Blueberries; the healthy fruit
Blueberries are my favorite fruit. I have three blueberry plants in my garden; one early-season bloomer, one mid-season bloomer and one late-season bloomer. I harvest blueberries for several weeks in mid-summer, trying not to eat a handful for every handful I pick. Typically I will get four or five gallons of blueberries each year. I stash these little blue orbs of sweetness in one gallon bags and toss them into the freezer. It’s like saving a little bit of summer; I get to enjoy fruit smoothies and blueberry pancakes all year.
The blueberry is a shrub that produces very sweet, blue fruit in mid-summer. It is one of the few crops in commercial production today that is native to Georgia. It is known that Native Americans utilized the blueberry in their diet and that they frequently burned stands of the shrubs to renew the plant’s vigor. Early European settlers found the fruit (a close relative to the cranberry) tasty and soon learned to harvest them for jams, pies and pastries, as well as for fresh consumption.
More recently, trout fishermen are said to have collected their favorite bushes from mountainsides in Appalachia for cultivation before named varieties were widely available. Luckily for the rest of us, Dr. Tom Brightwell of the University of Georgia led a research project to produce superior cultivars. Today, cultivars of ‘rabbiteye’ and ‘southern highbush’ are grown on large farms in Georgia commercially and the state has become the number one producer of blueberries in the country at over 20,000 acres producing 96 million pounds in 2014!
Blueberries are very common in the home landscape as well as in commercial production. The plant is useful in the landscape year round and provides a tasty summer treat from the middle of June to the end of August. Used as a hedge blueberries can provide an excellent screen along property lines. Rows with shrubs planted 4 feet apart can be oriented to block unwanted views, line driveways or serve as a barrier to unwanted foot traffic. Remember, blueberries of different cultivars must be planted to ensure good pollination and fruit set.
Blueberries are super easy to grow. All they need is lots of sun, good soil with plenty of organic matter, a little fertilizer each year and water when the rains fail. Other than that, the plants are relatively maintenance free. Once the plants have been established for several years and are four to six feet tall then one-third of the branches are removed at ground level each year to keep the plant vigorously growing.
A good opportunity to obtain some of these wonderful plants is available now, offered by your Rockdale County Cooperative Extension Office. This fundraiser supports our 4-H program and is run by the Rockdale County Master Gardeners. The one gallon plants are for sale at a cost of $10.00. Cultivars include Climax, Brightwell and Premier (early-season varieties), Bluebell, Tifblue, and Powderblue (mid-season varieties), and Delite, Centurion, and Baldwin (late season varieties). Also available are blackberry and raspberry plants. Order forms may be obtained at your Extension office located at 1400 Parker Road, Conyers or by calling (770) 278-7373.