Blueberries are ripe; some better than others.

scottokla(7)May 15, 2012

I have not been very good about providing blueberry information lately even, but here is a summary of my latest experiences:

For those that are new or haven't paid any attention to my posts in the past but may be interested now, I have Duke, Berkeley, Bluecrop, Blueray, Elliot, and Draper blueberry plants.

In 2006 I started with about 10 each of Duke, Bluecrop, Blueray, and Elliot along with 3 Berkeley. I put 3 Berkeley, 3 Bluecrop, and 3 Blueray in a 50/50 mix of soil/peatmoss and of these I still have 1 Blueray, 1 Bluecrop, and all 3 Berkeley alive and producing well. All of the others I put in 100% peatmoss and of those, all Dukes are still good, half of the Bluerays are good, and none of the Elliots or Bluecrops will survive this season.

During the last five years (including this one) I have gotten about 50 total quarts from each Duke and about 40 quarts from each Berkeley, and all of these will put out 3 to 12 quarts per plant in this their 7th year in the ground. Duke is not my favorite flavor, and it is hard to harvest, but it has been the best for me as far as return on investment goes. Berkeley is one that has an interesting flavor, is beautiful, and has become my favorite but I have not seen it for sale anywhere since my first year buying them in 2005.

I will get about 1 quart from each of my remaining Elliots this year and only one looks like it will survive the season. Don't buy this variety (my opinion). It matures late when you can find good blueberries at stores, it doesn't taste as good as others, and it has not survived as well as others although there may be a reason for this in my case. Each of my original plants gave me about 15 quarts each during their life.

Bluecrop was the first big producer for me and I had a ton of berries in about years 3 and 4, but they over-produced and then suffered. They taste great, and are great for about 5 years and maybe longer if you cut off a lot of the berry buds each winter. I got about 30 quarts per plant before death, but some of these were small because of over-production.

Blueray is hard to judge, because of difference in how I planted them and when I planted them. I have 4 plants that will give moderate crops this year (in year 6 or 7) and these plants look good. Others have died just after a large crop or after extreme heat and dry Augusts. For some reason I still love this variety. the taste is great and the plants have done well for the most part. Each of my original plants gave me about 40 quarts per plant so far and the ones still going will do better, although they only have moderate crops this year.

Draper is one I planted in the fall in about 2009. I have 6 of them. I used my experience with other ones to plant and care for these differently. They have been amazingly healthy until this year. This spring they have absolutely huge numbers of blooms so I tried to remove about half from each plant in March. The plants have managed to leaf out well, maybe as a result of the berry/bloom removal. I will get about 5 quarts each from these this year.

In summary, I would prefer to not plant Bluecrop again, but will still plant Blueray. These are similar. I am done with Elliot. I keep trying to find a reason to not like Duke, but each year Duke comes through again. Berkeley was originally an afterthough in my posts, but it has risen to the top of what I recommend for gardeners. It is by far the most beautiful plant and the most consistent and healthy. Draper is still too new to form a strong opinion on. All that said, I still have to keep in mind the differences in how I planted them, so it is possible that Elliot looks worse and Berkeley better because of those differences.

As of right now, 50% of my Dukes are ripe for this year, 20% of Berkeleyes are ripe, about 15% of Bluecrops are ripe, and 10% of Blueray. Drapers are just starting to turn blue and Elliots are barely hanging on just trying to survive.

I will post a follow-up later to talk about my latest opinion on planting and care that are needed in my part of the state. The heat and dry summers the last two years have changed some things for me.

As a disclaimer, I am really just a hobby guy and I would not claim to be an expert in blueberries at all, but I have learned a lot of things NOT to do and am happy to share so you guys don't waste a lot of money like I have.

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My one Berkeley is also about 20% ripe. It hasn't produced as well as last year, unfortunately, but the few berries on it are huge. It's not growing in the best conditions at the moment, so it has never gotten very big. If I ever get around to planting blueberries on a larger scale I will definitely make some changes, and Berkeley will be one of my top choices. Thanks for your thoughts on the other varieties, Scott.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 12:09PM
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I have planted two bluecrop last spring, both plants produced good amount of the fruits to their size. But one died and one is still live. The one survived bluecrop not produced any fruits this year. I replaced the dead plant with Duke this year, as it was already blooming when I brought from WM. So we have some duke berry and I am second to you its taste, it is not tasked good as compared bluecrop. I am sure they will produce any next spring as out soil is not acidic, but enriched it with some peat moss and also top dressed with sulfer. -Chandra

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 3:19PM
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Where did you guys buy your berkeley plants. I have never seen them locally and the only place i have seen them on the net is Smith nursery in California and they are thru shipping til fall.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 11:26AM
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Good to see your post, Scott. I appreciate you sharing your experience with us. Blueberries are my favorite fruit (I grew up in Canada where they grow wild) and when I bought my house (in northwest OKC) I was determined to grow blueberries, but it has been tough going.

