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Gardening Articles

My Blueberry Tub

By Penny Ossowski

 

For a number of years I have been pondering about growing blueberries. A few months ago I made the decision to try growing them. The first problem I contemplated was the soil. My garden has heavy clayey soil which I have been improving for many years but it is still heavy and in most cases has tested with a pH around 7.0, perfect for most vegetables but way too high for blueberries. I was fairly sure I would not succeed growing them in my natural soil and pots always seem to be a challenge for me but that old bath tub from our reno a couple of years ago kept saying 'what about me?' So I've finally taken up the challenge.

 

Blueberries are members of the Ericaceae family and the Vaccinium genus then below this are many sections and within these sections are even more species. Other berry relatives that share the Vaccinium genus include bilberries, cranberries, ligonberries, huckleberries, sparkleberries, whortleberries, partridgeberries and farkleberries (no, I didn't make that one up). Blueberries originated in North America where native Americans consumed them for hundreds of years before Europeans arrived on the scene. Other similar berries as listed above are native to the Pacific Northwest, Southern United States, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. The blueberry was first introduced into Australia in the 1950's and was not grown successfully, but a later attempt in the 1970's succeeded and has led to the very successful industry we see today.

 

Blueberries divide into three main groups

Lowbush - These were the original native blueberries, thrive in the colder climates

 

Highbush - These were hybridized from the lowbush variety for commercial production, the most common cultivars grown in Australia. The Northern Highbush (usually recommended for colder climates, will self-pollinate, but yield and size is improved with cross pollination) is grown in Southern areas of Australia while the Southern Highbush (a cross between Highbush and Rabbiteye, will self-pollinate, but yield and size is improved with cross pollination) is grown further north (northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland)

 

Rabbiteye - Supposedly they are called rabbiteye because the berries turn pink before they go blue, reminiscent of the eye colour of an albino rabbit. This is a late season variety, which does okay in warm and humid summers and will also tolerate dry conditions, very suitable for Northern New South Wales and Queensland

Blueberries are perennials that can be deciduous or evergreen, depending on the variety. They can live and produce berries for up to 50 years, so before you plant them take some time selecting the right position for them. They grow best in full sun but will tolerate a little shade, the more sun they get the better they will flower and fruit. Soil needs to be well drained with a pH 4.5 to 5.5, they will grow with it a little higher but the closer to 5.5 the better. Blueberries naturally grew in amongst trees so were surrounded with lots of leaf mulch, replicate this by mulching with pine or casuarina needles and/or bamboo leaves which will also help keep the soil ph lower. By having the soil pH low it will increase the availability of iron, zinc and other nutrients for plant growth. (If your plants have smaller than normal leaves that are pale green or yellow with contrasting green veins, possibly burnt edges or if the new growth is stunted, this often means the pH is too high). Soil pH can be lowered with the addition of sulphur but it will take time for it to have the desired effect. I read an interesting article called 'Acidifying Soil for Blueberries and Ornamental Plants in the Yard and Garden' from the Oregon State university Extension Service, a very easy to understand piece.

You can read the whole article at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/ec/ec1560-e.pdf

 

If you know someone successfully growing blueberries in your area get some cuttings from their bushes or purchase plants from a reliable fruit tree nursery. The best time to plant is between late autumn and spring. Blueberry bushes are slow growers so to help them mature a bit before producing fruit remove the flowers in their first year and even their second year, I am assured the wait will be worth it. Flowers should appear in spring and two to three months later little bunches of berries should appear in their places. The berries will go from green to pale pink to pale blue then eventually dark blue. They will be ripe and ready to pick when you twist the berry it will easily fall off. Blueberries can be pruned to a preferred size and also be used as hedge plants.

 

Blueberries are extremely good for your health and make delicious jams, jellies, pies, muffins and wines. Beware the wildlife will probably want to share your blueberries and the bees will love pollinating the flowers.

 

Back to my blueberries, with the help of my nearest and dearest, he put down my pavers then he shaped some offcuts of timber (100mm x 100mm) to make cradles to support the bath tub. Over to me, after consultation with several BOGI members I lined the bath tub with geotextile fabric followed by a layer of gravel then the soil mix. I used three bags of Azalea and Camellia Potting Mix, equal parts of washed river sand and homemade compost, a few shopping bags of broken down casuarina needles and bamboo leaves, a block of coir peat, some blood and bone and coffee grounds from the local coffee shop. I let this settle for a few weeks and then planted my three blueberries purchased at the Nambour Home and Garden Expo.

The three blueberries I bought are -

Sharpblue - Excellent quality large fruit. Very low chill requirements and self-pollinating. A tough and vigorous bush. It grows well in both sandy soils and heavier loams. The fruit has a wet scar, and is likely to become soft during very hot weather, meaning that it needs to be harvested frequently to overcome this. Since its release in 1984 it has become the most widely planted and adaptable of the low-chill, southern highbush cultivars available. It can grow up to a height of 1.5 metres

 

Gulfcoast - A low chill highbush variety. Excellent flavour, firmness and good picking scar. A vigorous upright bush with moderate toughness and good tolerance to root rot, an early ripening variety, can grow to 2 metres.

 

Biloxi - A great choice for hotter climates with very little chill hours, usually ripens a few weeks before other early blueberry varieties and sometimes produces a second harvest. The fruit is firm and the size is medium. It is a southern highbush, tends to be evergreen and can grow to 1.5 metres.

Now time will tell how it all works out, I am hoping for a bath tub full of berries in a couple of years time, I will keep you updated.

If you can share any blueberry tips or stories please send them in, BOGI members will appreciate them.

 

Nutritional Information

100 grams raw

Calories: 857                            Kilojoules: 240

Total Fat:  0.33g                       Cholesterol: 0mg

Total Carbohydrates 14g           Dietary Fibre 2g

Sugars 10g                               Sodium 1mg

Protein 1g                                 Vitamin A 54 IU

Folate 6 μg                               Vitamin C 9.7mg

Vitamin E 0.57mg                     Vitamin K 19.3μg

Thiamin 0.037mg                      Niacin 0.418mg

Vitamin B6 0.052mg                  Riboflavin 0.041mg

Calcium 6mg                            Magnesium 6mg

Phosphorous 12mg                   Potassium 77mg

Iron 0.28mg                              Zinc 0.16mg

 


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