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Blueberries are perennial flowering plants with blue– or purple-colored berries. They are classified in the section Cyanococcus within the genus Vaccinium. Blueberry bush can grow from 8 to 20 inches in height. It blooms during May and June and fruits can be expected from June to August. Blueberry is a dark purple berry with a diameter of 2-4 inches. Blueberry has a sweet-sour taste and contains vitamins, minerals, organic acids, and tannin.
Duke cultivation is the most common, followed by bluecrop, patriot, huron and draper, and varieties that ripen a little later, such as aurora and liberty.
Agro-ecological conditions for blueberry cultivation
Blueberries are resistant to winter and can withstand temperatures of -4 °F to -13 °F without any damage, and if covered with snow it can withstand much lower temperatures.
During the growing season, blueberries require a lot of moisture and in the summer, when the temperatures are quite high and the soil is not moist, it must be irrigated. Blueberry has a rather shallow root and is therefore very sensitive to the dry season, so if we do not provide enough moisture it can cause serious damage to the plantation, such as brittle growth, poor yield, and in the worst case the bushes can dry.
It thrives well on any acidic soil (pH 4 – 5.2). On lime soil, it only succeeds if there is a sufficiently deep layer of acidic humus.
Choosing a location for raising blueberry plantations
It is suited to warmer and sunnier positions. For raising plantations, soils with a gentle slope are best for continuous air circulation.
Soil preparation for blueberry planting
Before planting, the soil should be cultivated to a depth of 8 inches. If the soil is moist, mounds 6 to 12 inches high and 47 inches wide are made. Add fertilizer to each hole before planting but not calcium or lime. As a result, blueberries planted along the walls and fences from which lime enters the soil collapse.
Raising blueberry plantations
It propagated by underground shoots from the roots. Before planting, remove the excess soil from the roots in which the seedling was in the nursery. It is planted during October and November. A few hours before planting, the root is immersed in water. The standard spacing for tall shrubs is 47 inches in line and 120 inches between rows. Blueberries are mainly grown in the form of shrubs and hedges. At higher altitudes, the row direction should be north-south due to the optimum amount of light, while in lower, warm and well-lit areas, the east-west direction is preferred to reduce over-heating and drying of the soil, and the plant is then less sensitive to frost.
Blueberries are propagated by underground shoots. Blueberry planting is done in October and November, and before planting it is necessary to submerge the root in water for several hours. It grows on acidic soil with pH values from 4 to 5.2, and blueberry cultivation is also possible on lime soil. In this case, a deep layer of acidic humus should be provided.
Blueberries are best suited to slightly sloping soils. Before planting it is necessary to cut the soil to a depth of 8 inches. If the soil is moist, mounds 6 to 12 inches high and 50 inches wide are made. The planting of blueberries is carried out at a distance of 50 inches between each tall plantation in a row, and the distance between the rows should be 120 inches.
Blueberry cultivation and crop maintenance
It is possible to grow blueberries in the form of shrubs and hedges. Growing blueberries at higher altitudes require that the rows in which the blueberries are planted go in a north-south direction so that they are planted with enough light. In lower and warmer and better-lit areas, it is better to plant blueberries in an east-west direction to prevent overheating and drying of the soil.
To grow blueberries successfully, you need to choose places with plenty of sun and heat. When cultivating the soil, a fertilizer containing no calcium or lime must be added to each hole. It is not recommended to plant blueberries by the walls or fences that contain lime, because it enters the plant through the soil and it decays.
For the maintenance of blueberry plantations, it is important to know that soil well stocked with phosphorus uses NPK fertilizer in a ratio of 12: 4: 8. For phosphorus-poor soil, a fertilizer of 10:10:10 is added. Each bush is supplemented with one ounce of NPK fertilizer after budding in spring and after harvest in the fall. As the plant grows, so does its need for fertilizer, and ultimately, 5 ounces of fertilizer is added to shrubs 100 inches high.
Nitrogen fertilizers are not applied in the first year after blueberry planting and in the second year UREA is added.
Blueberries can endure big colds without causing the crops to suffer damage. They can withstand temperatures of -4 °F to -13 °F, and if covered with snow, can withstand even lower temperatures.