Last spring I planted two BlueCrop and one Duke in the front of my house which faces south. I got them at Lowes at the end of the season when they were 50% off. I removed some of the native soil and replaced with peat moss and pine bark and a bit of sand (about 6"-8" deep), then planted the three bushes here. I removed most of the blossoms, mulched them with more pine bark and watered them well, but last summer was very hard on them. The Duke died, and I thought the BlueCrop at the end of the bed that got the most sun had also died, leaving only the other BlueCrop, which got afternoon shade, alive. However, this spring I was surprised that it came to life, and both bushes put on some new growth. However, there were no blossoms on either of them that I saw. The books all say to plant in full sun for best berry production, but I'm thinking partial or at least afternoon shade might be better in our climate. Do you think I should dig them up this fall and move them to a location that gets less sun?

This year Lowes had southern highbush as well so I bought a Misty and a SharpBlue. I removed the blossoms and planted them in the same bed but closer to the side that is most shaded in the late afternoon. I was curious what your thoughts are on southern highbush for my area. They are supposed to be more heat and drought tolerant. I think you are up in the northeast part of the state though, aren't you?

Did you plant yours in spring or fall? I am wondering if fall might be a better option for my area, giving them more time to get established before the heat/drought sets in.

I was also curious about yield. You mention 3-12 quarts per bush - would that work out to about the same number of pounds? I read OSU's publication on blueberries and it said up to 15 lb. per bush for BlueCrop, BlueRay, etc. Your bushes are probably at peak production now, it sounds like.

Thanks again for sharing your experiences with us - it is appreciated!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 12:42PM
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Mine are just now beginning to ripen. I have 2 BlueCrop and 1 Elliott.

Mine are grown in containers of straight peat moss. I water them daily or every other day at a minimum and fertilize with an acid fertilizer twice a year - once when they begin blooming, and once after fruit has been picked. Once I fed with John's Lady Bug, water soluble organic fert with micronutrients. I have pruned very, very little.

Last year I had one Blue Crop that did not produce many berries at all, but none of my 3 shrubs produced heavily. I babied them thru the drought last year, and I guess it paid off. I have a ton of fruit set on all 3. Elliott is a later maturing berry.

I have had mine since 2007. I picked a few Blue Crop berries today and so delish!


    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 10:35PM
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I got my Berkeley at Lowes in a 3-gallon container about four years ago. Unfortunately I haven't seen them there since then. If I ever see more of them anywhere I'll let you guys know.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 3:53PM
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I think I saw Berkeley at a nursery in Arkansas in a web search last fall. You guys should see my Berkeley plants. They are soooooo dark and healthy compared to all others. I fertilize inhalf doses about 6 times per year now. I am thinking about a trip to Arkansas this fall for Berkeleys and If I decide to do it I will check to see if anyone else wants some at that time.

I know nothing about southern highbush varieties so I can't help there.

My best few Duke plants will give me 12 quarts this year which is about 16lbs. They have done it for 4 years straight and all are still alive. Mine are almost done for this year.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 10:58PM
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I spent 5 hours picking blueberries today. Pretty much every available minute I had. That was enough time to get about 25 quarts with the help of a couple of kids for an hour. When the berries are large (smaller, healthy plants) I can get about 6 qts per hour. Late in the year or when they are overloaded and the berries small, I can sometimes only get 3 qts per hour. This is the time of year when I realize I already have enough blueberry plants.

Duke and Berkeley are now done for the year except for the few final handfuls per plant. Blueray is 75% done. Bluecrop is 50% done (would be more except overloaded and unhealthy so slow to ripen), and Draper is also around 50% or maybe a little more. About 70 qts total so far and about 20-30 more to go.

Anyone near Tulsa can pick your own (Thunderbird) in east Broken Arrow for $3 per lb, and there is a new place in Pryor that is open this year also.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2012 at 10:04PM
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Wow, that's a lot of blueberries! I am sooo jealous! :) It is encouraging to read that you are seeing such good yields down here.

How much sun do your blueberries need to produce well? I am wondering if full sun is too much for blueberries in our climate? If I moved mine to the back yard where they would get more shade, maybe 6 hours of sun per day in the summer, do you think that would be enough?

Please share more about what you recommend for growing blueberries in our climate. You mentioned that the last couple of years have changed how you grow blueberries, and I'd love to hear more about that.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 11:20AM
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My berries are in full sun with the exception of the last 2 or 3 hours of the day when the tall trees 50 ft away to the west give some shade to a row of two. I don't think this little shade matters much for mine.

