Few “superfoods” are as succulent, sweet and downright delectable as the blueberry–or as easy to grow in your own backyard. So if your quest for a daily dose of blue has been hampered by its typical $5/pint price tag, consider cultivating your own bounty of berries at home at a fraction of the cost. Hey, it also gets you outdoors. If you’re an urbanite this means getting doses of fresh air. And that other thing…what’s it called? Oh yeah, sunshine.
If you live in the U.S. or southern Canada, congratulations–you’re geographically blessed. Blueberries are native to these parts and ideal for home gardens because they require much less space than other fruit trees, and you can grow varietals to suit your regional climate, whether warm or cool. There are three main varieties: highbush, rabbiteye, and southern highbush.
How to Get Growing
Start by buying healthy young plants in the spring from a reputable nursery or gardening supply store. A two-year old plant will probably run you just a few dollars and typically yield fruits in the third year. Ok, that sounds like dog years in the get-it-yesterday era, but according to Vicki Mattern of Mother Earth News, “with proper preparation and a little patience, you’ll be rewarded with 10 to 25 pounds of delicious, nutritious “blues” per bush, each and every year.” That’s a lot of smoothies, muffins, pies, salads, parfaits, jams, pancakes you get to enjoy year after year once you get growing.
Blueberry bushes are sun worshipers, so select a spot in your garden where they can bask in the rays all day. Before planting, it’s important to prepare the soil by testing its pH balance. Generally speaking blueberry plants prefer an acidic soil pH between 4 to 4.5. They also like 4-7% organic matter or more, something a home composter will easily provide. Check with your local nursery for instructions and suggestions. Once soil is prepared, in go your bushes. Water them 1-2 inches a week. No pruning is needed for the first three years. Check out regional resources here for more detailed growing information.
The Big Blue Boost
What makes the blueberry an all around “superfood”? Blueberries top the charts in terms of antioxidants, which are believed to boost memory and motor skills and potentially slow down the aging process. Even the USDA, an organization known for restraint when it comes to making health claims, has sung praises for these little blue babes based on its own independent research study. Combined with sweet flavor, high fiber, low sodium and low fat–it’s a wonder we don’t munch on these more than we munch on chips.
Food for Thought
Here’s an entertaining video by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council to whet your appetite.
And a super read for your nightstand: SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life by Steven G. Pratt, Kathy Matthews.
Photo courtesy of Gari Baldi