We did not have blueberry bushes when I was growing up outside of Auburn. When I moved home after twenty-five years away, I had to have blueberries. I planted four blueberry bushes and did everything wrong, but I’m still savoring the benefits of my first plantings, which fruit in abundance now through mid-August.
Among my mistakes:
- Instead of plucking flowers off the first few years to prevent the formation of berries so the plant’s energy goes into root development, I ate what few berries emerged.
- I planted the bushes too close together not realizing how big they would grow. Now, while I can easily pick the outside branches, I have to crawl into the middle of the four to pick the inside branches.
At least crawling around keeps me in the shade of blueberries, but when I stand up, my knees remind me I’m getting too old for this. To adapt my crowded bushes to my aching knees, I pruned some of the middle branches to make a tent. Now I can sit in my private arbor atop a five-gallon bucket and bring in the harvest.
I learned. Today I have more than thirty blueberry bushes.
This flowering shrub native to North America is tolerant of our heat and humidity. There are plenty of reasons to add them to your landscape — and your diet. The fruit is a powerful antioxidant, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center. Antioxidants absorb free oxygen radicals, which play a role in cancer, heart disease, skin sagging and other signs of aging.
One study at the University of Houston showed old rats fed lots of blueberries maintained their learning ability better than rats not fed blueberries.
I can eat my weight (I am not saying how much that is) in fresh blueberries. I justify my gluttony by telling myself that I am fighting aging.
Blueberries are easy to grow organically, with few pests and disease problems. They require acidic, well-drained soil, with a pH of four to five, and full sun. Have your soil tested to see if you need to amend it.
The shrubs are deciduous — meaning they lose their leaves. Their new growth is bronze in spring. In fall, the leaves show great color, adding to their versatility as a landscape plant. Their size ranges widely. Some varieties will grow no more than three feet tall and wide, and others are eight feet tall and wide.
Rabbiteye varieties are most common in our area; Climax, Brightwell, and Premier produce in early season, Tifblue and Powderblue in midseason, and Centurion in late season. I have an evergreen variety called Sunshine, which grows no more than three or four feet, and has small tasty berries. And this year I added two new shrubs: KaBluey, with berries reputed to carry sweetness with hints of peach, strawberry, and raspberry, and Chandler, which boasts berries the size of quarters and bears for six weeks.
Late fall and early spring are the best times to plant. Watering during the first year, while roots establish, is crucial.
This is one of my family’s favorite during blueberry season:
Blueberry Pound Cake
- Non-stick cooking spray.
- 1 package of yellow or white cake mix
- 1 8-ounce package light cream cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/3 cup water
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
- 2 cups of blueberries, fresh
- 2/3 cup chopped pecans
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray and dust with flour.
In large mixing bowl, mix all ingredients except blueberries and pecans. Fold in blueberries and pecans. Pour batter into a 10-inch Bundt pan coated with no stick cooking spray and dusted with flour.
Bake 45 minutes, testing for doneness. The cake is done when a toothpick in its center comes out clean.
Cool in pan for 20 minutes, invert, and sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.
by Patti Householder