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Monday, June 27, 2016

It's All About the Greens and the Blues

June has been all about the blueberries and the greens, two crops that are insanely expensive to buy at the grocery and the farmers' market.  Around here, a 5 oz. clamshell of pre-washed organic greens can go for about $4, while a pint of blueberries at the farmers' market this week was $6.  That makes these two early crops some of your best bets for saving money while boosting nutrition and eating more locally, to say nothing of the boost to your self-sufficiency.

We've talked about growing greens already this month, but growing blueberries can be fairly low-effort as well.  Your biggest task will be protecting the fruit from birds, which we will discuss.

Blueberries come in early, mid-season, and late varieties, and many growers like to have a mix to extend their blueberry season.  As it turns out, the only blueberry bushes I have that survived a couple of icy winters are early varieties, so that's what I'm going with.

Often, your bushes will need pollination from another variety, so be sure to check the tag or the catalog description to make sure you are buying enough varieties to secure a good crop.  I like Stark Brothers as a source for my fruit trees and bushes, because they are so good about telling you what varieties to buy together.

Blueberries famously love an acidic soil, so they can be challenging in lower parts of the Midwest like where I live.  I mulch them once or twice a year with pine needles, which will acidify the soil a bit over time.  Currently, I have one really large, mature bush and two that are just a bit smaller. From just these three bushes, I've been bringing in somewhere between three and six ounces of blueberries a day for a couple of weeks, which is enough for me to have a cereal bowl full of blueberries every night and Mr. FC&G to have some on his ice cream.  It may not sound  like a large harvest, but if I bought this amount at the farmers' market, I'd be spending around $1.50 a day on blueberries.  It adds up, especially when you are a writer with a variable income and delusions of needing to buy beachfront property.

The one task you will have is protecting your ripe fruit from the birds.  Mr. FC&G has experimented with several netting and cage designs, and I think he really hit on a winner this year: a three-sided structure made out of tall garden stakes and fine-gauge fencing, with netting over the top and front.  I can just push the netting aside to go into the enclosure to harvest.  Right now, that structure is over just one bush with an old pop-up tent over the other two, but I have plans to, ahem, encourage him to expand it.

Blueberries do take a couple of years to get large enough to bear fruit, but once they do, they will be an early-season source of savings, sustainability, and self-sufficiency.

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