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Blue Is The Berry I Love

The blueberry. Vaccinium angustifolium. The perennial flowering plant with the ubiquitous fruit is arandano in Spanish. Myrtille in French. Native Americans called them star berries, and used them for food and medicinal purposes for centuries. In any language the blueberry spells deliciousness. To propel their taste up a notch: pick straight from the bush—still warm from the sun—and pop it in your mouth. Let the juice linger a moment. One blueberry is never enough. Less is not more. Birds will confirm these truths if allowed.

Every blueberry on the three bushes in my garden are a prized treat, so much so that there’s never enough left over for a fabulous pie. This powerful appreciation for the naked berry is the main reason the bushes were planted. An added bonus is the robust fall color that their leaves impart when the summer steps aside.

There is, however, a “tax” that must be paid on the two-week fresh eating binge of the blueberry. Every spring and fall, the soil around the bush must be in enriched with an acidic fertilizer (in areas whose soil registers highly alkaline). This scope of work is why I have determined that three bushes suffice for me.

Though most varieties are self-pollinating, it’s recommended to plant two varieties of blueberry plants to ensure a good harvest. My plantings are “Tomcat1 and Tomcat 2.“ I chose those particular cultivars because of their interesting backstory: the owner of the blueberry company that I was researching had purchased former farmland that came with an old tomcat. He developed a fondness for the old tomcat and decided to honor him with the new blueberry cultivars, ”Tomcat 1 and Tomcat 2” that he brought to market. At that time I also had “Blackjack”, a tomcat that had warmed up to me and became my gardening companion. So, my decision was sentimental—more tomcats in my garden please!

Having berry bushes may alter one’s gardening perspective. For example, birds are typically welcome guests in my garden. Several birdbaths were installed for their benefit, and I also take great joy in watching them splash about. The towering heads of sunflowers are allowed to go to seed for their snacking pleasure. But I am selfish about my blueberry bushes—no birds are allowed! It has become a ritual: birds know exactly when the berries ripen, so I am diligent in my efforts to thwart their attempts to feed on the delectable fruit. Right before the blueberries ripen, I wrap the bushes with a translucent gauze fabric, which creates a mummified appearance. Although this is not a desirable appearance, I am content to live with the sight for a few weeks, because it allows me to harvest the full bounty of berries.

I have only one regret from planting blueberries. This occurred early one morning as I walked barefoot to the kitchen sink, and suddenly experienced an awful sensation between my toes. ”How could a slug be on the floor beside my sink?” I thought. On closer inspection, I discovered that the culprit was not a slug, it was a blueberry from a recent pick, which had accidentally dropped to the floor unnoticed the previous evening. The “squish” was exactly the same degree of awful as previous encounters with slugs in the green grass and gardens of home!

Charlotte A. Swanson
Consultant, Gardening Schools
Reprinted from The National Gardener
Spring 2020

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