Thursday, April 28, 2011

National Blueberry Pie Day

Do you remember that cute little commercial stating "Boo berries are our friends"?  Well folks - it's national blueberry pie day!  For only 80 calories for a cup of plain blueberries and absolutely no fat, you can have the friend of a lifetime.

While researching this article, I found no down side to blueberries unless you are allergic or something specific to your own system.  Granted they are a little expensive to buy off the counter but so is steak and we seldom see Americans turning away from the cost of good meat.  It becomes a choice as to what we spend our money on and here are some reasons to consider blueberries a need rather than an expense.   
According to a University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center study, blueberries have the following health benefits:

  1. The highest antioxidant capacity of all fresh fruit - it boosts up your immune system and prevents infections.  With a strong immunity system it helps your system resist colds, fever, pox and some other viral and bacterial communicable diseases.
  2. Neutralizes free radicals which can affect disease and aging in the body.  It's the presence of Anthocyanin, the pigment responsible for the blue color, plus all the vitamin C it contains.
  3. Blueberries may help reduce belly fat and risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. This is an on-going study and the conclusions not totally understood for humans.  Belly fat generally indicates an enlarged liver and is linked to obesity and insulin resistance, a hallmark of diabetes.
  4. Helps promote urinary tract health by inhibiting growth of the bacterias which may cause infection.
  5. Blueberry extract has been found (in clinical studies) to slow down visual loss. They can prevent or delay all age related ocular problems like macular degeneration, cataract, myopia and hypermetropia, dryness and infections, particularly those pertaining to retina. Data reported in a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration.
  6. Blueberries can prevent and heal neurotic disorders by preventing degeneration and death of neurons, brain-cells and also by restoring health of the central nervous system. They even heal damaged brain cells and neuron tissues and keep your memory sharp.
  7. The high fiber content, the anti oxidants and the ability to dissolve the ‘bad cholesterol’ make the blueberry an ideal dietary supplement to cure many heart diseases. It also strengthens the cardiac muscles.
  8. The fiber (roughage) in blueberries will keep away constipation if you eat them by the handful.  Other components will improve digestion
  9. It is believed blueberries can prove an excellent remedy for colon and liver cancer as well as prevent some cancers. Studies show a significant reduction in ovarian cancer risk.
  10. Blueberries are very good anti depressants.
 Ripening Blueberries.Want to cut the cost of this beneficial?  Plant your own blueberries.  There are three kinds of blueberries and they are classified by hardiness zones.   Highbush for Zones 3 - 7, Rabbiteye for Zones 7 - 9 and Southern Highbush for Zones 7 - 10. 

The Highbush grow from 8-10' (h) x 6-8' (w), Rabbiteye grows to 15' (h) x 10' (w) and Southern Highbush is from 3-6' (h) x 4-5' (w).  They need full sun.

Plant today because it takes three years to produce a small harvest and they won’t really begin to produce fully until about their 6th year.

These beauties are native to our North America.  Growing in the wild, they are smaller berries but professed to be the sweetest.  Cultivated blueberries are continually being bred for higher yields, heat and cold tolerance and better pest resistance.  The varieties mentioned above are old and you may see new varieties every year at your nursery or greenhouse. 

For this area the Highbush (or Northern Highbush) is usually recommended.  Highbush will self-pollinate, but yield and size is improved with cross pollination.  Planting a variety of plants allows for a longer production time.  Early: 'Earliblue', 'Collins'; Mid: 'Blueray', 'Bluecrop', 'Berkeley'; Late: 'Jersery', 'Patriot'.

The flowers are small, white, bell-shaped flowers hang in clusters in late spring.  Bees find them especially inviting since they are one of the first pollen flowers of spring.  The berries ripen over time, from green to a deep purple-blue.  The leaves are a pointed oblong, oval shape and substantial and almost leathery to the touch. They turn a brilliant red in the fall making them a beautiful landscape plant.

The only reliable way to know if blueberries are ready to pick is to taste one or two. Blueberries are their sweetest if allowed to stay on the plant at least a week after turning blue.  Mature blueberry bushes produce about 8 quarts of berries per bush.

Blueberries like a very acidic soil, with a soil pH in the range of 4.0 to 4.5. They also like a soil rich in organic matter. In heavy clay soil, blueberries will fare better in raised beds.  Make sure existing beds continue to have the pH range needed. 

Look for bare root plants that are 2-3 years old. Older plants suffer more transplant shock. Plant in early spring. You can mix some peat moss into your planting hole, so keep the soil loose, acidic and well-draining.

If you have only one or two plants, space them about 4-5 feet apart. To plant rows of blueberries, space plants about 4-5 feet apart in rows that are 9-10 feet apart.  Plant so that the roots are spread out in the hole and completely covered in soil. If they were container grown plants, plant about 1" deeper than they were in the pot. Mulch after planting. Evergreen wood chips, like pine or cedar, sawdust and pine needles will help keep the soil acidified.

Water in well and be sure they get a deep watering at least once per week. Blueberries tend to be shallow rooted and need at least a couple of inches of water each week, more during dry spells.  Don’t fertilize your blueberries their first year. In additonal years, use any fertilizer for acid loving plants, including blueberry food and azalea food.

All fruit bearing bushes and trees need some pruning and blueberries are no exception.  The first 2 years, all you really need to do is remove any flowers that appear. Your plants will get bigger and more vigorous because of this.  You can leave the flowers on for the third year. You won’t get many berries, but no pruning is necessary until the 4th year.

Beginning in the 4th year, you’ll prune your blueberry bushes in early spring, while they are still dormant. Prune out any dead or injured branches, crossing branches and weak, spindly branches.  A blueberry bush need to be open allowing light to reach the berries in the middle of the bush. Berries form on the fruiting spurs of side branches. The flower buds will be larger, plumper and rounder than the pointed leaf buds.

Birds are the biggest problem for fruit production and netting helps.  Plant disease resistant varieties for an easier and healthier plant.

A little side note:  I like to freeze my blueberries on a rimmed cookie sheet.  Then put into a freezer bag.  They are like candy and a great snack when I think I simply MUST have something sweet.  Kids love this treat.  Or yum onto a piece of blueberry pie - really it's OK - it's a National Day!

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