10/17/2016 TimberGardener 0Comment

When we first carved out a garden from the surrounding trees, we knew we couldn’t grow a sun-loving shrub like the blueberry. Blueberries needed a little more warmth and light than we could provide, so we researched cold-hardy berries like the honeyberry, seaberry, and lignonberry, and planted a 30 ft row of raspberries and a bed of strawberries.

After a summer of watching the sun climb over the garden for at least 8 hours, we changed our minds. That didn’t take long. In fall we snapped up three plants on sale from a local nursery, then somehow ended up with three more in the spring. Then Toby gave me a gift certificate to Burpees for Valentine’s Day, and I couldn’t resist trying a Pink Popcorn blueberry.

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Tearing up the dirt to level the site of the future blueberry bed.
There are a few different types of blueberry and they are suited to different climates: lowbush, highbush, rabbiteye, and a hybrid of low and high bush called half-high. Lowbush varieties are very cold-hardy, small, and intensely flavored. They are well-suited to McCall. Highbush varieties are often grown commercially, and produce larger berries on larger bushes. Half-high blueberries are a good combination or low and high…medium sized bushes, flavorful berries, and many are cold-hardy to zone 3 or 4. Rabbiteye blueberries you can just forget about. They are hardy in zones 7-10.

Blueberry Stats

Pink Popcorn Blueberry
Description:
A hardy pink blueberry developed by the University of Minnesota. Early to mid-blooming, producing white blossoms and pink-white, crisp berries.
Zone:
3-7
Height:
5′
Yield: 3-5 lbs/bush

Chippewa Blueberry
Description:
The most productive blueberry developed by the University of Minnesota.
Zone:
3-7
Height:
30-40″

Yield: 3-8 lbs/bush

Patriot Blueberry
Description:
Cold hardy and widely adaptable. Early-season, large, tangy fruit.
Zone:
3-7
Height:
36-60″

Yield: 10-15 lbs/bush

Northblue Blueberry
Description:
Developed by the University of Minnesota, half-high, large berries with tart flavor, productive.

Zone:
3-9
Height:
24-36″

Yield: 3-9 lbs/bush

Northsky Blueberry
Description:
Developed by the University of Minnesota, half-high, cold-tolerant buds and low, compact structure.
Zone:
3-7
Height:
12-18″

Yield: 1-3 lbs/bush

Northcountry Blueberry
Description:
Developed by the University of Minnesota, half-high, wild blueberry flavor. Cold-tolerant buds and low, compact structure.
Zone:
3-7
Height:
18-24″

Yield: 3-5 lbs/bush

Chandler Blueberry
Description:
A very large, productive blueberry with excellent flavor. Not as cold hardy as the other blueberries listed here. Mid- to late-season production, with a long ripening period, so you can pick berries for about 6 weeks.
Zone:
4-7
Height:
60-72″

Yield: 3-8 lbs/bush

In spring of 2016 we did some rearranging of our garden beds to make room for a blueberry bed. We leveled a spot that was a wide pathway. In 2015 it had been the site of a few voracious pumpkin plants, but now it would be the permanent home of seven blueberry plants. Blueberries need good drainage and acidic soil, so a raised bed is a good option. The bed is about 26′ long and 18″ wide. We also took the logs out of the three beds against the fence and made one long bed that is about three feet deep. Toby built the blueberry bed in pieces, and we put it together in place.

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Piecing together the long bed.
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Not so fast, winter voles.
This was actually a job for more than two people! We built it as an impenetrable fortress from burrowing creatures (except the top) so we screwed it together, flipped it over, and stapled mesh to the bottom, then flipped it BACK over.

There were some additional steps where we put in supports, flipped it over, then realized we couldn’t put the tin in correctly, flipped it back over and took them out, then back over. How many times is that?

Don’t do those steps if you are building your own blueberry bed. In fact, look elsewhere for building plans…this is a garden blog.IMG_0982[1]

Now that our bed was in place, we added tin to the sides and ends and
nailed them in (because we had free roofing nails and by god we would use them). We used two big bags of peat moss to increase the acidity in the bed.

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Viola! Sort of straight and sort of level!
Everyone knows that blueberries like acidic soil, but the reason behind it might help your blueberry plants thrive. Most plants prefer neutral soil because nutrients like nitrogen, calcium, and potassium are readily available at that pH. However, blueberries have evolved at a pH of 4.5 – 5.0, and endomycorrhizae in their roots help them utilize a different form of nitrogen, ammonium. You can purchase mycorrhizae in granular form and add to to your blueberry beds. Iron and zinc are also more available at a lower pH.

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Still room to walk and roll (a wheelbarrow)!

Blueberries have a shallow root system, so mulching is essential. You can kill two birds with one stone if you have acidic pine needles available. If someone in your household enjoys burning the understory every spring, you can use aged wood chips, leaf litter (good luck finding that in McCall), grass clippings or straw.

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