blueberries

Get Your Blueberries Early!

I love blueberries, plain, on yogurt, in a pie or straight from the bush…

Blueberries are magnificent in every way. And best of all, they’re easy to grow. Seriously. Sun, pine (acid), water, done. That’s it. (That’s pine mulch around the base of the plant.)

All you do is dig a hole, add water and pine bark mulch (acid), and they’re good to go. Oh, and twine. I’m not the only one who loves blueberries. Birds love blueberries and are usually out and about at the crack of dawn dive-bombing the plump ripe berries before you’ll ever get a chance to stop them. Sheesh! If you run twine over the bushes, it’s “problem solved.” I used to use netting until I learned it keeps the bees out, too. Not good. Blueberry blossoms need bees.

Blueberry bushes will begin showing up in your local plant stores soon and if I were you, I’d grab a few. A few—because they need other blueberry bushes for pollination. You do want some, don’t you? Of course you do! And now is the time to find blueberry plants at your local garden center. Just remember, blueberries need to cross-pollinate, so make sure you purchase at least two different varieties for your garden. I have several, including Southern Highbush Sharp Blue, Windsor, Jubilee, Jewel and Gulf Coast. If you can get your hands on some Highbush Misty, they are supposed to get along well with Highbush Sharp Blue. I also have some Rabbit Eye varieties to round out my berry garden.

Special note: Blueberries require a certain amount of “chillng hours” to produce fruit. Chill hours are considered between 32 degrees F and 45 degrees F. I chose these varieties because in Florida we don’t get a lot of cold weather and these bushes require the least amount of chilling hours, ranging from 200-500 hours. So choose wisely according to your growing region.

Plant in organic-rich slightly acidic soil (4.0 — 5.0 pH) and mulch well. Feed with a 12-4-8 fertilizer and prune during the summer months after harvest for more vigorous growth.

Best results = tons of berries. Look at those beauties!

Quick fun facts about blueberries:

July is National Blueberry month.

Blueberry muffins are the most popular muffin in America.

Blueberry muffins are the state muffin of Minnesota. (Who knew muffins had state status?)

Maine produces more blueberries than any place in the world. (I’ve actually visited some blueberry orchards in Maine and was quite frankly, surprised to find them there!)

Blueberries are relatives to the rhododendron and azalea bushes.

Not only interesting and beautiful, blueberries are FULL of antioxidants. So get shopping! The early bird gets the best bush.

 

All Berries But No Leaves?

My blueberry bushes have been producing a bonanza of berries this spring, but I noticed that some plants are missing leaves. The blueberries are on the stems, but no leaves. Weird.

blueberry babes without leaves

Then I saw a question asked in the Southern Living magazine about the same problem and the Grumpy Gardener replied. The response? He said that young blueberry bushes tend to overbear, setting so many berries that the fruit is inferior.

Huh, I thought. Sounds about right. Youngsters can be over-eager at times, that’s for sure. So he advised using pruners to shorten the flowering stems in spring allowing for fewer flowers and bigger, tastier berries in the future.

big beautiful mature blueberries

Now I’ll be admit, I’m conflicted over this piece of advice, because some of those berries from these young bushes tasted perfectly fine to me. And as a HUGE fan of blueberries, I can’t fathom the idea of wanting less berries. Bigger, I like. Fewer, not so much. Hmph. What’s a poor gardener to do?

big bowl of blueberries

Plant more blueberry bushes! That has to increase my odds on getting the best berries from the best bushes, right? Plus, one day they’ll ALL be mature and I’ll be collecting bowl after bowl after bowl of berries. Ah… Life doesn’t get any better!

