Choosing and Growing Organic Blueberry Plants on Your Homestead
Most people are surprised to learn that it is pretty easy to grow organic blueberries on your property, whether you have a suburban lot or a sprawl of rural acreage. While blueberries won’t grow in every area of the United States, if you are careful about choosing the variety and take the time to get them well established, they will grow and produce from the most northern states to the southern coastal areas.
The plants are bushy can be used as part of your landscaping or as a privacy hedge if you are in a suburban neighborhood. In a more rural area you can plant them in rows right in your kitchen garden.
They'll provide plenty of fruit as well as contribute to your attractive yard.
How to Plant and Care for Blueberry Bushes on Your Homestead
If the plants are not certified organic the may not be organic. It is important, especially if you plan to sell the berries as organic, that the plants be certified and that you follow all organic gardening procedures. You can find out more by discussing your plans with a government approved certifier.
Soil and Planting
Blueberries need an acidic soil to thrive. You will want to monitor soil pH to keep it between 4.8 and 5.5 for the healthiest and most productive plants.
Mulch will change the pH of the soil as it decomposes, making it more alkaline. You can add acidity with peat moss or coffee grounds.
Use organic compost as a top dressing and be sure to add a thick layer of mulch around the plants. Depending on your soil you may want to add organic fertilizers to offset any soil deficiencies.
Plant your berries four feet apart in the row and keep eight to ten feet between each row. Plan on about 500 plants per acre, depending on the variety.
In order to allow the blueberries a chance to establish a strong root system be sure to pick the blooms off of the plants for the first two years after planting. Do not allow them to bear fruit.
Water the plants at least weekly if there is no rain. If you live in a particularly dry area you may need to water them twice a week. The plants are shallow rooted so it is especially important to keep the rows mulched and weed free.
Some types of berries need a different variety in order to pollinate properly. Check with the nursery to make sure that you are getting what you need for successful pollination.
Generally the berries will be pollinated by local bees. If you are wholeheartedly into homesteading keeping your hives near the blueberry plants will be beneficial to you, the plants, and the bees.
Choosing the Right Variety for Your Area
Blueberries will more than likely grow in your area as long as you choose a variety that is compatible with your gardening zone. It is a good idea to contact your local Agricultural Extension agent to get his or her recommendations for your specific area.
There are three basic types of blueberries and each does best in a specific area of the United States.
- High bush blueberries, Latin name: Vaccinium corymbosum, are the most versatile blueberry plants. They thrive from the Upper Midwest to the Mid-southern states, and from the Mid-Atlantic coast to the west coast of the United States.
- Low bush blueberries, Latin name: Vaccinium angustifolium, are wild blueberries that grow naturally in the far northern states and even into Canada. They can be planted and cultivated on your property if you are in these areas.
- Rabbiteye blueberries, Latin name: Vaccinium ashei is larger than most blueberry plants and grows extremely well in the south, especially south of Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Colorado. In fact, as a rule of thumb these plants will grow in any area south of Interstate 40.
- Horticulturists have developed a hybrid called the Southern high bush blueberry, Latin: Vaccinium corymbosum. It thrives in the same states as the Rabbiteye but does especially well in Southern coastal conditions.
How to Grow Blueberries from Penn State Dept. of Horticulture
Buying Organic Blueberry Plants
Although it is relatively simple to find conventional blueberry plants, as with almost everything, organic plants are a little scarcer. The following growers are good sources of certified organic plants.
Backyard Blueberry Plants carry a variety of organic berries and ships spring and fall.
Dimeo Farms grows heirloom berries on a family farm that was established in 1895.
Grow Organic carries a large variety of bare root blueberry bushes as well as organic fungicides, fertilizers, and other items to help you grow blueberries.
Pests and Diseases
Blueberries have relatively few problems. The major problem will be birds and children!
Your Ag Extension agent can tell you what diseases are most common in your area and suggest varieties that are resistant to them. Fungus diseases may be your biggest threat. Control these by keeping the leaves dry. Use a root watering system like a soaker hose and allow enough room for good air circulation.
Although there are a few pests that may threaten your winter hoard of blueberry jam they are usually kept at bay with beneficial predators. Common pests include:
- Blueberry tip borer
- Cherry fruitworm
- Plum Cudculio
Parasitic wasps can be purchased in many nurseries and will be happy to keep the pests under attack all season long.
How Many Blueberries Can You Expect?
Each plant will produce about four pounds of berries per season once it is established. This translates into 16 servings of blueberries per plant. When you are figuring how many berry plants you will need you should figure enough for your family plus a few extra to allow for loss from predators and pests (and wayward children).
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