! I definitely can use some help with mine, so printed this out.

Alexandra said...

Thanks for this great post. I have not yet planted blueberry bushes but am dreaming of them. What do you suggest for amending our sandy soil if they are acid-loving plants?

Patty said...

I surround mine with pine needles. I cut up the Chrismas tree this year and distributed the branches around the bushes, so the needles would turn brown and fall off.

Elspeth said...

that is a great idea, Patty!

Little House on the Suburban Prairie said...

We share your pain! It's just been a horrible season for growing over here this year, so when we tried to pick some blueberries this year, none were even remotely ripe yet!


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