My first few years we had a lot of rain spread throughout the growing season, especially June when berries are expanding. Tilling in some sand and planting just above grade worked fine those years. The last two years I have gone to planting right at grade. If only planting a small number of plants and cost is not the main concern, I make a trench 2' wide and 10' deep and put the plants 4' apart. The trench is filled with sphangam peat moss and wetted thoroughly first. That gets expensive though so most of mine are planted into less amounts of peat moss.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 11:42PM
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a 10 foot deep trench is pretty deep for berries. Lots of Sphagnum too I would guess. i am betting that is a typo and you meant 10 inches??
I am planting some in my front yard this year. Ill be planting in the fall. I already built raised beds. they are about 8 inches tall and I tilled about 6 inches deep. I mixed 1/3 sphagnum, 1/3 existing soil (clays based), and 1/3 compost. I have room to add more Spagnum, but I ma waiting for my soil test results to come back from Mizzou to see just what I need to add. I am also considering adding some sand. I can get sand for $30 a yard (2700 lbs). My beds are 58 feet long so I assume a yard of sand will make a nice loam soil out of my current mix.

Does anyone have the anme of the nursery in AR with the Berkleys? I am planning on buying some berry bushes form Pense, but they do not have the Berkleys. THey are about 2 hours from here, so I'll probably just drive down and get them in person.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 5:36PM
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I live in Northwest Arkansas and I haven't seen any Berkleys around here. Most of Arkansas is rabbiteye and southern highbush country, so if they're not available here, it'll be hard to find them elsewhere in-state (there are a few nurseries a little south of here that I haven't been to).

The way I grow mine is similar to Scotokla - I dig a 2 1/2' wide planting hole, about 12" deep in the middle, then fill it with a mix of 50% peat, 50% pine mulch (sometimes I add a small amount of cotton burr compost). I then mark the holes and build over it with a 3' wide raised bed, about 8-10" high in the middle, flat on top with steep sides. I then mulch over it with a heavy layer of pine straw to prevent it from floating off, with a total height of about 12-14" after I've added mulch, etc. The depth is a bit of overkill, about 2' below the crown, but I find the extra depth helps a lot with internal drainage (a major problem on heavy clay) and provides a nice pH buffer zone (native pH is 7.0). I plant my blueberries about 60% in the raised bed, 40% in the top of the planting hole. This hybrid-combination of a planting hole and a raised bed gives me most of the better qualities of each - it doesn't dry out as fast as a traditional raised-bed (much less a container) but has vastly better drainage and maintains a stable pH better than an at-grade planting. It's somewhat expensive & time consuming to plant them like this, but it pays off with a very low mortality rate. I've found that using a soil-less mix is hugely beneficial - people who amend native soils often seem to struggle with growing blueberries. Keith at Backyard Berries gave me the idea for the soilless mix, planting hole and slightly raised bed; my soil is so poorly draining, though, that I adopted the above method for planting using a much larger raised bed.

For watering, I recommend putting in a good rain barrel system - I've recently expanded mine to 720 gallons, used mostly for my 29 or so blueberries. I also use a lot of sulphuric acid acidified water to keep the pH right at 5.0.

If you plant them right, keep them from overproducing (lots of gardeners try to get too many berries, too soon, to the detriment of the plant), avoid using nitrate fertilizer and manage the water, growing blueberries is pretty easy.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2015 at 4:33PM
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A cultivar that I've found that works very well in NWA, and I assume would also work well in OK, is Legacy. It's a complex hybrid of southern and northern blueberries and it seems to really thrive here. I've also had a lot of luck growing Reka: it's incredibly vigorous and has a better flavor than Duke. Sunshine and Bountiful blue also thrives here with a lot less care than most BBs. My Bluecrop and Bluerays have done well. Elliott seems like a temperamental cultivar everywhere; it's very susceptible to water-stress. Mine have done OK, but I'm trying out Aurora as it's supposed to have fewer of the problems growers often have with Elliott.

My cultivars are: Sunshine blue, Bountiful blue, Sharpblue (very vigorous, but I question the hardiness given that I'm about 1/2 mile from zone 6B), Earliblue (extremely vigorous & healthy), Duke, Reka, Patriot, Hannah's Choice (new this spring), Bluecrop, Blueray, Draper (also new), Toro, Elizabeth, Bonus, Darrow, Legacy, Chandler, Aurora and Elliot.

Blueberries need to be watered heavily & frequently, especially the first few years. They'll act like they're established, with lots of growth etc, but they aren't. Heavy watering, in turn, plays a role in the usual main killer of blueberries: high pH. So be sure to either use rainwater or acidified water. Straight municipal water will kill them fast; in OK, AR or anywhere else, municipal water has too much bicarbonates for the plants to tolerate.

This post was edited by ErikC on Wed, Jan 28, 15 at 17:08

    Bookmark   January 28, 2015 at 4:49PM
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Thank you EricC for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I've not had great success with my bb plants until 2 years ago when I threw my container plants under a large Japanese threadleaf maple (for mowing sake) and frankly left them there to die. I was ready to give up my fresh bb quest. Over the next year they put out more leaves and fruit than ever. Go figure. I still don't know if I'll ever get them established in a bed but I'm rewarded with a chuckle every time I pass those darn buckets. Lol.

Scott, I always appreciate your observations and experiences as well. You've made a successful business out of your passion and perseverance. I've made my variety selections over the years based on your feedback.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2015 at 1:49AM
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