The sweet joy of homegrown blueberries

If you enjoyed the run of local blueberries grown on farm and ranch land for sale in Texas, which finished a couple weeks ago, you're in luck: You can easily grow blueberries in your own backyard! Before we get to cultivation tips and tricks, though, let's take some time to appreciate the history of this truly American fruit.

Native Americans gathered and ate blueberries as a fundamental part of their fruit diet long before any explorer, pilgrim or settler came this way. It wasn't until the late 1800s that farmers became interested in domesticating the blueberry. Elizabeth White, the daughter of New Jersey cranberry grower Joseph White, who first began considering the possibility of blueberries as a farm crop in 1893, according to Garden State Legacy.

"Domestication of blueberries began in earnest during the 19th century."

Fifteen years later, in 1908, a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist by the name of Frederick Coville began looking in earnest for a wild blueberry that would be suitable for propagating. He discovered some in 1910, noticing that they thrived in acidic soils. Together, White and Coville produced the first successful crop of blueberries and starting selling them in 1912. White also started the New Jersey Blueberry Cooperative Association to band together with other blueberry farmers in marketing the crop, and was the first woman to receive a citation from the state's Department of Agriculture, according to the USDA.

The labors of White and Coville paid off - and then some: NPR noted that the production of blueberries around the world has tripled over the course of the past decade.

Blueberries do well in our country living East Texas climate. Given the typically acidic soil of Angelina County and our normally abundant moisture, one can expect to produce more than 10 pounds of blueberries per bush in a good year. Also, if you are into organic or Earth-Kind gardening, these berries' ease of growing and adaptive nature makes them a prime candidate for such methods.

The sweet joy of homegrown blueberriesBlueberries are fairly easy to grow - and delicious to eat!

As with many other fruit species, we must correctly choose the variety of blueberries to grow based on how many chilling hours they need. While some are self-fruiting, most require a pollinator to bear a crop. Since our chilling hours normally range from 450 to 750 chilling hours (with an average of 600), I'm only going to note varieties in the 500-650 range.

  • The Alapaha variety of blueberries needs 500 chilling hours and works well with Austin and Premier varieties for cross-pollination. It usually bears fruit between late May and early June. It is a vigorous plant, with medium-sized berries.
  • Austin is a 500-hour blueberry that works well with Climax and Premier varieties, coming to fruition in June with medium-large berries.
  • Premier needs 550 chilling hours and works well when planted with Austin or Alapaha for pollination. These plants bear medium or large berries from late May to early June. The young limbs are too limber to fruit heavily.
  • Vernon is another promising variety, one that needs 550 chilling hours. Pollinators include Austin, Premier and Alapaha. It bears fruit in June and is noted for strong productivity.
  • Powder Blue is a 600-hour berry. Plant it with Tifblue or Brightwell varietals and expect fruit as early as late June or as late as the end of July.
  • Tifblue is perhaps one of the safest picks for novice growers, with 650 chilling hours required. It's worth noting that Tifblue is self-fertile but can also help pollinate Brightwell and Brightblue. Tifblue berries emerge from late June to early July, with medium-small berries that will be quite tart if not fully ripe.
  • The Ochlockonee blueberry needs the most chilling hours - 700 before it can fully bloom out. It also requires a cross-pollinator such as Powderblue or Brightwell for maximum production. If we end up having a long East Texas winter, you should find a very vigorous, productive plant that will bear medium to large berries, usually in July.

Today, we have an abundance of blueberry farms nationwide, and globally, over 722,000 tons (650,000 metric tons) of blueberries were grown in 2016. In Angelina County alone, I know five commercial blueberry growers, all of whom are worth patronizing. You can find these berries in everything from dog food to cosmetics - but it's best if you get them freshly picked at a local farm, or from your own garden!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. Contact him via email: cw-sims@tamu.edu

Comments