Growing Your Own Blueberries
When it comes to blueberries, few things are better than picking blueberries fresh from your own garden and popping them straight into your mouth!
Okay, blueberry pancakes are pretty high on the list too.
Blueberries are an amazing, delicious and nutritious superfood, but these days, they’re also quite expensive to buy. One of the reasons blueberries are more expensive is the cost of harvesting. Since this luscious little blue fruit ripens steadily over several months, there’s no one harvest time, nor any quick and easy way to harvest by machine.
But for your own backyard garden or farm, picking blueberries is a privilege and a pleasure punctuated with blue fingers, blue lips and tongue. Harvesting your own blueberries gets you outside moving and getting exercise in the fresh air while enjoying a deliciously refreshing time out in the garden.
For the first couple years that we’ve been growing blueberries, they were producing a lot of delicious fruit, until last summer. This past season we had a smaller harvest, so we invited our local Ag Extension agents to come out and help us figure out the problem. They spotted it right away.
We knew blueberries needed a more acidic soil than what we have, so we thought it was a good idea to use pine needle mulch. Apparently not. It turns out that the pine needle mulch sent the acidity over the top.
Next, is a short video on that, plus another one on growing organic blueberries. It includes info on how to prep the soil and how to care for your blueberry crop.
Remember to call on your local Ag Extension office when you need something. It’s a free service that we’re already paying for as taxpayers and they’re a wealth of information.
Planting & Caring for Blueberry Bushes
Tricia, from Grow Organic, talks about growing blueberries both in containers, caring for the blueberry plants, and the proper soil which is super important! All that in under 5 minutes.
Proper soil is key for blueberries.
The pH level for blueberries needs to be between 4.09 and 5.0.
Mulch for Blueberries
We started growing about 3 dozen or so blueberry bushes, and the crop started out really well the first year of production. So we added more bushes, then last year we got a lot less fruit. When we consulted with our local Ag., Extension folks we learned we had too much acid. We were using too much pine needle mulch, too close to the base of the plants.
So while blueberries need more acid than most fruits, make sure you’re not over acidifying. Here’s what our local Ag told us to keep in mind about using pine needle mulch.1)https://gardensall.com/how-to-grow-blueberries-and-why-youll-want-to/
Next we share some information on why blueberries are often amongst the foods labeled as a superfood. The sweet luscious flavor aside, blueberries are as packed with nutrients as they are with flavor. No vitamin or pill ever tasted so good!
Health Benefits of Blueberries
Whole Body Antioxidant Support
Given the wide variety of antioxidant nutrients present in blueberries, it is not surprising to find research studies showing improved antioxidant defenses in body systems that need special protection from oxidative stress, like the cardiovascular system. But what is surprising about the blueberry research is its whole body relevance. It is not only the cardiovascular system that has been shown to have strengthened antioxidant status following consumption of blueberries. It is virtually every body system studied to date! For example, there is new evidence that damage to muscles following overly taxing exercise can be reduced through consumption of blueberries.
There is also evidence that protection of the nervous system from oxidative stress can be accomplished by regular consumption of blueberries. These antioxidant-based protective effects have been shown in older adults at risk of neurodegenerative diseases, as well as in younger healthy adults and middle-aged obese adults. Antioxidant protection of the blood sugar regulatory system has also been demonstrated in blueberry intake studies, as has antioxidant protection of the digestive tract (especially with respect to the colon and its risk of cancer). It’s this whole-body antioxidant support that helps blueberries stand out as an amazing antioxidant fruit.
Blueberry support of antioxidant defenses has been especially well documented with respect to the cardiovascular system. It’s the many different pathways for cardio support that are so striking in the blueberry research. In repeated studies of blood composition, blueberry intake (usually in the amount of 1-2 cups per day and over the course of 1-3 months) has been shown to improve blood fat balances, including reduction in total cholesterol, raising of HDL cholesterol, and lowering of triglycerides. At the same time, blueberry intake has been shown to help protect the blood components (like LDL cholesterol) from oxygen damage that could lead to eventual clogging of the blood vessels. Protection has also been shown for the cells lining the blood vessel walls. Connected with this antioxidant protection of blood vessel structures and blood fats is an improved overall antioxidant capacity in the blood itself. Interestingly, the ability of blueberries to increase plasma antioxidant capacity seems to continue as blueberry intake goes up above everyday levels. For example, some studies have shown better total antioxidant capacity when 3 or more cups of blueberries were consumed per day as compared to a daily intake of 1-2 cups.
