Roll call: Who are the Organic blueberry growers?

MrClintJuly 8, 2013

I'm in the process of moving away from some of the conventional methods of blueberry care to fully organic. I'm hoping to hear from folks that are currently growing organically, or looking to move in that direction. Correct me if I'm wrong, it looks like Drew51 and blueboy1977 are organic BB growers. This thread isn't a call to debate the merits or negatives of growing organically or conventionally.

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HeyJude2012(10b/24 San Diego)

Hi MrClint! I wouldn't call myself a "grower" as far as growing for profit but I do have 5 blueberry bushes that I grow organically. 2nd year in pots. They are doing great.

A lot easier to do when it's just a little backyard garden vs growing for a living.

I'm in Encinitas. Where in SoCal are you?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 4:23PM
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Good to hear from you, HeyJude2012! I'm in the mid-San Fernando Valley. I used the generic word "grower" to allow commercial and backyard folks a chance to chime in.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 4:31PM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

I'm in a similar position to you, mrclint. All of my in ground vegetables and fruits (including a single Sunshine Blue blueberry) are 100% organic. My container plants, on the other hand, get a mix of organics and synthetics. I've given a lot of thought to transitioning my container blueberries to most if not all organics. Inspired by blueboy's results with a granular organic fertilizer, I'm currently trying out my own blend that aims for a similar 3-1-2 ratio but utilizes ingredients that I already have on hand (primarily alfalfa meal, kelp meal, and langbeinite). According to my calculations, blueboy's providing a 10 gallon potted plant with about 2 lbs of N annually (approximately four application of 5-6 oz of a 6-4-2 fertilizer), and I'm trying to do much the same. For younger plants or when I want more growth, I'll add occasional applications of hydrolyzed fish (I have both liquid and spray-dried powder on hand).

For another perspective on growing blueberries organically, check out the Plant Care page at Backyard Berry Plants, a certified organic berry operation in Indiana. Since the instructions would appear to be for in ground plants, I contacted them last fall to see how their methods differ for their containerized nursery stock. Here's what Keith, the owner, had to say:

"Yes, our potted stock needs a bit more nutrition, as they have more nutrient loss from irrigation. Our potted stock gets the full rate on our website once a week from May to mid Sept. I experimented this year with some struggling specimens. Following the liquid regime, I added (top dressed, about 3/4 cup for a 3 gal pot) a 5-4-3 granular chicken manure based fertilizer. Those plants made a 180, and look great now. Those plants are also holding their leaves in fall better than any others. The longer the blueberry holds the leaves, the better fed and tended it was."

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 4:37PM
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alan haigh

Mr. Clint, you may be surprised to know that I'm an organic blueberry grower. In the northeast blueberries are pretty easy to grow without spray, but I can't offer you any useful advice for growing them where you are except to say they prefer a soil rich in organic matter and well drained. You probably already know this and you can't participate in this forum without knowing about pH issues.

I'm guessing your soil is pretty alkaline, although when I lived 10 miles from you some 40 years ago I didn't know what pH was. I used to mulch everything with free loose alfalfa hay (from the Feed Bin at the intersection of the PC highway and Topanga Canyon Blvd.) and that pretty much erased any negative soil issues with the crops I was growing at the time. No one I was aware of was growing blueberries in the area back then.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 5:15PM
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Ive often wondered why its easier to grow blues organicly than other plants. In my area we do have pest pressure and most literature seems to suggest blues dont have any pest pressure which is totally untrue, at least in my neck of the woods. I do know they dont require the most fertile soils to thrive (expecialy rabbiteyes) and I assume its because there root systems are different than most all plants. Im a firm believer in slow release granual ferts for blues either in pots or raised beds as Ive had great results so far.

One other little organic trick I came across this year is the use of milk to control powdery mildew. Ive got a variety called Snowchaser that gets it really bad. One spray of 50/50 milk and water completely knocked it out and it hasnt come back at all. Its been about 1 1/2 months or more since I sprayed. Worked like a charm. My rabbiteyes get it bad too and just summer prunned my last one a week ago. As soon as the cuts heal over good Im going to spray them as well.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 8:06PM
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I agree, around here blueberries are very easy to pull off organically. Every few years we will get a bad run of blueberry maggot that will put a dent in the crop but that has always been easy to deal with using sticky spheres and good sanitation.
Even the commercial/pick your own growers in our area are more or less organic except many will do a application of herbicide in late spring for weed control.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 8:11PM
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Add me to the list, though with only 6 cultivated blueberries planted last year and the rest wild, I don't know if I'm a "grower" or just a "harvester"! My 100 yr-old great-uncle has a PYO patch, great berries he doesn't remember the name of (maybe no longer available), I think I have inherited care of those since his DD can't take care of them, her soon-to-be-ex won't, and his grandkids aren't interested. While he has not grown organically (I think the ex has used some fertilizers and also rotenone in the past, guess that's OMRI but I won't use it) I will be just trying to maintain them organically as long as I can. Maybe before the land passes out of the family they'll let me dig up some suckers and plant them at my place. Sure beats the taste of the Patriots and Bluecrop I've gotten off my plants this year.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 8:41PM
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shazaam, I agree, BB do well with a light fertilizer hand. I'm not too worried about finding a fertilizer that will work well.