Blueberries in Bloom

I love blueberries, plain, on yogurt, in a pie or straight from the bush…

blueberry breakfast

Blueberries are magnificent in every way. And best of all, they’re easy to grow. Seriously. Sun, pine (acid), water, done. That’s it. That’s pine mulch around the base of the plant.

blueberry pine mulch

And they’re forgiving, too. I moved these blueberries (shown below) away from my house and out to the garden this winter.

strings over blueberry plants

I decided that my romantic notion of blueberry bushes sequestered in a shady mountainside in the North Carolina where an off-trail hiker discovers their wonder and devours the glorious fruit hidden from view was just that–a romantic notion. Blueberries like sun and lots of it. Similar to my Knockout roses, they can survive in part sun, but thrive in full sun. Don’t they look happy?

new blueberry rows

They are–so happy. Just look at the bunches of blueberries they’re yielding!

bunch blueberries

I love it! All I did was dig the hole, add water and pine bark mulch (acid), and they’re good to go. Oh, and twine. I’m not the only one who loves blueberries. Birds love blueberries and are usually out and about at the crack of dawn dive-bombing the plump ripe berries before I ever get a chance to stop them. Sheesh! So I run twine over the bushes and it’s problem solved. I used to use netting until I learned it keeps the bees out, too. No good. Blueberry blossoms need bees.

blueberry blosooms to berries

Bees work to make those white blossoms incredibly become fruit.

blueberries 2016

Quick fun facts about blueberries:

July is National Blueberry month.

Blueberry muffins are the most popular muffin in America.

Blueberry muffins are the state muffin of Minnesota. (Who knew muffins had state status?)

Maine produces more blueberries than any place in the world. (I’ve actually visited some blueberry orchards in Maine and was quite frankly, surprised to find them there!)

Blueberries are relatives to the rhododendron and azalea bushes.

Wish I’d Known This A Few Years Back…

Not really sure how I missed it, actually. It’s simple, easy and completely efficient. I mean, if the resorts can do it, why can’t I, right? That’s what I finally decided, anyway. If stringing lines over pools and outdoor restaurants can keep unwanted birds out of the guests’ hair and food, they should certainly be able to keep the birds out of my blueberries.

delectable blueberries

And it does. It totally does! Bird netting is the old standby and works, but it’s cumbersome and traps the bees inside. Bad. Very bad. Garlic sprays and the like don’t work especially well, because the birds don’t seem to mind the stench and I do. Ewe. But string? It’s a no-brainer. At least, once the idea popped into my brilliant mind, it was a no-brainer. Duh. More

Cure For Critters

Remember those pesky critters that stole my peanuts as soon as I planted them? I’ve figured out how to prevent them from doing so again. Bird netting supported by wire hoops.

Brussels beneath netting

Wire can be purchased at your local hardware or big box store–I used 9 gauge–and cut to shape with a pair of wire clippers. Length will depend on the size of your beds, but basically you’re looking to form hoops over your rows. Be sure to allow enough space for your plants to grow beneath the bird netting and accommodate your sprinkler system. The wire is flexible and bends easily.

Next up, you’ll need bird netting. It’s sold in rolls and can be found at hardware/big box stores, too. Originally I used my bird netting for my blueberry plants, but now that they’ve bloomed and been harvested, I can use it for the vegetable garden. Wunderbar!! More

Photo Share

The garden is growing great these days with minimal weeds. Gotta love that combination, right?

Credit goes to my heavy black ground cover and my frequent visits. Vigilance is key when it comes to keeping up with weeds in an organic garden. Unfortunately, elbow grease is still one of the best weapons one has. Corn gluten works well, but you have to reapply after heavy rains and/or frequent watering. So I watch and pick and pluck in the meanwhile.

It’s relaxing. As is walking by the blueberry bushes and seeing the plump blue fruit popping between leaves. So beautiful.

delectable blueberries

My chickpeas are progressing.

chickpeas in the garden

They haven’t kept pace with the compost pile but then again, Mother Nature still rocks when it comes to gardening. But alas…this is what I have to look forward.

chickpea pod

That little pod holds 1-2 chickpeas. Unlike most other legumes that produce half a dozen beans per pod, the chickpea plant tends to be a minimalist. On to other rows…my sweet onions are ready ~ yay! That’s one between the strawberries, their wonderful companions in the garden.

sweet onions

Along with my potatoes.

potatoes

Tomatoes are forming, next to their friends, basil and peppers.

friends include tomatoes, peppers, basil

And then there’s my first squash blossom. I was a bit late putting these guys into the ground, but better late than never, right?

1st squash blossom

While I was visiting my garden, I spotted this gal. Must be I have some aphids somewhere?

miss lady bug

Cute, isn’t she? One more reason to visit your garden early and often. You’ll be treated to a serenity unlike any other. 🙂

 

Blueberries are Going Fast!