Recent research has added yet another factor to our understanding of blueberries and cardio protection. That factor involves an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase (NOS). Most studies on NOS have focused on a form of NOS called inducible NOS, or iNOS. Excess formation of iNOS is generally associated with increased risk of inflammation. However, there is a second form of NOS called endogenous NOS, or eNOS. Increased activity of eNOS is usually associated with better balance in cardiovascular function. Recent studies have shown that daily blueberry intake can result in increased eNOS activity, and this result is viewed as helping to explain some of the unique health benefits of blueberries for the cardiovascular system.
It would be wrong to end a discussion of blueberries and cardiovascular health without talking about blood pressure. In both men and women, and in study participants of many different ages, routine blueberry intake has been shown to support healthy blood pressure. In individuals with high blood pressure, blueberry intake has significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressures . In individuals with health blood pressure, blueberry intake has been shown to help maintain these healthy pressures.
One of the most exciting new areas of research on blueberries is the area of cognitive benefits. In one study involving older adults (with an average age of 76 years), 12 weeks of daily blueberry consumption was enough to improve scores on two different tests of cognitive function including memory. While participants in the study consumed blueberries in the form of juice, three-quarters of a pound of blueberries were used to make each cup of juice. As participants consumed between 2 and 2-1/2 cups per day, they actually received a very plentiful amount of berries. The authors of this study were encouraged by the results and suggested that blueberries might turn out to be beneficial not only for improvement of memory, but for slowing down or postponing the onset of other cognitive problems frequently associated with aging.
Lab and animal research studies on blueberry intake suggest that a large part of this cognitive protection is most likely due to nerve cell protection from oxygen damage by blueberries’ vast array of antioxidant nutrients. Nerve cells have a naturally high risk of oxygen damage and they require special antioxidant protection at all times in life. Their ability to send information throughout the body depends on the presence of balanced oxygen metabolism, and that balance cannot be achieved without ample intake of antioxidant nutrients. By lowering the risk of oxidative stress in our nerve cells, blueberries help us maintain smoothly working nerve cells and healthy cognitive function.
Blood Sugar Benefits
When compared to other berries, blueberries are not particularly low in terms of their glycemic index (GI) value. Studies show the GI for blueberries falling somewhere in the range of 40-53, with berries like blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries repeatedly scoring closer to 30 than to 40. However, recent studies have shown that blueberries definitely function as a low-GI fruit in terms of their blood sugar impact.
The blood sugar benefits of blueberries should not be surprising. Even at 40-53 in terms of glycemic index, blueberries typically fall into the “low-GI” category of foods (usually defined as any food with a GI of 50 or below). They also provide a very good amount of fiber (nearly 4 grams per cup). Most low-GI foods with strong fiber content are foods we can count on to be helpful in blood sugar regulation.
The retina of the eye is a unique place in our body and it is also a place that is at higher than normal risk of oxidative stress. Foods unique in phytonutrient antioxidants are often investigated for their ability to help protect the retina from oxygen damage, and blueberries are no exception! In preliminary studies on laboratory animals, the anthocyanins in blueberry protected the retina from unwanted oxygen damage. Interestingly, they have also been determined to help protect the retina from damage from sunlight. Like the area of cancer protection, we look forward to future research on human eye health and the potential for blueberry intake to help protect the human eye from damage by sunlight and oxidative stress.
While almost exclusively coming in the form of laboratory studies on human cells or laboratory animal studies, an increasing percentage of the blueberry research is being focused on anti-cancer benefits. Types of cancer already studied with respect to blueberry intake include breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, and cancers of the small intestine. We look forward to the results of large-scale human studies on the potential ability of blueberry intake to lower risk of these cancer types.
Ready to get growing? If you don’t have a local nursery or home store selling blueberry bushes, our top two go-to places are EdibleLandscaping.com or, you can even get Organic Highbush Blueberry Certified 100+ Seeds from Amazon!2)http://ediblelandscaping.com/
What are your blueberry growing tips? Share in the comments or head over the Facebook Page!
References [ + ]