Blueberries

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If you’ve enjoyed the run of local blueberries that finished a couple weeks ago, did you know you can grow blueberries in your own back yard?

Blueberries are a truly American fruit that native Americans gathered and had as a part of their diet long before any explorer, pilgrim, or settler came this way.

Always a wild plant, it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that we find record of anyone interested in domesticating the blueberry and growing them as a crop. It was Elizabeth White, the daughter of a cranberry grower in New Jersey, that first dreamt the possibility of growing blueberries as a farm crop in 1893.

Fifteen years later in 1908, a USDA scientist by the name of Coville began looking earnestly for a wild blueberry that would be suitable for propagating. Two years later in 1910, he discovered some blueberries that thrived in acidic soils. Together, White and Coville produced the first successful farmed blueberry crop and sold them on the market in 1912.

Though this fruit has long been enjoyed, it got a huge boost in the 1990’s and the 2000’s. All kinds of research and promotion about the berries health benefits made the fruit an icon in healthy lifestyles.

Indeed, blueberries do well in our climate. Given our typical acidic soil and (normal) abundant moisture, one can expect over 10 lbs. of blueberries per bush in a good year. If you are into organic or Earth-Kind gardening, their ease of growing and local adaptation makes them a prime candidate.

Like other fruit species we must correctly choose the variety of blueberries based upon their number of chilling hours. And while some are self-fruiting most will need a pollinator to bear a crop.

Since our chilling hours normally range from 450 to 750 chilling hours (averaging 600), I’m going to provide only those from 500 to 650.

The Alapaha variety of blueberries needs 500 chilling hours and works well with Austin and Premier varieties for cross pollination. It bears in late May–early June. It is a vigorous plant with medium-sized berries.

Austin variety is a 500-hour berry that works well with Climax and Premier. Fruits in June Productive; with medium–large berries.

Premier needs 550 chilling hours and works well when planted with Austin, Alapaha for pollination. They bear in late May–early June with medium–large berries. The young limbs are too limber to fruit heavily.

Vernon is another promising variety at 550 chilling hours. Pollinators include Austin, Premier, & Alapaha. It bears in June and is noted for good productivity and vigor.

Powderblue is a 600-hour berry. Plant with Tifblue or Brightwell and expect fruit in late June– late July.

Tifblue is perhaps one of the safer picks with 650 required chilling hours. It is worthy of noting that Tifblue is self-fertile but will help pollinate Brightwell and Brightblue. Tifblue berries ripen in late June–July with small–medium berries that are tart if not fully ripe.

With the highest need of chilling hours Ochlockonee will need 700 before fully blooming out. It needs a pollinator such as Powderblue or Brightwell for maximum production. If we have a long cold winter, you should find a very vigorous, productive plants that bears medium to large as late as July.

Today, we have an abundance of blueberry farms nationwide. In Angelina County alone, I know of five commercial blueberry growers. Globally, over 1 billion pounds of blueberries were harvested in 2014. Today, you can find them in everything from dog food to cosmetics… as well as freshly picked at a local farm.

Author

Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
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