Crop Focus: Blueberries

Crop Focus: Blueberries

Fresh Blueberries

Dave went on a field trip this week with the family, and visited Poppy’s and Patty’s Blueberry Farm in Florala, Alabama “right off of Highway 54, right by mile marker 4.”  He took a full tour of the farm and brought home a ton of fresh blueberries, which were promptly turned, into blueberry waffles – duh!  If you haven’t seen the video of the tour yet, you can view it here:  Blueberries are considered a superfood.  In fact, blueberries are jam packed with vitamins, minerals, and several antioxidants including something called an anthocyanin. Anthocyanins are polyphenols – the blue in the blueberry is most likely a result of these. Polyphenols are essentially micronutrients and probiotics.  They are also found in red wine, coffee, grapes, specific teas, cherries, and a few veggies as well. In the past, you may have heard these referred to as flavonoids. Flavonoids have been widespread in the past few years because of their known interaction with enzymes and genes to induce apoptosis (death of a cell) in cancer cells.

Blueberries on the bush.

Now that the basic science of the fruit is out of the way let’s talk planting and growing.  First, blueberries prefer a soil pH between 4.5 and 5.5. The pH scale goes from 0 being most acidic (literally hydro-sulfuric acid) to 7 being neutral (distilled water) and tops out at 14 which is most alkaline (like drain cleaner).  If you are reading this article and your soil is red (think Georgia red clay) you are most likely alkaline and will need to include some additives in your soil to make the mix conducive for growing the berry.  Never fear though, the additives are as easy as peat moss, leaf compost, and manure. You may also want to include an iron sulfate for densely packed soil or if you have that famous Georgia red clay. The rough mix on that would be about 10 pounds per every 100 square feet of dirt.  If you go this route, be sure to split the application in half (to 5lbs each), and allow about 2 to 3 months between the applications. In addition to steering clear of fertilizers containing nitrates, focusing on ammonia based or urea based fertilizer instead. As the season progresses, check the pH in the soil regularly, and if the balance needs to be changed the easy amendments are agricultural lime or cottonseed meal.

Dave’s Cuisinart WAF-150 4-Slice Belgian Waffle Maker
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Additionally, be sure that the area you pick to plant your berries is in full sunlight most of the day.  The plants tend to prefer being planted at a depth of 1 foot and to have personal space of about 2 to 2 ½ feet between each one.  If you want individual plants versus a hedge, spread them out about 6 feet apart. If you are transplanting sprouts be sure to loosen the soil around the roots before planting them.  Once the berries are planted, you can mulch them with grass clippings or even sawdust if you happen to have some laying around. As the plants begin to grow, you want to prune back low growth, and the short off-colored branches.  After first planting/transplant, it takes roughly 3-4 years for the plant to reach maturity. It is not recommended by most experts to let the plant produce berries within the first two years of planting.

Heather’s Blueberry Belgian Waffles

However, as Dave says – “there is no perfect timing.”  If you decide to let the plant grow without fruiting for a while, merely pinch back the flowers. This also works for reducing the number of berries on a plant to keep it from overproducing. Finally, if you choose to plant, experts say the best time is between December and January as they are still dormant.  However, if you are further north, you might have to wait for the winter thaw before you can plant this marvelous fruit. As far as picking goes, most experts will tell you that the season is about a month long and starts towards the end of July. However, you will notice that Dave and company were picking in mid-May (in USDA Zone 8a)  and had plenty of berries to take home. If they are blue, they are ready – Grow and Eat It!






Early Spring Gardening

Greetings from sunny… rainy… windy… no clue what will happen next Northwest Florida! It has been a crazy winter here this year. It’s mid-March and the weather is on a roller coaster like I have never seen. The temperatures have been swinging like crazy, and every day it seems I get a little something different. Hot, cold, wet, dry, and windy weather conditions have been alternating where I am like some jacked up weather slot machine. It makes it hard to know what to do, and what to plant. Since I’m confident that I will not get another frost (unlike our friends up North that got snow a few days ago out of the blue), I also feel confident that Summer’s heat will not arrive faster than I can get some nice cool weather crops going and harvested before the long days and hot sun limit what I can grow.

Kale seedlings ready for thinning

So what am I planting amidst the weather chaos? Quick growing crops like lettuce, mustard, arugula, spinach, radishes, salad turnips, and beets. I’ve already planted some kale which germinated nicely despite the temperature swings, and I’m going to sow some early carrots which aren’t considered “quick” but they won’t mind the odd-ball temps as long as it doesn’t freeze. I do, however, expect the unexpected and know that germination may be off a little depending on what happens with the weather. It’s no big deal if 30 day lettuce takes an extra week or if radishes speed through in 20 days instead of 28 if it gets colder or hotter respectively. You just have to be okay with whatever happens.

Fortunately, I have begun building a greenhouse (more on that later), so I should have some seeds started for the summer plants like peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, squashes, and other summer favorites while I wait for things to even out. I dare not put them out just yet. Last year I planted okra too early, and they stalled out until the first good heatwave hit. They exploded in growth all at once, and the plants grew a little taller than I expected. Yields were also varied from a tiny bit to buckets full right up until a hard November frost. Tomatoes suffered the same fate, and I am sad to say I really did them an injustice by not monitoring them more closely. We were in severe drought last summer, and I was not at all equipped to irrigate properly. I know better now… and we learn by doing! It’s okay to fail if you learn something from it.