Here in Florida we have a very narrow window for blueberry picking.  April and May are basically it when it comes to harvest so grab your buckets and get out there!  Before they’re gone for good.  At least until next year…

And make sure you drag the kids along (or will they be dragging you?, because they can do some damage in a blueberry field.  The good kind, as in picking more blueberries than you can possible eat!  Good thing they freeze well and make great smoothie additions…  We went to a local field in our area called Blue Bayou Farms and picked over 5 lbs. worth of berries, then headed next door to the Yalaha Bakery (a German deli and bakery) for some good food, good music, and some unexpected entertainment!  If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by for a visit.  You won’t be disappointed.

Kids do love to dance, don’t they?  (Or is he running?  Finnicky little dance partner…)  Both were a hoot to watch.  As for my blueberries didn’t fare as well this year.  I started out with some gorgeous blooms, but to my disappointment, they didn’t bloom to fruition.

Not sure exactly why, but I suspect it had something to do with water, as in, not enough.  It’s been hot and dry in Central Florida and I’ve been busy–which means my watering schedule suffered.  Basically, I forgot to water them.  🙁   A few did produce which my lovely daughter promptly used to make some blueberry pancakes for me on Mother’s Day (sweet child).  But I have no bounty to speak of.  Sad.  Very sad.  Thank goodness for pick your own blueberry farms. 

For a farm near you, Pick Your Own is a super resource and can be found on my list of Favorite links under U-Pick farms.  You’ll also find instructions there on how to make blueberry jam, jelly and preserves!  They’re simple to make, much like the strawberry preserves the kids and I made for a teacher’s gift (details in our Kid Buzz section) and oh so tasty.

Strawberry Season Means Strawberry Picking!

At least when you have kids, it does!   Okay, with my kids, it does.  And grandma.  Don’t forget her.  Exciting outings are usually her idea, anyway.

December through April is strawberry season in Florida and in our area, this is code for BIG FUN.  From the Plant City Strawberry Festival to our local Strawberry Farm, we love this time of year! 

Sweetens school lunches.  “Peanut butter and jelly, Mom and make it fresh strawberry!”

And afternoon snack time.  “Can we make strawberry smoothies?  Pleeeeeease.”

Of course we can!   If that’s how I get fresh strawberries in your belly then that’s how we do it.   Beats the ice cream alternative.

We in the gardenfrisk household grow our own strawberries, though for some reason, they never turn out quite as large and luscious as the ones at the farm.   Pesticides?   Maybe.  Commercial strength fertilizer?  Could be.   But since I don’t know for sure, let’s just say the kids and I have some work to do this season to compete with Farmer Jones down the road.

Pine needle mulch is the first key.  As for food, I hope they like fish emulsion.  Stinky, but it seems effective.  So long as we don’t drench them in the stuff while the fruit is blossoming we should be good to go, right?  For a complete review on the subject of growing strawberries, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association provides a fantastic educational download for kids and adults alike.

These gems were saved from last year.  Half of the plants went into our school garden while the other half went to our home garden.   No fruit yet, but we’re patient.   Do we have a choice?

Besides, to get our strawberry fill, we simply run to the strawberry fields and pick to our heart’s content!

If you’d like to find a farm near you (this is an international source, mind you), check this link.   In addition to strawberries, you’ll be able to locate blueberry farms, pumpkin patches–all kinds of stuff!  And speaking of blueberries, just look at these buds.

Aren’t they amazing?    While they don’t seem like much now — a tad scraggly, actually — soon the leaves will start sprouting…the blossoms will start blooming…the bees will come buzzing…the birds will come biting–

Hmph.    There’s a great way to ruin a blueberry growin’ girl’s day.  The birds.  

I plan to keep them out this year and WITHOUT the horrible netting business.   What a fiasco of unintended consequences!  Netting works well to keep the birds out, but it also keeps the bees out.  Not good.  I’m sure you remember the story about the birds and the bees…

But let’s not linger in last year’s loss, no-no!  2011 is a brand new year with brand new buds and whole host of optimism.   Remember:  what you lack in skill you will make up for with enthusiasm.  Important tip for novices like me.

