Blueberries (Vaccinium)

Short version:

Home grown blueberries can taste so much better than most of the shop bought ones. They are also perennial and easy to grow in a pot with ericaceous compost. They need little maintenance and are very rewarding.

Grow for amazing tasting berries

For shipping and storing purposes, store bought fruit is picked when it’s less than ripe. When things ripen off the bush they just aren’t as sweet or flavourful. When you grow your own blueberries you can literally pick them off the bush when they’re perfectly ripe and just eat them. We don’t really use fertilisers or pesticides in our growing so I’m happy for our 3 year old to help herself as she pleases. At the beginning it was quite a struggle to teach her when they’re ripe, but the instant consequence of an unripe sour blueberry helped. The important thing is that she always checks with me when she sees anything outside of our own garden that she thinks might be edible.  

Varieties

Not absolutely all blueberries that you grow yourself are guaranteed to grow well and/or taste amazing. If you’re going to give up time, effort and space to grow your own blueberries it’s worth picking a good variety.

I scoured the internet to see which ones were recommended for taste, hardiness, vigour, disease resistance, etc and went with:

GOLDTRAUBE

Vigorous and tall. Harvest July-August. Very sweet, juicy berries that are full of flavour. Foliage is attractive in autumn with lots of red.

PINK SAPPHIRE

A pink blueberries that surprises everyone. I find they’re sweeter than Goldtraube but not quite as flavourful. Harvest July-August. This grows as tall as the Goldtraube.

BLUECROP

Vigorous and low growing. I was surprised at how low this grows, especially compared to the others. Sweet and juicy. It’s a mid-late season one. Harvest in August-September. Just begins to ripen as the other two are depleted.

Perennial

Year after year they will provide food. They do seem to follow the adage of first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap. The first couple of years they may be a bit slow, but generally, if happy, by the 3rd year they’ll have picked up the pace and provide punnetfuls. So there’s a bit of work in the planting in the beginning. Patience is then required for a year or so afterwards but then it’s really easy.

Growing conditions

You can buy them in the late spring or summer as a pot plant. Or you can buy them as bare rooted bushes in the winter, which is the cheaper option.

SUNNY

Ours are in one of the sunnier parts of the garden, though not the sunniest and we still get very tasty, sweet berries.

ERICACIOUS SOIL

This means acidic. This is London and the soil here is pretty much alkaline clay. You can amend the soil but honestly, I don’t have the time or patience. They therefore make good container plants. These bushes started in pots with shop bought ericaceous compost.

For lazy old me though, pots dry out too quickly. So, winter just gone, I built a raised bed. I put about 3 months of kitchen scraps (vegetable – no meat, oil or sauces) at the bottom, covered it with cardboard and let that decompose for a few months before I put the plants in. It was topped up with shop bought ericaceous compost. The composted kitchen waste provides plenty of nutrients and also decreases the amount of paid for, shop bought compost.

The roots have access to the soil underneath, which is of course is the alkaline clay but at least it means the plant is much less likely to dry out. Also, I put them here because the roof of this building drains water along this whole edge into this raised bed. This is important especially in summer because you don’t want to water these with tap water if you can avoid it. Tap water tends to be alkaline, where as rain water is generally neutral or slightly acidic because of its contact in the sky with carbon dioxide. A rain barrel is a good way to get rainwater. Rain barrels are also good for conserving water.

SPACING

I’ve read that blueberry bushes should really be about a metre apart but with a small garden I do tend to grow things far too close. In the first couple of years it’s fine anyway. Maybe in a few years I’ll find I have to remove the middle one but for now I’m really pleased with the food that these bushes have been providing.

PRUNING

My ones are only 3 years old so this is what I’ve read: First few years just remove any dead, damaged or diseased parts. After around 4 years the wood doesn’t produce much anymore so they’re best pruned away. You can prune away wood in the spring that has only leaf buds, which are thinner and pointier than the flower buds.  

Pollination

Blueberries are generally self pollinating but they do better with a pollinating partner – basically another blueberry of a different variety that has flowers open at the same time. Without pollination you get no fruit. This is also a good reason to attract pollinators like bees and avoid pesticides. If you live in a city like London there are generally lots of bees about due to the large year round variety of flowers and if you’re lucky a nearby neighbour might also be growing blueberries.

So… you may now have realised that my edible garden evangelism, is in part selfish. It’s all part of my evil plan to convince those around me to grow edibles – then I get pollination partners and people to seed/plant swap with. There is also, of course, the hope that by growing more of our own we damage the environment a little less and … hey… I rather like living on this planet.

As usual…Feel free to subscribe or comment, especially you have a variety that you love.

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