Monday, April 8, 2013

Feeding Blueberries

Our daughter Becky made me think about growing blueberries.  Hers looked good last summer.  Now we have 50 plants and 12 of them are eaten off.  I thought deer might have gotten them but see no tracks.  We have lots of rodents around this grain farm.

It is time to feed our young blueberry plants.  How should we feed them?  This link shows the fertilizer I need is the one I feed every one of my crop fields with.  That is Ammonium Sulfate.  That blend of fertilizer with calcium in the soil or added calcium feeds most crops as well as I know to.  This program has worked for me but blueberries are a little different.

They like acid soil.
"Sunlight - Fruit need plenty of sunlight, whenever it begins to branch or bramble.

Soil - Almost all fruits do best in slightly acidic soil, somewhere between a pH of 5.5 and 6.5. Blueberries prefer a soil of even greater acidity of between 4.09 and 5.0.

Drainage - Adequate drainage is important. Find a suitable site, avoiding low lying areas the collect water or are slow to drain in the spring.   Ours are situated on a ridge right above a 15 foot or so drop.

Pollination - Most fruit trees, including blueberries have both male and female organs on the same flower, but not all are self pollinating. The best bet for blueberries is to have different varieties of blueberries within 100 feet, so bees can travel and cross pollinate. Blueberries cannot be fertilized by their own pollen "

This piece made a lot of sense to me.  ""If you're lucky enough to have a pH of between 4.5 and 5.5, then you can grow blueberries all day long," he says. "But most don't, so you really need to add an amendment that acidifies the soil." To do that, he suggests cottonseed meal or blood meal."

This one says about the same thing.  "Native to eastern North America, blueberries thrive in soil conditions that suit rhododendrons and azaleas, to which they are related. Plants require sun and moist, well-drained acid soil (pH 4.5-5.5). Where soil pH isn’t acidic enough, create proper conditions by adding sulphur and sphagnum peat moss."

I will pick up a bucket of ammonium sulfate from my fertilizer dealer and a big bag or two of spanghum peat moss and start from there.  I will update you from time to time.

Ed

6 comments:

  1. "Blueberry fields, forever!" Well, I almost got the song right...

    Funny, I had some blueberries with my oats this morning. I wonder how many plants I should grow for my own consumption, but 50 seem plenty. If they average 4 lb per plant, that's a whole "quintal" (100 kg) of berries, about 3.7 bushels if it was wheat! The quintal (q), the French hundredweight that used to weigh a hundred pounds, is still used by French farmers to measure yields instead of tonnes, there's even an exclusive 100 q club for farmers with yields over 100 q per hectare of soft wheat (150 bu/a), when the average national yield revolves around 7 tonnes (104 bu/a). About 8% of soft wheat growers qualify, according to a 2011 farmer survey.

    Are you going to just top the soil with this peat moss, Ed? I think it's meant to be mixed in from top to bottom, where most of the roots are. If it's the same type of peat moss I had, these bags are huge but light, with the peat moss being dried but not compacted.

    I never tried making jam from cultivated blueberries, they seem too watery for it, but made plenty from the wild blueberries, makes delicious tarts too.

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  3. Strawberry and blueberry fields forever!

    Thanks to reader Bill from this great email from his friend Vincent:

    "You are correct on most things about blueberries but have left out a few things.


    1. Blueberries do like a well drained soil but not a clayey soil. They prefer about two feet of well-drained sandy loam textured soil.
    2. What about irrigation? They need a drip irrigation system unless you receive at least an inch of rain every week throughout the late spring, summer, and early fall growing season. The amount of water these plants need will continue to increase as the plants get older, and they will need a lot of water when they are in peak production several years down the road.
    3. Blueberries do best when irrigated with rain water, then pond collected rain water, but not well water that has a pH above 7 or that has sodium carbonates or bicarbonates
    4. If you have already planted the blueberry bushes, you are too late to bring on the sphagnum moss. As one blogger stated, sphagnum moss must be mixed in a large planting hole about half and half sphagnum moss and sandy soil when the bushes are planted. It's totally unnecessary and excessively expensive to make a special planting soil mix when planting in the field.
    5. Sphagnum moss for topping the soil is too expensive. Normally blueberries are mulched with pine bark chips, the finer the better.
    6. Blueberry plants are calcifuges- they hate calcium so don't lime them until the pH goes well below 4.5. To avoid having to do this, and you didn't say what your soil's starting pH was, avoid using ammonium sulfate in excess. Maybe fertilize with AmS plus P and K one time per season and then switch to a blend based on urea. Or use half and half AmS - urea right away. A bit of iron in the blend will help prevent iron deficiency if the soil's pH is on the high side of 5.5.
    7. Don't add sulfur unless the intended soil has a pH above 5.5. AmS will provide sufficient acidity.
    8. Cottonseed meal or bone meal may contain too much calcium for blueberry plants- I have no experience with its use on blueberry plants- it is not needed.
    9. Avoid fertilizing the blueberry plants the first season until well into summer, and then probably only once the first season.


    Fifty plants, when they are 3 - 4 years old, will begin to make you think that you made a mistake by planting so many. We have 68 plants and picking season or rather each week's picking makes us wonder about having planted so many."

    I think we will think the same thing! I tend to spend all my effort on my row crops which I sell for money.

    Ed


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  4. Vincent forgot one thing: If you're going to replace the 12 dead plants that Sable ate (yeah, deers or rats, right! ;) you need to choose a different variety, because blueberries produce much more berries with different varieties flowering at the same time.

    Don't worry about overproducing, it's always nice to have a bag of frozen berries or a jar of jam to give away when family visits.

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