Hman, I'm not surprised. It makes sense to a lot of people to limit one's exposure to chemicals. By organic I mean the use of manufactured (synthetic) fertilizers, pesticides (which include herbicides, insecticides and fungicides), plant growth regulators such as hormones, livestock antibiotics, food additives, genetically modified organisms, and human sewage sludge are excluded.

blueboy1977 & windfall_rob, the easier the better for me. I'm doing my homework now to determine which packaged organic fertilizer to use. There looks to be some very good selections to choose from.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 1:17AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I try to grow everything organic, but I can't tolerate pest pressure, so will use whatever I have to. It is very logical to exhaust organic options first. I have not found any need to go beyond organic with BB, strawberries, and raspberries.
I have used inorganic fertilizers, and still do, though I have managed to switch to mostly organics now. I will eventually phase them out completely.
Next year I will add many flowers to attract predatory insects. Everybody should. I actually enjoy growing flowers too. I grow many just for the flowers already. Might as well add some useful types!
I'm into an edible landscape that not only provides food, but beauty. So I look for plants that are both edible, and ornamental. Blueberries certainly can fit that model. The high bush plants I grow have wonderful fall colors, even the berries and stems anytime of year are attractive.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 1:58AM
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alan haigh

MC, I don't use synthetic fertilizers on my own orchard and garden and I compost most everything that rots. I was one of those 60's hippies who started doing this almost a half century ago. As I've posted here, my home fertilizer is primarily my own urine and home made compost. I also get lots of potassium and calcium from ashes from my wood burning stove (not for the blueberries, of course).

I left the organic camp when I began trying to harvest the varieties of fruit I most love and found that it was just too difficult to accomplish on the east coast. Part of me still holds the organic utopian view even as I load up my tank with synthetics to protect fruit trees. None of it goes into my vegetable garden or berry patch.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 5:24AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

I fertilize my blues in the spring, net them against the birds for harvest, pull out the occasional vine or rogue tree in them, and thats all I ever do. I don't even prune them, and they don't seem to mind so much. Too bad more fruits are not like blueberries.


    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 8:23AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

If you have the right soil and water they are a breeze....have always said BB are like long as they get everything they want they are easy to live with.

Back in PA we had about an acre of BB on the farm growing up and we mulched them with pine needles, never fertilized them and they did ok. Later when I was out on my own I still had 50 bushes and I mulched them and fertilized with aged manure mixed with sawdust and they did good. Up in PA we had acidic soil though and never watered the bushes.

Of course the bushes I have now grow 4 times as fast and yield 4 times as much but also take twice as much work. So it is all a trade off.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 8:32AM
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I have started growing blueberries this year and so for everything I have done is organic except adding sulfuric acid to alter the PH of our tap water. I use Calloways Organic fertilizer 6-2-4 with 2% sulfur and I fertilize 2-3 teaspoons once in two weeks. Folks at the container gardening forum suggest to use slow release fertilizer for potted plants but the Calloways is regular organic fertilizer and they don't seem to carry slow release version of their organic fertilizer.

I don't see any marked improvement in the growth of my blues or any other plants with this Calloways fertilizer, probably they are growing well but having just started gardening I'm expecting too much. Blueboy suggested to use micro life fertilizer but it is not available in Dallas, I plan to get it when I get a chance to travel down south. Also a friend of mine in Round Rock near Austin swears by Micro Life Azalea fertilizer 6-2-4 with 14% Sulfur for blueberries in ground. Not sure how far it would work for potted plants.

I would like to continue with organic gardening as much as possible and regarding water I may install a rain water collection system in future.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 12:22PM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

"Folks at the container gardening forum suggest to use slow release fertilizer for potted plants but the Calloways is regular organic fertilizer and they don't seem to carry slow release version of their organic fertilizer."

Since organic fertilizers rely on a microorganisms to convert them to nutrients that plants can use, they're typically slow release by their very nature. Some will act quicker than others, but I wouldn't worry about trying to find something specifically labelled as slow release. Experienced growers in the container forum often recommend a controlled release fertilizer, but those are synthetic fertilizers that trickle out a little at a time. As long as microorganisms are doing their job (and this will vary based on soil moisture levels, temperature, etc.), organics will do much the same thing. The synthetic CRFs have the advantage, though, of being more predictable in their release rates.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 12:42PM
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I only have four blueberry bushes, so I am hardly an expert, but they are among the easiest things I grow. I give then a slow release fertilizer in the spring, net them to protect them from the birds, and eat them. That's it. My black raspberries are the same. I wish tree fruits werethat easy.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 3:12PM
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I just went to pick my great-uncle's (my dad cleared around the berries the other day and picked some for his uncle, none for himself, so I just picked 2 qts for Dad, 2 qts for Uncle, and 1 pint for myself before running out of steam in the heat & humidity). I take back what I said about Patriot and Bluecrop not tasting as good, b/c this year my great-uncle's don't taste that great either - either bland or too tart (even though I was picking ripe, figuring there were so many ripe or overripe I'd better concentrate on those instead of getting ones almost ripe before the birds did).

Is anybody else finding this? I'm thinking the past month of rain has caused them to be bland, though I can say that the few wild ones I've picked (just starting to come in) are as tasty as ever - the rains don't seem to have affected them as much, maybe they're in a more well-drained location?

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 3:34PM
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I'm encouraged by the very sizable roster of fully organic blueberry growers that frequent this board.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 1:10PM
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