It requires a lot of moisture during the growing season, so irrigation is recommended in the summer when there is not enough moisture. While it is quite resistant to low temperatures, high temperatures and drought do not suit it, so if you do not provide it with sufficient water, the plantations could suffer more severe damage, which means that shrubs, stunted growth, and poorer yields may occur.
In the first year after planting, flower buds need to be removed, and when the blueberries reach a height of 40 to 60 inches, pruning is done to restore all the branches. The old, weak and diseased branches are removed first, and those that have yielded the last two years are pruned from the remaining ones. New shoots will appear just below the incision.
Although it is most commonly grown on land, it is also becoming more common to grow blueberry hydroponic. This kind of cultivation involves raising flower beds and opening pits that will prevent water retention and root rot. Hypodrone cultivation was developed in Austria and blueberries are planted in 2.5 gallons jars.
Blueberries are susceptible to attack by a large number of diseases and pests, so they need to be protected in time. The greatest danger to the blueberry is the threat of the blight. The disease usually occurs on branches, leaves and unripe fruits, and causes the appearance of freckles. Disease risk is greater in times of frequent rainfall, high humidity, and high temperatures.
Rust of leaves and stems may also occur, and it manifests as small dark spots. Rust is most likely in late spring and early summer. It needs to be responded to immediately because the disease can spread to the entire bush. It is important to consult with experts to create a proper protection program.
Other diseases may include anthracnose of fruits, gray mold, stem cancer, leaf spot, moniliasis, leaf redness, and root rot.
Plant lice can occur from pests. Weed control should also be carried out regularly so that it does not take over the plant. A combination of mulching and herbicides can be used to prevent weeds. The space between rows of blueberries is grassing, and it is important to maintain and mow the grass regularly.
It is also useful to use nets that will protect the blueberry from hail, but also from birds that are fond of fruits.
Blueberries are harvested not only once but several times a season. It is usually about 3 to 7 harvests in 5 to 8 days. The reason for this type of harvest is that the blueberries do not ripen at the same time.
Harvesting time depends on the climatic conditions and can last from 6 to 8 weeks. It usually takes place in the early hours of the morning and the blueberry petals are removed manually or with the help of special picking combs. Be careful when harvesting to avoid damaging the fruit.
After harvesting, the blueberries are packed in small, shallow plastic containers, and since they don’t take transportation well, they are generally frozen immediately and stored in cold chambers until the time of sale or processing.
It can be stored for up to a month in refrigerators in which the temperature ranges from 32 °F to 35.6 °F and the recommended humidity is 85 to 90 percent.
If you want to freeze fresh blueberries, remove all the crushed and moldy fruits beforehand so as not to spoil the others. It is washed before consuming, not before storing it in the freezer. They can be stored in a closed container for about three days.
Growing American blueberries
Growing blueberries is possible wherever there is a suitable habitat for their growth (from the North Canadian tundra to the Mexican deserts). But American blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are highly acid-loving (acidophilic) plants with modest requirements for mineral nutrients, and grow best on humic, airy, and highly acidic soils with a pH of 3.5 to 5.2 (optimal 4.3 up to 4.8).
Blueberries prefer a higher humus percentage in lighter soils (5%), require constant and sufficient moisture, but you should avoid soils with stagnant or high groundwater levels. Because of such specific requirements, growing American blueberries in intensive plantations or single native shrubs infield is a real challenge. Avoid “freezing”, heavy, moist and clay areas for cultivation. Soils with a pH value of 5 to 6 are not acidic enough for the normal growth and development of American blueberries, so if the differences to optimal acidity are large, it is advisable to “acidify” the soil with acidic fertilizer ammonium sulfate or sulfur (granulate, powder). It is possible to use a green pebble for this purpose. It is best to plant them on ridges (up to 12 inches high), because in such a habitat, irrigation regulates the water-air properties of the soil, and thus the incurable diseases of the roots of the system. Ridges are easily covered with shredded wood residues (especially sawdust of conifers or needle-like species) which in the long run lowers the pH value, reduces or inhibits weed growth and prevents moisture loss during the summer heat. It is good to pour 4 inches of sawdust under native shrubs every year. In comparison to other fruit species, the root system of American blueberries is shallow, densely intertwined, fibrous, almost compacted, and develops on a relatively small scale. Most of the roots grow at a depth of 14-16 inches and plant the seedlings at something deeper (0.8-2 inches) than it grew in a nursery or container, as this encourages the growth of land shoots. We don’t cut blueberries after planting them, we only remove damaged organs and excessive or thin soil shoots.
