Blueberries, water, and fruit quality

fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TXMarch 1, 2012

Tested the brix of Jewel berries today. These are sweeter and much more flavorful than the Jewel I grew last spring. They are also sweeter than a month ago. Could be that they are just riper. But a month ago the brix was 13.4, now 16. Last year they were in the 12-13 range. In a test in CA Jewel averaged between 11 and 12 in each of three years.

What's different now is that I've cut the water to about 2/3 of what the plant was getting a month ago. We'll see if this approach pans out as the main crop in the greenhouse ripens in April. In the past my blueberries have been large and soft, mostly not too sweet or flavorful, but high in yield; all things I associate with excess water in other fruit crops.

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My jewels planted in the ground are loaded with fruiting buds and are ready to bust open any day now. I am very much looking forward to a second season of them. I too thought they were low of the sugar side but did produce a huge yield for 3yr old plants but average to above avg flavor and tartness.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 12:58AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


The word on Jewel is it can be tart unless fully ripe. Last year mine were tart until very ripe then somewhat sweet.

I've got enough potted blueberry that I can do some kind of replicated irrigation trial this spring. As soon as they've set fruit I'll impose some differences in water.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 9:52AM
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Is anything else being sacrificed in the name of more sugar, IE, by reducing the water the fruit gets to increase sugar are you in turn harming or denying the fruit something it requires? just curious

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 10:36AM
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I have grown the southern highbush blueberries for ... hate to say it over 20 years (I'm gettin' old!). Over the years here is what I have noticed concerning natural rainfall effects on the bb. If you get a good wet period while in bloom followed by drought with rain starting up just as the fruit ripens you get the best tasting bb. That is as long as you don't get too much rainfall there at the end which would cause the fruit to break. Too much rainfall throughout the growing season, even what would be average here in southern Ms., the berries mature plump but bland.
The bb is at peak ripening when the shine changes on the berry. Of course nothing bets the old taste test ;o)


    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 12:04PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


As you can tell I'm just getting started on this subject with blueberry. In other fruits a long period of water deficit usually increases flavor. But carried too far and the flavor can go bad. In stone fruit a brix above 35 is often accompanied by off flavor. This can occur at lower brix but not usually.

If the tree starts losing leaves or the fruit shrivels up, you've taken the water deficit too far. I've lost a few leaves and fruit but never a tree. The trees bloom fine the next year. New extension growth almost stops but that's a plus in my book.


Thank you for your input. It sounds to me that you are seeing what I expect to see, some water deficit enhances fruit eating quality.

The water level I shoot for is about 2/3 to 3/4 full water. So in an area that averages 4 inches rain a month that would be 2.5 to 3 inches a month. Of course depending on soil and crop 4 inches per month could also be a water deficit. Fully watered might be 6 or even 8 inches a month.

In pots with a greenhouse I have more control. I think I can learn in a few years what it takes many years outside relying on rainfall.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 1:35PM
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Michigan has become the #1 state in commercial blueberry production, eclipsing Maine in the past decade. They are mainly produced in S.W. Michigan from Muskegon southwards.

So, our stores here on the East side of the Mitten State are filled with tons of Michigan blueberries in July and August.

Large, often enormous, berries, some the size of a U.S. quarter.

And, almost without exception, soft and flavorless. To the point that I wonder why anyone would bother buying them. Alas, the "average consumer" who doesn't "grow their own" I guess doesn't know the difference.

Overwater and overfertilized, I guess it maximizes the yield in tonnage for the growers, but it certainly does a disservice to the end consumer.

As Fruitnut has so aptly pointed out, this phenomenon seems common to many plants, from berries to stone fruits to tomatoes. They like to be a little stressed.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 1:59PM
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At what point do you start to back off on the water? My Emeralds flowers have all dropped now and about half of the berries are big and fat. Im expecting some to start turning color around the end of march/first of april. Should I start backing off water now?

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 8:26AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


I'm going to try backing off right after fruit set has finished, where you are now. Try to bring the deficit on slowly as the plant will need at least a week to adjust. I'm going to shoot for about 2/3 the water the plant would use if fully watered. If you see any visual effect on the plant other than an eventual cessation of growth, like wilting or leaf drop, you've gone too far or too fast.

Good luck and let us know how it turns out.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 9:02AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I should also add that I won't implement a water deficit before the plant has a full complement of leaves. That won't be a good situation.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 9:27AM
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10-4, Emerald is leafing out strong right now. I will try and post some pics in the next few days so yall can see. Im kinda second guessing my self as too how much fruit to leave on this plant and Sunshine blue. I thinned out some more fruit buds last week on all my plants to make sure Im not over doing it. They are all very healty and vigorous but I would rather err on the side of caution when it comes to fruiting these plants. I dont want to stress them out too much and also want good quality so Im trying to find a balance here! Im really suprised to see how much fruit Emerald and Sunshine put out even after thinning well over half of the buds. Next year is going to be off the chain!!!;)

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 11:02AM
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What happened in April with the main?

    Bookmark   July 2, 2012 at 12:58PM
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My Jewels are still producing, we had a huge crop from 2 plants, close to 17.5lbs, the berries were large and firm and got sweeter as they aged, on the large side, with low acid, these are a favorite.

I accidentally withheld water, as I was working a ton and didn't realize how little water we were getting, I saw some browning leaves and some stem tips. However, the bushes are healthy today, I have been much more diligent in my watering and lucked into a great tasting variety up.

These have not experienced a true NYC winter yet, so only time will tell.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 10:19AM
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