Where did Blueberries come from?
I remember watching a TV Programme years ago about how Blueberries found their way to the UK. We have our American friends to thank (if you are an American reading this – Thank You!) I was inspired to buy my own blueberry plants, and have never looked back since. For a couple of months from late July, I am able to get a good handful of blueberries every day, and if I bought plants that fruit at different times of the year, I could extend this season by a couple more months.
Blueberries have been widespread throughout the US for years and years, where they were much more widely used in everyday life and pretty common in grocery stores. After the 2nd World War, as a gesture of friendship, one of the large US blueberry farms offered 100 plants to anyone in the UK that wanted them.
Only a couple of people took this altruistic offer up but we now have our own blueberry farms producing huge amounts of blueberries in the UK. As soon as people saw how easy blueberries are to grow, the plant soon became very popular, finding its way into gardens and allotments all over the land. We have found many uses for blueberries, especially in baking and with the health drive over the last decade or so of ‘Five a Day’. Even blueberry tea has found its way into our culture.
Blueberries are Hardy
Yes, blueberries prefer warmer climates, but they grow surprisingly well in the UK. Before they were introduced, and today to some degree, they were considered a specialist plants that required high levels of care and loads of protection during the winter months. After blueberries were introduced, it soon became clear that they were hardy and actually did very well in our climate.
The picture below shows my blueberry plant under snow, when the temperatures were down as low as -16°C
Simple Tips For Growing Blueberries
If you grow blueberries, you will know that they are very easy to grow as long as you do just 2 simple things: Plant them in Acidic Compost and water them with Rain Water.
1. Blueberries like Acid Soil
This is probably the most important consideration for blueberry plants. It is an absolute necessity that you provide acid soil conditions for them. However you do this is up to you, but it is essential for the health of your plants. The easiest way to make sure your plant is in the right soil, is to plant it in a large pot. This way, you know exactly what the soil conditions will be, because you put the compost in there!
Blueberries in Pots
In open soil it is a little harder to make sure the soil conditions remain acidic, especially if you have clay, alkaline soil. Unless you are able to plant an entire bed with ericaceous compost, you may find that however much acidic soil you dig into the soil or mulch your plant with, the soil never maintains sufficient acidity to allow your blueberry to grow healthily. It effectively gets washed away by the elements and can be impractical to keep replacing.
The Ericaceous Border
A good way to help retain the acidity of your soil is to dig out a larger hole than you would normally, say 1 metre by 1 metre, then line the hole with weed matting or black vinyl (allowing drainage holes) before filling the hole with ericaceous compost mixed with some sand and other organic matter. Plant your blueberry into the centre of the area. This effectively creates a mini-bed that will maintain the correct soil conditions for much longer than if you simply dig a hole in your border and empty a bag of compost into it. Always mulch at leasty once a year with a good layer of fresh acidic compost, and remember to use a fertiliser for acid loving plants.
2. Blueberries like Rain Water
I never use anything other than rain water to water my blueberries. Not only is it more acidic than the tap water in my area, but it does not contain as many heavy metals and conditioners as tap water, so is generally much easier on the plants and much more beneficial than tap water.
Collecting Rain Water
It is very easy to collect rain water. Simply leave buckets out in the rain or for a more permanent installation, buy a water butt. Even a small water butt will provide ample water over the year to allow you to water your blueberries with rain water. I always have plenty left over to water my Orchids and Hoyas all year too.
Blueberries as a ‘Superfood’
Blueberries have a reputation for being a Superfood. This is mainly because they contain loads of vitamins, micronutrients and anthocyanins (these appear to prevent or restrict inflammation and cancer). I tend to eat food I like, so their main appeal to me is that they taste amazing, are sweet, juicy and they are a burst of flavour to many dishes, including cereals, porridge, cakes, biscuits and more. The dietary benefits are a nice bonus, though.
This is as easy as growing blueberries! My blueberries tend to ripen nicely over a period of a month or two. As you can see in this picture, one or two blueberries from each truss will ripen each day or so. The ripe blueberries come off very easily, so picking them is simple. I just hunt out the ripe berries, using my thumb and forefinger of one hand to nudge them off the stalk and into my other hand. Within a minute you will have enough blueberries
to do something useful with.
I Only Have One Blueberry Problem
I’ve had my blueberry plants for a few years now, and they seem stronger and stronger every year. The biggest problem I face is the local bird population. I am loathed to net my plants as they are partly in my tortoise enclosure, so I have to put up with losing some of the ripe fruit every now an then. I find the birds come early, so I usually pick my blueberries as early as I can, to try and make sure the early birds don’t get the blueberries!