Birds, bees, and blueberries

We learn by doing.   It’s an age old saying for a reason.  Sure, we read books, study the almanac, listen to the experts.    All wonderful and recommended arenas for the novice gardener — let alone beginner — but sometimes, there’s simply no substitute for experience.   The tried and true kind. 

Take my blueberry patch.   My pride and joy, my special morning ritual (well, once it’s established I plan to make it a morning ritual – plucking fresh blueberries for my yogurt and bran flakes…strolling amidst the chirps and peeps).   Well, you understand.  You work hard for these sweet, luscious, high in anti-oxidant fruits and you don’t want to lose them to the natural elements.   Wind, pests, birds.

Birds are a definite problem when it comes to berries.   They too enjoy a plump serving of berries with their breakfast!  But they’re hungry varmints and will eat you out of house and home – house and garden – if you let them.  But me, I count myself as smarter than the average bear (no pun intended to my other native blueberry fan).  I figure I can outwit these flying friends with a simple bird net.   Says so right on the package.   Bird nest for fruit and shrubs

Wonderful.  Problem solved.  All I have to do is cover my plants — all twelve of them — and I’m off and running in the blueberry race.  Woohoo!

First recommendation:  don’t choose a windy day to start your net project.  Blueberry blossoms are extremely sensitive to the slightest tactile cling and snare easily.  Translated: touch them and they pop off the vine.   Bad.  Very bad.   No blossoms means no berries.

With a little practice, though, I became quite good at throwing and securing my net without touching my delicate blueberry blossoms and only lost a few to the endeavor.   Can you really miss what you never had to start?  If you’ve noticed, philosophy seems to be on overdrive in my garden.

But abstract distractions aside, I finished my task an hour later, rising with a nice long yoga stretch to the back before I secured my last stake in the ground.  Second recommendation: don’t attempt this after several hours of weeding and tilling in the garden.   Problem is, I’m more doer than planner.  Oh look, I still have two hours before I need to pick up the kids!   What else can I slip in before my time runs out?

That’s when I heard it.

Bzzzzzz.  Bzzzzzzz. 

I looked up and honed in on my little bee friend.   Okay, it was one of my BIG bee friends, but nonetheless, a bee friend.   There he was, patiently, persistently, hovering about the outside of my netting.

Realization trickled down through my tired, aching limbs.    He’s outside the netting.   Outside my netting!

In addition to my Rabbit Eyes, I planted High Bush blueberry varieties.   They need cross pollination.   By bees. 

Aaaaargh!   Not only had I effectively kept the birds out, I was keeping my bee friends out, too!  Bad, bad, bad.  If you want your blossoms to grow and provide — which I do — you need bees.

Now I was in a bind.  What to do?  Leave my hard work in place, or tear it down so the bees can enter safely and do their business?  Since I’m no expert, this was a tough call, because I don’t know when the plants actually need pollination.   Do they bloom after pollination and blossom into blueberries?  Or do they need pollination between bloom and blueberry?   How the heck do I know?   I’m just a berry enthusiast trying my hand at a blueberry patch!   I have no idea how Mother Nature runs these things.

After two minutes of hair pulling, you know I pulled the netting down.   No way around it.   It made more sense that when there are flowers present — and I have tons of flowers present — they need bees.  Bees work the flowers! 

Later that night, I shared the events with my husband who promptly replied, “The bees will get through.”

“No,” I stated, calm and matter-of-fact.  I was calm by now, having had several hours to absorb the incident.  “The netting holes are this big,” I made a circle with my thumb and forefinger to simulate the size less than a dime.   “The bees are this big.”   A centimeter larger, and granted, undetectable with my fingers, but my point was clear.   Too close to call.   A bee may try it, but he would most likely be snagged.   Wings.   They’d throw him over the threshold of size “allowability.”

Determined as any man would be, my husband remained convinced there was a way to beat the problem.  Sure enough, next day, the birds were swooping on my plants, sending my heart racing.  Eyeing my poles already in place, I was determined to win this one.   No wind, it was much easier to assemble my netting “cage” and took ten minutes.   Satisfied it would work, I went to the garden.