The very delicate period of growth and development of American blueberries lasts from the buds opening in early April to the green developed stage at the end of May. In these two months, water, nutrients, and temperature have the greatest direct impact on the quantity and quality of the annual yield.
Until recently, growing blueberries in Europe was thought to be possible without specific pest control measures. This was mainly due to the experiences of European producers who grow them in areas with relatively little total annual rainfall (eg Portugal, Spain, northern Poland), but when intensive blueberry cultivation has expanded in the Alpine region, where there is more rainfall during vegetation (e.g. Switzerland, Austria, northern Italy, Slovenia) various pathogens of blueberry disease is becoming a limiting factor for successful production. Selection of suitable habitat, balanced fertilization, irrigation, proper pruning and selection of more resistant varieties are the basic measures of plant hygiene to reduce the occurrence and damage of diseases and pests of American blueberries.
If we plant a small number of healthy American blueberries in our garden, we generally do not expect harmful organisms to appear! However, experience has confirmed that in intensive native plantations we can expect significant economic damage from A) a group of diseases that attack the flower and generative organs (fruits): eg rot of flowers and fruits or monilis (Monilinia vaccinii-coymbosi), gray mold (Botrytis cinerea) and anthracnose (Colletotrichum), and B) groups of fungal diseases that attack the root and shoots of American blueberries: eg, root rot (Phytophthora spp.), cancer causers, arsenic and early decay of shoots (Botryosphaeria, Fusiccum, Phomopsis). Most blueberry diseases are associated with “non-living” damages from frost, hail, drought, micro-nutrient deficiencies, and native tree aging.
In the rainy seasons, the greatest direct damage to the American blueberries is recorded by the monilinia vaccinii-coymbosi, which winterizes on mummified fruits and infects young shoots during spring. The leaves on the shoots in the early spring take on a specific purple-brown color during the wet season, on them, a gray coating develops, which the wind, bees, and bumblebees spread secondarily to the blueberry flowers. Already 24-72 hours after visible discoloration, attacked shoots with leaves and flowering organs (“monilium arson”) are rapidly decaying. Usually, no infections of the flower organs are seen, but subsequently, mummified fruits develop instead of healthy ones. This blueberry disease is adapted to lower spring temperatures, so with humidification of sensitive plant organs, infection is only possible at 50°F for only 4 hours, while at a temperature of the only 35.6°F it is necessary for the infection to retain moisture for a minimum of 10 hours! Early in the spring, infections are already susceptible to infecting buds with small open green tissue! Therefore, this disease should be prevented at the bud opening stage and before the flowering of American blueberries. The same is true of gray mold and anthracnose of fruits. The development of gray mold (Botrytis cinerea) is favored by excessive fertilization and irrigation with the lush development of native shrubs or frost and hail wounds. Anthracnose (Colletotrichum spp.) is best observed during harvesting, because already during flowering, the infected fruits become soft, wrinkled or browned, with yellowish-dots appearing on them.
Cancer of American blueberries (Botryosphaera corticis) is one of the more common but less aggressive diseases and is associated with less widespread shoots of Botryosphaera dothidea. It was described as far back as 1928 and more damage was reported to American blueberry producers. First, a slightly protuberant red-brown speckle develops on the shoots, the centers of which turn gray. On the more heavily infected shoots, the bark burst more strongly and it becomes completely grayed! The disease develops more strongly when heavy rains fall in the second part of the vegetation (during summer). The optimum temperatures for the development of this disease are 77 – 92 °F, and at values lower than 60 °F the more resistant varieties are usually not more heavily infected. Complete extinction of shoots in European conditions is rare, so manufacturers suffer less direct damage from this disease. The extinction of native blueberry bushes (Fusicoccum putrefaciens, Godronia cassandrae) is a disease of cooler climates if blueberries are grown in mountainous areas. During winter dormancy, the sprouted shoots on the ground receive reddish-brown, elongated or oval spots that turn gray in the center. In the spring, such shoots suddenly collapse! Drying of lateral shoots caused by the fungus Phomopsis vaccinii occurs on shrubs of lesser condition, which have a less developed root system due to unfavorable soil. The fungus, through flowers or wounds, “enters” into annual shoots that dry and mummify similarly to a moniline infection!
