Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are relatively easy to plant in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 7, and you need only two bushes to supply enough fruit for one family. While they are easy to care for, they require extra attention during harvesting. It is vital to pick blueberries in the correct manner during the ideal harvest time for the best-tasting fruit.
It is best to plant more than one variety to stagger the harvesting time and help the bushes cross-pollinate. You can even grow blueberry plants in containers indoors, but give them six weeks of cold -- under 36 degrees Fahrenheit -- once a year to instigate dormancy. Bushes that produce larger fruit are ideal for eating fresh and cooking into desserts, while smaller berries are a wonderful addition to pancakes and muffins. Plant your blueberry bushes in early spring in acidic soil, preferably with a pH between 4.09 and 5.0, where they will be exposed to full sunlight.
Blueberries do not ripen uniformly, not even on the same bush. Typically, they will ripen over the course of three to four weeks. Blueberries do not ripen any further after picking, so do not harvest from a bush where the berries are not yet fully blue. Berries stay fresh and ripe on the bush for up to 10 days, so it is better to wait a little if you're not certain. Expect to gather blueberries multiple times, giving yourself seven to 10 days in between each harvest. Depending upon which variety you purchase, expect to harvest your blueberries between late May and August.
Blueberries will let you know when they are ready. You do not pick blueberries so much as gather them. Open your palm under a cluster and roll your thumb over the berries. Ripe berries should easily dislodge from the branch and fall into your hand. Do not use force, or you could damage the berry or the bush. If the berries do not easily come off, give the bush a few more days and try again.
What to Avoid
Never pick wet blueberries. The water from rain can permeate the waxy skin and compromise a berry's fortitude. Avoid over-fertilizing your blueberry bushes; they are very sensitive. Use 1 ounce of an acid fertilizer -- such as rhododendron or azalea formulations -- once in early spring and once again in the late spring. Use plenty of water after fertilizing. If you have just planted a brand-new berry bush, be patient with a small crop; full production can take up to six years.
- Blueberry: Highbush Blueberry Gardening!
- NC State University, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering: Postharvest Cooling and Handling of Blueberries
- Northwest Berry and Grape: Hand Harvesting Blueberries
- The Old Farmer's Almanac: Blueberries
- Jones Family Farms: Blueberry Harvesting Tips
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