Are you interested in GARDENING?  Then you might find one of these Homestead.org articles handy:

The Four-season Garden by Michael Nolan

Super Tuber! by Neil Shelton

Vegetable Gardening: Your Next Step to Self-Sufficiency by Doug Smith

Attract Wildlife to Your Property by Doug Smith

Pint-size Plow-horses by Doug Smith

Easy as Pie: The Myth of Simple Living by Sheri Dixon

The Three Sisters Legacy: The Science Behind Companion Planting by Clare Brandt

Look to the Weed by Diana Barker

Gardening by the Moon by Catherine Lugo

American Farmers Today: The Lances by Karyn Sweet

Farmers of Fungi by Dustin Eirdosh

Thyme is on Your Side (Yes, it is) by Gay Ingram

Trees: Bringing It All Together by Gin Getz

A Backyard Market Garden by Kevin Wright

 

 

 

Got the Blues? 
Itís a Good Thing, if They're Blueberries!

by Ed Mashburn

I know somewhere there must be someone who doesnít like blueberries.  Iíve never met this unfortunate soul, however.  Whether used fresh over ice cream or cereal, or cooked in whole-grain muffins, I love blueberries in my food.  Besides tasting so good, blueberries provide a number of health and nutrition related benefits.  Another great thing about blueberries is the fact that smallholders can successfully cultivate and produce blueberries in almost every part of the country.         

Blueberries, perhaps more than any other fruit or berry, freeze very well, so a summer crop of blueberries will continue to serve the family table for months and months from the freezer.         

If it appears that I am personally very high on my little round blueberries, thatís right, I am.  I figure that blueberries must be close to the perfect fruit for home growers.         

Another great thing about the little round blueberry is that it has proven to be, regardless of where we lived, our most reliable cash crop.  Both in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas where we raised our family or down here on the Gulf Coast where we now reside, blueberries have reliably brought some very welcome cash income.  When I planted my most recent berry patch, I just wanted some berries for home use.  Well, I got that and much more.  From just a few dozen blueberry plants, I have picked several hundred dollars worth of cash-crop blueberries in the past five years.  Every year I sell every single berry that I donít want to eat. 

Growing blueberries should be on every small farmerís list of cash crops to be explored.  Letís look at this delicious, profitable bush-berry. 

Basic Requirements 

In the US, there three types of blueberries for the smallholder to consider.  There are low-bush, high-bush, and rabbit-eye blueberries which grow naturally in different parts of the country, and these native plants have been the origins of the multitude of hybridized and perfected commercial blueberries.         

Most blueberries grown for home and commercial production are of the high-bush type because of the larger size of the fruit and the easier growth habits of the high-bush. 

Small farmers should do a bit of study before running to the catalog and ordering a few acresí worth of blueberries.  It really does make a difference where in the world a growing area is located.  Homeowners should work closely with local university extension agents when selecting specific types of blueberries.  For instance, when I lived in the Ozarks, ďBluerayĒ and a few other varieties did well.  However, down here in the deep South, other varieties such as "ClimaxĒ do much better.  It really is necessary to study up on plant varieties before planting a patch.

Probably the first thing potential blueberry growers should consider is the actual planting location.  Blueberries do NOT like to stand in water.  Even though they were, in their native states, common in swampy areas, their very shallow roots allow wild plants to keep their roots from being constantly water soaked.  Blueberry growers must make sure the growing area has good water drainage or the plants just will not survive, much less produce. 

Also, blueberry crops are lost every year because of late frosts which take the blooms.  In the mid-west, late blooming varieties would be good choices to avoid those killer April frosts.  If the blueberry patch can be located on a hillside so that cold, late spring air can slide off downhill to the valleys, so much the better. 

The home grower will absolutely want to have good soil testing done.  Blueberries love acidic soil, but just about any existing soil can be amended to make blueberry plants happy.  Again, a little talk with the local extension agent can be a good use of time. 

Cultivation and Production of Berry Crops 

Producing blueberries is not an overnight process.  In fact, five years between planting and decent berry production is not unusual.  However, the grower can not just slam the bushes in holes and walk off and wait until the plants produce.  Careful control of weeds and irrigation development is necessary to bring blueberries into earliest production.   

Depending on the area, some sort of irrigation system may be necessary.  In the Ozarks where soil runs thin and dries out very quickly, we found a drip irrigation system using water from a nearby stock pond to be the best way to gain optimum berry production.   

Blueberries donít require support when they mature, but spacing of plants can make weed control by mowing easieróor much more difficult.  Homeowners should try to leave enough space between plants and rows to get some sort of mowing machine around plants. `

Also, mulch in the form of leaves and peat can be very beneficial to blueberry growth. Hardwood leaves such as oak and even pine needles will help create a more acidic soil around the blueberry bushes, which is just what they want.         

A thing I really appreciate about my blueberries is the length of their production.  Properly maintained, a blueberry patch can produce profitable crops for many years.  It is not uncommon to receive very heavy berry production for ten years or much more.   

As mentioned earlier, blueberry plants are acid lovers, and they appreciate fairly heavy fertilizing with low pH fertilizers.  Be careful to not over nitrogen blueberriesóthis can do more harm than good.  Again, good advice can come from local extension agents.  The state of Missouri, in particular, does a very good job of getting good, useful information for blueberry growers. 

It comes down to this.  Make the plants happy, and they will produce heavy crops for a long time with really minimal care and work on the part of the grower.  This is my kind of fruit production! 

Any potential berry grower must early on decide just how much time and space can be devoted to a berry patch.  If space and personal time is abundant, a grower may choose to plant several acres of blueberry bushes which will, fairly quickly, develop into a full-time job - at least during growing and picking seasons.  If time and space are limited - as in my present situation - a couple dozen bushes planted in odd corners of the yard may be the extent of the blueberry growing.   

Sales of Berries 

Letís start the discussion of sales and money by stating from the outset that blueberries can, in some cases, generate a good bit of money.  The United State Department of Agriculture says that a mature planting of blueberries can return as much as $3,000 per acre with correct marketing, management, and growing.  

 

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