Because I’ve grown a number of varieties of blueberries for a long time, I’m often asked what variety I would recommend planting. Or whether you need to plant two varieties for cross-pollination in order to get fruit.
The answers to both questions are intertwined. First of all, blueberries are partially self-fertile so one variety will bear fruit all by itself.
But — and this is important — berries will be both more plentiful and larger if two different varieties cross-pollinate each other. (Apples, in contrast, are self-sterile so, with few exceptions, won’t bear any fruit at all without cross-pollination.)
Benefits of cross-pollination aside, why plant just one variety of blueberry? Different varieties ripen their fruits at different times during the blueberry harvest season. With a good selection of varieties, that season can be very long.
Here on the farmden, the season opens with Duke and Earliblue, both usually ready for picking …
To begin, I gave the bush in front of me a once over, eyeing it from top to bottom and assuring it that the next few minutes would be all to its good. It was time for my blueberries’ annual pruning, the goals of which were to keep them youthful (the stems, at least), fecund, and healthy.
I peered in at the base of the plant, eyeing now the thickest stems. Blueberry bushes bear best on stems up to 6 years old, so the next move was to lop or saw any of these stems — usually only 3 or 4 of them, more on a neglected plant — as low as possible.
Sammy & me, pruning blueberries
To keep track of the ages of individual stems, I mark off the age of them each year with a Sharpie. Just kidding! The thickest ones are the oldest ones, and …
My sixteen blueberry plants make me happy, so I make them happy. (They made me happy this year to the tune of 190 quarts of berries, half of which are in the freezer.) I don’t know how much work bearing all those berries was for them, but I just finished my annual fall ritual of lugging bag upon bag of leaves over to the berry patch to spread beneath the whole 750 square foot planted area.
I don’t begin this ritual spreading until the blueberries’ leaves drop. Then, old leaves and dried up, old fruits are on the ground and get buried beneath the mulch, preventing any disease spores lurking in these fallen leaves or fruits from lofting back up into the plants next spring. Rainy, overcast summers or hot, dry summers or any weather in between — my bushes have never had any disease problems.
“Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did,” wrote a Dr. Boteler about the strawberry (as quoted in Izaak Walton’s 17th century classic The Compleat Angler). I disagree. I also don’t like to crawl for my fruit. With that said, I’ll agree that strawberries do taste very good, more so for being, usually, the first fruits of the season.
I just took a look at my strawberry bed; weeds are making inroads and the plants look pretty puny. Dispatching the weeds is no problem. As far as the puny plants, it was to be expected. Although strawberries are perennial plants, over time they pick up diseases, including some virus diseases lacking dramatic symptoms except that they reduce productivity. So a strawberry bed should be replanted — at a new location — every 5 years. My garden notes tell me …
I offer a “prescription” for blueberry soil, which is most important for healthy plants and the bowl after bowl heaped high with blueberries here on the farmden all summer long. Then I mosey over to the vegetable garden for some of the best-tasting turnips.
“A crabby looking, brownish green truncated little spheroid of unsympathetic appearance.” That’s how a British writer of almost 75 years ago described one of my favorite fruits, medlar (Mespilus germanica). True, the fruit is no beauty to some eyes. To me, the fruit has an authentic, old-fashioned, unvarnished look to it, like that of a small, russeted apple whose calyx end (opposite the stem) is flared open.
Medlars, ready for harvest
Medlar is truly an old-fashioned fruit, whose popularity peaked in the Middle Ages. Chaucer mentioned it, indecorously referring to it as “open arse.” Even Shakespeare got his digs in, more discretely call it “open et cetera.” This past season was a good season for fruits, including medlar. Yesterday, I harvested the crop from the leafless tree. But no, I couldn’t yet sink my teeth into one. Besides its odd appearance, medlar has one …
You wouldn’t think that a couple of small, green sprouts could elicit so much excitement. Especially this time of year, with vigorous, green shoots sprouting up all over the place. But they did, in me. Not that anyone else would notice the two sprouts. The sprouts were from grafts I made a couple of months ago. Over the years I’ve done hundreds of successful grafts; these two were special. The first was citrus, special because the trees are subtropical and evergreen. The many apples, pears, and plums that I’ve grafted over the years are deciduous. I graft them when they are leafless and just about ready to start growing. Because the grafts are leafless, the wood, as long as the graft union is sealed, won’t dry out. Not so for citrus, more specifically for the stems I clipped off my potted Golden Nugget tangerine tree. What …
For the last few years, my blueberries have had a problem. Perhaps yours also. Rather than grow upright, the stems arch downward, some so drastically that they actually rest on the ground.
A few years ago, I pinned blame on the weather. Not that it was evident just how the weather could be responsible, but it’s always convenient, in gardening, to blame things on the weather. But this explanation is hardly convincing. Spring and summer weather have not been consistent enough over the years to be able point my finger at too much rain and/or not enough sunlight (the combination of which could lead to those bowing branches). How about pruning or fertilization? Too much of either could promote lush growth that couldn’t support itself. Except that my pruning has been consistent over many years. And Dr. Marvin Pritts, berry specialist at …
I Battle Weeds and Birds, but Currants are Care-free
Part of my weedless gardening technique (which I thoroughly fleshed out in my book Weedless Gardening) involves — sad to say, for some people — weeding. After all, no garden can ever be truly weedless. Even people who spray Roundup eventually get weeds as they inadvertently “breed” for Roundup-resistant weeds, which now exist. My techniques are weed-less rather than weedless.
Which brings me to hoeing. Most years my hoe rests on its designated hook in the garage. This year, it’s hardly made it back to garage, mostly just leaning up against the garden fence alongside the gate. “And why is this?” you might ask. The answer is rain. This season, rainfall has been dropping in sufficient amounts at regular intervals, all of which has coaxed good plant growth, including that of weeds.
More importantly, the rainfall has promoted plant growth in paths and …