Tormented by thoughts of harming the bees, I thought maybe the answer was mobile netting.  I could put up and take down the netting on a daily basis, according to the bird’s feeding schedule.   “Do they have a feeding schedule?”   Mine seem to eat all day long!

Trekking back to the house from the garden, collecting my kitchen compost bin along the way, I heard it. 

Yep, you guessed it.   My bee friend was back!  I swung my head around hoping to catch sight of him and sure enough, there he was, hovering about a blueberry plant.

Inside the netting.   I rushed over for a closer look, wondering  how exactly he managed entry.  Pleasure poured through me.  There, where my two nets overlap, was at least a foot of space.  Perfect.  Bees could easily maneuver this section while birds could not.  They wouldn’t even attempt to sail through for fear they would be unable to escape, and thus be trapped.  (Birds don’t hover as well as bees.  They need some distance for landing and take-off.)

Heaving a sigh of relief, I headed into the house.  Problem solved. 

And not a moment too soon.  My blueberries are nearing maturity!

Look at these beauties.  They’re still green, but big and round and about to turn blue.

Transplant a rose garden?

Who in their right mind would do such a thing? 

Me.   I changed my mind.   We added a screened enclosure.   Life happens.   My roses were too close to the wire mesh and my herbs were too far away from the kitchen.   Okay, I enjoy the walk out to the garden.   That’s not it.  Truth is, they didn’t work well with my rotation schedule AND while I’m cooking dinner and feel the urge for some fresh herbs, it’s easier when they’re located right around the corner. 

Makes sense, doesn’t it?   In theory, yes.   In practice… 

Well, that’s another beast entirely and I do mean beast.   And to think I blamed my stiffness on old age – it has nothing do with old age –  it’s senility!  Mine!   

What was I thinking?   Oh, let’s see.   Today I’ll transplant my three vigorous and thriving rose bushes which have been there for years.   Then, I’ll relocate and plant seed for a new herb garden in their place.   Tomorrow, I’ll plant a blueberry patch.   All this, after five hours spent spring tilling and planting in the garden the day before. 

Counterclockwise from the bottom: aloe, basil, space for cilantro, oregano, space for parsley, rosemary, potted peppers, sweet potato slips inside screen, dill, curly parsley, lavender

Nut job.   I heard you.   Insane

You’re right.   I’m all of those and while you’re at it, add energetic, ambitious, a gal with eyes bigger than her yard AND her ability.   Yep.   That’s me.   But I have to say, now that it’s all behind me, and I survived, I can say, it was all worth it.  

Eventually, my yard will be exactly as I want, all the pain and agony a distant memory as I gaze out the window with satisfaction.   Need I remind you of childbirth

This afternoon, my daughter and I went in search of something cute for our brand new herb garden.   We didn’t find anything.   But it was fun looking! 

It’s nice to have something to look forward to with hope and anticipation, isn’t it?   It feels fresh and fun and exhilarating.   I hope all my seeds take to sprout.   We won’t know for at least a week or two.  I can’t wait to stroll knee deep among the herbs, full and lush, nestled together, their savory scents competing as I decide on which to include for dinner.  

Speaking of herbs, did I mention the hardy rosemary plant?  Easy to grow, easy to harvest and very distinct in character.   One of our favorites this time of year, is rosemary lemonade.   It’s an easy mix with outstanding results.   (Check my recipe page for details.) 

Hmmm.   Closing my eyes, I can see it all.   Then, come April, my berry patch will command my attention with their plump, juicy little bodies of blue glistening in the morning dew.   The perfect compliment to my breakfast yogurt.   I love spring… 

 

Can you see it?   Can you imagine the pleasure you’ll derive from your very own paradise?    Oh, have I forgotten the roses?  

Not at all.   I’ve moved them before and they adapted well.  

 They’ll do so again, I’m sure of it.   Because with enough love and attention, anything can grow anywhere, of that I’m sure of as well. 

Welcome back, spring.  More than the promise of new growth and abundant fragrance, your arrival signals the blessings of renewal. 

p.s.  Good timing.  Florida has had a deluge the past few days.  Wonderful news for my rose transplants!