A particularly sensitive development stage of American blueberries is flowering. Blueberries have a huge number of flowers (each native shrub may have 2,000-3,000 flowers), so many bees and bumblebees are needed in the plantation for pollination. At about 2,000 shrubs per acre, pollinators must-visit millions of blueberry flowers. Some blueberry varieties are less attractive to bees (eg ducks) than others (eg weymouth), depending on the quality of the nectar, the color of the flowers and the content of the sugar. The use of insecticides in our country is prohibited in flowering fruit trees, and in the case of the cold-humid period, it is possible to use certain fungicides during flowering.
Unlike blackberries and raspberries, American blueberries are not susceptible to mites, and from the harmful organisms of animal origin.
Blueberries in the kitchen
Blueberries are most commonly used in the kitchen for the preparation of desserts and are often eaten fresh. A little sugar and a few drops of lemon juice can be added. They are used in making pies, folders, muffins, pastries, and smoothies. You can also combine them with oatmeal for breakfast. Frozen or fresh blueberries may be used in the preparation of some desserts. They also make a great jam.
Blueberries are sweet, healthy, nutritious and very popular. Often referred to as “superfood”, they are low in calories and incredibly good for you.
Fresh and ripe fruits are generally purple, and sometimes they can be darker, almost black, and have a sour-sweet taste.
Fruits are not the only part of blueberries that contribute to better health. Namely, blueberry leaves also have numerous medicinal properties recognized in folk medicine. Thus, tea is prepared from the leaves, which helps with many conditions such as diarrhea, inflammation of the mouth and throat, and diabetes.
Also, tea can accelerate hair growth if it is regularly rubbed into the scalp. As you can see, blueberries are a real superfood.
They are low in calories but high in nutrients
Blueberries are among the most nutritious types of berries. It has been proven that 5 oz of blueberries contain 0.14 oz of fiber and high percentages of Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Manganese. One serving of this fruit contains only 84 calories and 0.5 oz of carbohydrates.
Blueberries contain about 85% of water, which is classified as fruit suitable for hydrating the body.
Homemade blueberry jam
Ingredients for 8 people:
- 2 pounds of blueberries
- a pound of sugar
- 1 lemon
- Blueberries are washed, dried and sprinkled with sugar. If you have time, take this step a day early to dissolve the sugar and soak the blueberries.
Peel the lemon and cut into slices.
- Put blueberries, sugar and lemon in a saucepan and cook on fire for about an hour.
You will know that the jam is done by placing a tablespoon of jam on the plate and wait for it to cool. If the cooled jam is no longer liquid but thick and slowly spills, then it’s finished.
The medicinal properties of blueberries
Blueberry is one of the superfoods because it is full of nutrients. It has very few calories, and at the same time has many positive health effects. It is rich in dietary fiber, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and vitamins C and K. It also contains large amounts of pectin, which is useful for lowering cholesterol. In addition, there is one of the strongest antioxidants – anthocyanins. Anthocyanin gives the fruit color and protects the body against inflammation and prevents cancer.
Regular consumption of blueberries protects the retina of the eye, reduces the negative impact of the sun and protects the eyes from oxidative stress. Studies have shown that they are also useful in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Blueberries have a low glycemic index and can also be consumed by diabetics. They reduce diastolic and systolic pressure and are excellent for regulating blood pressure. In addition, they are good for improving memory and concentration, stimulate hair growth, calm menstrual pains, and prevent urinary infections.
Blueberries are the queens of antioxidants
Antioxidants are extremely important, given that they protect our body from damage caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage cellular structures, and affect aging and diseases such as cancer.
Blueberries are believed to contain the highest antioxidant capacity of all commonly consumed fruits and vegetables. The main antioxidant compounds in blueberries belong to a large family of polyphenols and are called flavonoids. One of the flavonoid groups, anthocyanins, is responsible for many beneficial effects on our health.
History of blueberries
Blueberries are native to North America, where they are most commonly grown today. In addition to the US, the largest blueberry producers are Chile and Canada, and in Europe France, Germany and Poland.