Blueberries

Health Power

Blueberries top the antioxidant list of major fruits and vegetables. They have more highly effective antioxidants than a glass of red wine. Multiple different vitamins, minerals and nutrients work together to give this fruit many potential health benefits with few calories. Antioxidants (the anthocyanidins) disarm free radicals and prevent damage to the collagen network (the backbone of cells keeping them stable and durable for proper functioning). Also help prevent heart problems, ulcers and vision loss. Protect and maintain proper cell structure in blood vessels. Contain both soluble and insoluble fibers to help control blood sugar spikes, lower cholesterol and support digestion. May increase brain function to improve learning ability and muscle coordination. Adding blueberries to your diet does wonders for your overall health.

Vitamin and Mineral Content

Vitamins – Vitamin C, K, E and others in small quantities
Minerals – Manganese, Iron, Calcium and others in small quantities

Disease Prevention

Preventing free radical damage may help the brain avoid conditions associated with aging, like Alzheimer’s, dementia and osteoporosis. Many studies suggest blueberries help deter heart disease, macular degeneration, peptic ulcers, varicose veins and many types of cancer (especially colon and ovarian). Also contain many phytonutrients which help prevent urinary tract infections and digestive system inflammation.

How to Grow

Native to North America, aesthetically pleasing and naturally pest tolerant, these nutrient-rich, delicious little nibbles are popular among home gardeners. Aside from preference in taste or texture, soil requirements keep gardeners from growing this super food everywhere. Bushes come in forms that grow short with smaller berries and a tall, higher yielding type with larger berries. Crosses have height and berry size falling between. In warmer climates, rabbit eye blueberries are popular. These grow more than 10 feet tall, sometimes higher than 20 feet, and can yield up to 20 pounds of fruit each. Tall bush berries are most popular in home growing. Blueberries are particular about growing conditions, so initial testing may be needed to find suitable spot. Grow best in well-drained soils with loose loam or sandier base. Prefer slightly acidic soil pH around 4.5-5.5. If soil is basic, lower it by mixing in sphagnum, peat moss or compost made from oak, hemlock bark or pine. Avoid aluminum sulfate, which kills certain soil creatures and changes the taste of fruit. Another soil fix: Grow in raised beds, which are fine for blueberry’s shallow root system. Prefer a sunny spot. Since they cannot self fertilize, plant at least two cultivars to yield fruit. Mix in a handful of planting mix suitable for maintaining soil pH per square yard before planting. Plant tall bushes and rabbit eyes 5 feet apart in rows spaced roughly 8 feet apart. Low bush plants should be placed 1 foot apart in rows 3 feet or more apart. Apply a thick layer of mulch around the plants every year. Mulch derived from oak, pine, woodchips or hemlock will help support soil pH. Near the end of winter, add a second application of organic fertilizer (well-aged manure or compost) rich in nitrogen that also supports the acidic pH. Fertilizers with fish bone, seaweed, or cottonseed meal are excellent sources of micronutrients as well as phosphorus and nitrogen. Water regularly to keep the soil moist especially during drought periods, as blueberries dry out quickly. During growth, remove any weak branches or damaged growth to conserve energy and prevent infestations. Keep the bush from growing too thick by removing branches to leave at least a few inches for light and air to get in. Berries are generally ripe and ready for harvest about a week after they turn blue. Tasting is the best way to tell. Leftovers can be frozen for later use. In fall each year, trim the tips of all branches.

Insect Control

Home growers have few problems with pests. Cherry fruit worm or blueberry maggot may cause problems by burrowing inside berries to make them inedible. Remove any berries showing signs of infestation or damage. Clear your plot of any rotting fruit before winter. If insects become a serious problem, dust with an organically approved Bt or rotenone. Birds are the largest worry with ripening fruits. Hold them out by constructing a shelter of strong netting with small perforations around the bushes, which keep birds from entering.

Tips

Blueberries take 5-7 years to reach full yields, but you can get a head start by purchasing 2-3-year-old plants. Inter-planting blueberries with other species of flowers that attract pollinating insects helps increase chances for pollination. Test to see if ripe (berries come off easily with a slight twist). Easy to grow, but treated as a luxury item in stores because they are hard to keep perfect when shipped.

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