There Might Be a Blueberry Shortage, But Here's How to Grow Your Own
Recent reports out of Georgia don't bode well for your grandmother's favorite blueberry preserves recipe. According to NBC News, the state best known for its peaches is going to be hit hard by a blueberry shortage, for the second consecutive year.
Farmers there are expecting to lose more than 60% of their crop, which is a bigger deal than you'd think. In 2014, Georgia produced 95 million pounds of the little blue berries, and expectations for this year's return are closer to last year's—around 30 million pounds. This could mean A) fewer blueberries in grocery stores, and B) higher berry prices where they are available.
But don't let this deter you from fulfilling your dreams of baking the world's largest blueberry pie—you can easily plant your own blueberry bush(es) and reap the rewards the next time there's a dearth in berries! Here's a quick walkthrough of how you can start growing this bite-sized super foods at home.
STEP 1: BUY BLUEBERRY BUSHES (PLURAL)
There are an abundance of blueberry varieties, so we'd first suggest determining which variety works best where you live before planting. After you've done that, you'll want to ensure you've got at least a couple different "cultivars" (varietal subsets) to ensure cross-pollination. This is absolutely key to your labor of love bearing fruit...literally.
There's a simple equation here: Multiple bushes + multiple varieties = cross-pollination and bigger, more bountiful bushes. So if someone tells you to plant just one bush, politely decline and explain that the more you plant, the better chance you'll have at an abundant harvest (not to mention that planting different varieties can stretch out your harvest season).
STEP 2: DIG A (BIG ENOUGH) HOLE WHERE SUN IS ABUNDANT
When contemplating a forever home in your yard for the bushes you bought in Step 1, make sure that it meets the following requirements:
- Acidic soil. Blueberries thrive in acidic soil, and you can easily accommodate that by adding sulfur (pending a soil test kit, which you can purchase online or at your local garden center).
- Sunshine. Your bushes are going to want at least 6-8 hours of full sun a day, so don't plant them somewhere that's overly shaded or that a vampire would find homey.
- Adequate drainage with easy access to water. You'll want to make sure there's good drainage for your bushes, but that you're also able to water them throughout the summertime heat. They'll need about 1-2 inches of water weekly for maximum berry-growing effort.
When you're ready to plant, make sure you loosen up the root ball and place your bush in a hole that's at least twice the circumference of the container it came in (or typically at least 18" in diameter).
Don't submerge the trunk too far below the soil's surface, and make sure when adding soil back into the hole you tamp down any possible air pockets surrounding the root ball (you can easily do this with a shovel handle). If you'd like, you can also toss some pine needles into the soil you're using to aid in maintaining acidity levels.
Now, cover your bushes in some mulch or pine straw. This serves a two-fold purpose: Firstly, it helps retain water, which is helpful on those particularly stifling summer days, but this will also prohibit growth of weeds or grass around your bushes, which will greedily divert the moisture you so desperately need for maximum berry output. Now, water your new baby bushes immediately.
STEP 3: FERTILIZE THAT BAD BOY
Fertilizer can give your bushes the boost they need to burst with berries. Alliteration aside, go with an acidic fertilizer (it will often be labeled for azaleas or strawberries) and avoid manures, as they can damage your plants.
STEP 4: PRUNE THAT BAD BOY, TOO
We'll get to this in Step 6, but it's important not to expect too much of your blueberry bushes right away. In year one—and beyond, for that matter—you'll want to diligently prune your bushes.
Remove flower blooms as they appear, any low growth around the base, and cut short, discolored branches off your bushes as well. Ideally, you'll end up removing 1/3 to 1/2 of the wood each year from your bush via pruning.
This enables your bush to focus less on berries from the offset and more on establishing a strong, healthy root system, which in turns means it will grow larger, happier, and produce more berries in the long run.
STEP 5: PEST PROOF YOUR BUSHES (TRUST ME)
As someone who has eight blueberry bushes in his own yard, I can't stress enough the need to pest-proof your bushes via netting. Birds, squirrels, chipmunks, deer—they'll all know your berries are in season, so safeguard your bounty via netting, chicken wire, or other fencing to minimize berry loss. More for you, less for them.
STEP 6: BE PATIENT
Blueberry farming/growing isn't for the impatient. It can sometimes take 1-3 years for your bushes to really start cranking out berries in earnest, so don't get discouraged. Just remember to keep your bushes watered, pruned, and fertilized, and you'll be set with fresh blueberries for a long, long time. Cheers!