Many people have already discovered the health benefits of blueberries. They may be the best thing nature has to offer and are at the top of every healthy food list. They are high in antioxidants such as Vitamin A, B, C, E, Copper, Selenium, Zinc and Iron which neutralize free radicals that lead to inflammation and disease in the body.
One of my favorite ways to eat blueberries is to add them to a smoothie. In fact, they go well with just about everything so experiment with your own blueberry smoothie recipe.
Another option for a snack is to eat frozen ones on top of plain Greek yogurt. When you mix the two together, the yogurt will coalesce around the cold blueberries making a delicious yogurt blueberry treat.
Blueberries have no downside when it comes to health, but when it comes to your wallet, it does take a hit. Blueberries are relatively expensive, especially fresh ones. If you are eating them every day like I do, you can easily go through a small container of fresh berries that cost around $4.99 in a week. Even if you purchase the large frozen bags for around $11, those only do an active blueberry eater about two to three weeks.
One option is to plant your own. The experience of growing blueberries will benefit you threefold by providing you exercise, healthy fresh fruits and vegetables and a great way to relax.
Blueberry bushes take a couple of years to bear fruit so you will have to be patient. Until then, look for a blueberry farm in your area that allows you to take a bucket out in the farm and pick all you want, for a price of course.
I will discuss some of the best ways to grow, harvest and store blueberries for freshness.
Planting Blueberry Bushes
Test your soil before you begin with a kit you can purchase at any home improvement store. Blueberries like full sun and soil that is acidic between 4.09 and 5.0.
Where to Plant Blueberry Bushes
Blueberries should be planted in a manner similar to muscadine grapes. When planting blueberry bushes, begin in an area that retains some moisture, yet does not pool on the surface.
The best time to plant blueberry bushes is in the fall or winter, however, with adequate water, they can be planted at any time of the year. I usually plant new plants or bushes in late winter, early spring.
Each hole should be dug to a depth of 18 inches deep and twice as wide as the plant. Space each bush about five feet apart to allow for growth.
For bushes purchased in stock plastic, remove the pot and rough up the root ball to allow the roots freedom to roam in the new soil.
Plant each root ball and soil line of the plant about an inch higher than the surrounding ground. Fill in the hole with soil and pack well, watering along the way. Fertilize each bush with ammonium sulfate. They also do best when peat moss is added when you plant them.
Cover with about three inches of mulch to preserve moisture and add organic matter. Change out the mulch every year. Blueberries root very shallow so they require more watering than other fruits. It is best to water them with something like a drip irrigation system that dispenses drops of water over long periods of time.
Fertilize the bushes with a slow release food for acidic plants such as a 4-3-4 type. To protect your plants from critters, you may need to surround them with chicken wire or bird netting especially when they are first getting stared.
Other than providing a healthy treat, blueberry bushes are also great as accent or screen plants for your landscape. Bell shaped flowers will emerge in the spring followed by bluish-green leaves. The plants will generate throughout the summer and fall at various times, producing green, pink and deep blue berries. In the late fall, the leaves will turn a colorful reddish tone for an added treat.
Maintenance of Blueberry Bushes
Do not allow your bushes to bear fruit until they are established for a couple of years. To keep them from doing this, pruning is essential.
First Year - Begin pruning blueberry bushes to establish them for the coming years to bear the best blueberries. Tightly packed bushes produce small and/or bad blueberries.
Second and Following Years – Remove all of the low growth around the base of the bush stem. Remove dead limbs defined as “non twiggy” wood. Leave only the brightly colored wood stems with three inch lateral stems.
A healthy blueberry plant will bear fruit for decades if properly maintained.
When to Pick Blueberries
When picking blueberries, look for the ones with the deep blue color, the darker the better. TheCredit: Steve Hillebrand via Wikimedia Commons sweetest berries will be firm and deep blue showing no red on the skin.
Leave the white and green ones to ripen further then check every five days or so for a new harvest throughout the summer months.
How to Store Fresh Blueberries
After you harvest blueberries, keep them in a container in the refrigerator for about a week before freezing them if you are not going to eat them right away.
Towards the end of the harvest season, if you want to save some for the winter months, blueberries freeze very well. However, I would not wash them before you freeze them. The moisture will remain and will freeze the berries together. Plus, that process has a tendency to harden the skin if they are frozen wet or moist.
Instead, placing them in a freezer ziplock bag is the best way to store fresh blueberries. Be sure to label the date they were harvested. Then store them in the freezer until ready to eat. They thaw really fast as you are washing them off.
At that point, they are great in smoothies or with yogurt.