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

Feeling Blue & Loving It

Spring has arrived which means there’s a bunch of stuff to do in the garden. Great times! I get to till and toil and snack on sugar snap peas all while strolling the rows of organic vegetables. This doesn’t make me feel blue. That happens when I approach the house.

new berries 2015

And pass my blueberry patch! Aren’t they gorgeous? The blueberry blooms are out in full force along with the berries I love and adore.

blueberry blooms 2015

Berries the birds love and adore as well, but we’re not discussing those bad boys right now. We’re discussing berries. Decadent, full and delicious berries. I’m not sure how plentiful my harvest will be this year due to the fact that we didn’t have a very cold winter. Blueberries require a certain amount of “chillng hours” to produce fruit. Chill hours are considered between 32 degrees F and 45 degrees F. I’m taking the blooms I see as a good sign, though. Blooms mean berries. They also mean “bait” for birds. Grrrrr…

Another consideration to bear in mind is that blueberries need to cross-pollinate, so you must have at least two different varieties in your garden. I chose Southern Highbush Sharp Blue, Windsor, Jubilee, Jewel and Gulf Coast  varieties because they require the least amount of chill hours. If you can get your hands on some Highbush Misty, they are supposed to get along particularly well with Highbush Sharp Blue. I also have some Rabbit Eye varieties to round out my berry garden.

delectable blueberries

These varieties work well for Florida because we don’t get a lot of cold weather and these require the least amount of chilling hours. Choose wisely, according to your growing region. And now is the time to find blueberry plants at your local garden center (in warmer regions, later for my Arctic Amigos), another sign that spring is in the air!

Once you have these babies in your hot little hands, plant them 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. They aren’t what I consider high maintenance, but they do require some.

Blueberry & yogurt stock photo

And they’re well worth it. In yogurt, cereal, pie, cobbler or fresh off the bush, these berries are my all-time favorite. You know you want to grow some. What are you waiting for? Get going and DO share how it’s going!

Getting Creative with Bugs

So I have this cricket problem.  They’re eating me out of plant and garden.  Voracious little critters, they seem to be able to destroy a pumpkin vine in a matter of days, a helpless little Brussels in a matter of hours.  I tried bird netting.  But the squares are a bit too big.

Crickets can jump clear through them.  Not always on the first try, mind you, but give them enough chances and out they go!  Rascals.

So I had to get creative.  For my netting, I’ve doubled up.  This way, the pattern won’t match up identically and some of the squares will be rendered to triangles and the crickets won’t be able to escape.  More importantly, they won’t be able to get in.  The hoops are 9 gauge wire cut into pieces that I bend to suit my needs. More

Blueberry harvest!

My blueberries are doing well despite some anxious early hours when the neighborhood bird population visits.  I’ve removed the netting to allow them the full ripening power of the sun.  Sounds silly.  I mean, the holes are pretty large, unlike the screen enclosure around a pool.  Sun should be getting in.  But ever the impatient gardener, I was in a hurry for my blueberries, so I whipped the netting off and awoke early each morning to check on my berries.  So far, so good.  A few dropped berries, suggesting they may have fallen after being dive-bombed by birds, but not too bad.  A tolerable diminishing of the harvest.

I’d show you pictures of my bounty, but the darned thing about blueberries is they are so sweet and succulent, most get eaten right from the bush!  And it’s not just me, I’ve spotted the kids frolicking through the blueberry patch (or is it orchard?) at all times of the day picking these jewels for themselves.  Real jewels, as in the Jewel variety of Highbush blueberry!  I also have Windsor, Misty, Sharp Blue, Gulf Coast and Jubilee of the high bush variety, along with some Rabbiteye varieties.

High bush are better suited for the climate in Central Florida, but of course, I didn’t know that when I first bought my blueberry plants a year ago.  My research indicated Rabbiteye would be great, but as in most things in life, research information and real life results are not always the same.  Local growers recommend the Highbush types. 

Either way, I have both.  From spring through early summer, I should have blueberries.  And while they may not make it into the picture perfect morning scenario I had envisioned where I stroll outside, pluck a few berries from the bush, deposit them into my yogurt and leisurely enjoy my coffee, they are good

Fresh blueberries are nothing short of heaven.

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.