Getting back to early spring planting, it seems that plugs are the way to go with lettuce, and you can stagger planting depending on your needs, but keep in mind that when temperatures stabilize as the season goes on, your plants will mature more quickly. My advice is to watch them, and when they are halfway through their growing cycle, plant some more until temps are warm enough to sow/plant every week. Days to maturity (DTM) will also stabilize and even quicken for some crops along with the weather. Remember as we move toward summer, the days get longer, meaning more sunlight for longer and more active growth time as well. Pollinators are soon to start buzzing about if they aren’t already. A bee visited my new blueberry bushes just yesterday as I was standing nearby.

If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to start spreading compost to amend the soil, and get ready for those heavy feeders. Don’t worry, the quick growing crops tend to be low feeders, so you shouldn’t really be worried about them taking up much of the nutrients. It won’t hurt a thing to spread it where they are planted already in a bed you plan to plant a heavy feeder in succession after you “crop out” (a term I’m borrowing from Curtis Stone that means to harvest and remove the current crop so you can turn over the bed and plant something else.) You mulching maniacs can just sprinkle it around and let the rain do its thing to push it down to the soil level. (That’s what I do.)

Whatever you do, get started! Happy planting!


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Sharing is Caring

  You know when you buy a packet of seeds and sometimes you get 2000 seeds of the same variety for a buck or two? Who needs 2000 heads of romaine lettuce from their home garden in one season? No one! Now my buddy has 1500 broccoli seeds, his friend has 1000 carrot seeds, and someone they are connected to but don’t really know has 800 butternut squash seeds. If each person of this group of one veggie wonders shared with the other 3 some of what they each have in excess, it looks like we have a seed CO-OP going, and everyone will be having the soup and salad combo instead of too much of their one veggie. Yes, I know… It’s stupid simple, but seriously why wouldn’t we want to do that?

Sharing seeds amongst gardeners has been done for centuries. Trading is actually a more accurate description. Traders traveled far and wide introducing non-native plants and adding variety to diets around the world well before grocery stores and huge farms existed. Variety is the spice of life right? Right!

So here’s how our “Grow and Eat It! Seed CO-OP” is going to work: Members will compile a master list of all of the seed varieties and quantities they have available for trade, and note how many they would like to have of other member’s offering via a common spreadsheet stored online. The goal is for all of us to share to increase the variety of seeds we have to plant each season in our gardens. Everybody has more options in their gardens and menus, and everybody spends less on seeds because there is less waste!

  We will all have some time before the time to plant comes to plan our gardens if everyone lists what they have early enough. The CO-OP facilitator, Dave Palmer (this time) will compile a master list of who wants what and arrange a flow of mailing that makes the most financial sense. It’s possible that everyone might only have to mail one envelope of seeds if the chain is well organized. For it to work, everyone must CO-OPerate and do their part when the time comes. 

The most it should cost is a couple of bucks per person to share and receive a wide variety of seeds. Why should we all buy the same seeds separately and have a bunch left over when we could each buy a few types of seeds and end up with a much wider variety? Trading seeds just makes sense! 

There are only a few rules:

  1. Non-GMO seeds only
  2. No old seeds (previous year or newer only for best germination results)
  3. Ship within 48 hours of receipt of your seeds or instructions from the facilitator.

Depending on the group size, we could all be ready to plant in a week or two from compilation of the master list. We look forward to enjoying the benefits of seed sharing with you all! To join the CO-OP look for the post for the upcoming growing season in our Facebook group at Grow and Eat It!

Picky Eaters?

As Dave mentioned in the previous post, this blog sparked from a brief but powerful conversation (really text).  It’s the 21st century, that’s how most of us do it now right?  One thing that came up and I felt it was important to write about, was our children.  More specifically, their eating habits.  We noted that neither of our children are “picky” eaters.  In fact, Mary (my wife) has commented quite frequently on how not only our kids, but the neighborhood children are “tomato cannibals”.  She’s had quite the time getting the day’s harvest in the house intact, and the kids have fashioned a new game with the cherry tomatoes called “bust it”.  Alina especially enjoys putting the whole tomato in her mouth and biting into it with her lips pursed – shooting juice and seeds across the room.  Hilarity ensues…  They are this way about all the fresh food that comes out of the garden.

SWTomatoesSunday afternoon, Mary prepared a feast of sorts.  Homemade meatloaf, green beans, squash, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, mashed potatoes, and bread.  It all came out of the garden except the meat, and the starches.  even the bell peppers in the meat loaf were grown right here at home.  That was a very comforting feeling, and the kids ate all of their food and asked for seconds.  The best part, we didn’t have to worry about pesticides, and GMO getting into their blood streams.  By the way, if you have never had a fresh from garden to plate green bean, you’ll never eat from the can again.  Now, I will not tell you that fresh food will take away that sweet tooth (I think that is genetic in all kids), but I will say , my kids eat a lot less corn, and corn syrup in their meals.  That is also a good thing, and allows us to control the sugar content in their diets.