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Posted on September 22, 2015 @ 09:12:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Lowbush blueberries grow natively around our farm. I'd like to encourage their growth but I didn't have the knowledge
on what is required to grow them. One of the Youtube videos I found on the topic was this very fascinating video by
Maine extension services on lowbush blueberry ecosystems.
There is a nice symbiosis between blueberries and bee pollinators such that an abundance of pollinators will produce an abundance of fruit (on 2 year cycles) and an abundance of flowering blueberries can also produce an abundance of honey. Also, an abundance of wild blueberries might also attract and feed pollinators if your concern is simply to help the bees out.
Different strains of blueberries can be grown in diverse states and provinces in the United States and Canada. This means that blueberries can be grown on many landscapes if we so choose. But why would we choose to do so?
One reason why we might want to do so on suburban lawns is because it is one of the ways we can put lawns to better use and also sustainably manage it in a way that does not require constant mowing and watering. It is a ground cover that is both ornamental and productive that can displace grass from our lawn areas.
How might we grow lowbush blueberries on our lawns? One technique that I will be experimenting with is as follows:
I have blueberries that I harvested with a rake about a week ago. I haven't had the time to clean all of them and the remainder are now getting too old and squished at the bottom of my container. So I have a source of blueberry seed I can use.
I have a small raised bed in my backyard that does not seem to want to grow much of anything. The acidity of the soil is higher as indicated by sphagnum mosses growing there which tends to occur in acidic environments (i.e, indicator plant for acidic soil). Blueberries like acidic environments (i.e., pH from 4.0 to 5.0) so should do ok here.
I covered the top of this bed with a compost mix that included peat moss (a more acidic pure sphagnum moss substrate would be better but it was not readily on hand). As blueberries would typically be starting to fall off their branches this time of year anyway I'm hoping that depositing blueberries into this mix and covering them over reproduces the natural cycle of growth from seed. Normally, you are advised to freeze the blueberry seeds for 6-8 weeks and then plant out your seeds, but natural blueberries would rot in the ground a bit before the fall and winter temperatures stratify the seeds. The latter natural process is what I'm trying to reproduce rather than bothering with harvesting the seed and freezing it for 90 days before attempting to grow it.
If the blueberries sprout next spring then I'll begin to have some vegetative material that I can also plant out more widely. A lowbush blueberry plant grows vegetatively through its root system in an expanding wavefront from the original plant. You can plant them out 1 to 2 feet apart and they will eventually form a mat. The further apart you plant them may determine how quickly they form a mat covering.
This is not as quick a process as some might like but if you have some blueberries that are past their due date are are looking
for something to do with them, you might want to try it out. As long as most lowbush blueberries remain as a wild cultivar, you
should be able to take any store bought blueberry fruit (advertised as wild or lowbush) and try a similar experiment.
So if you want to make your lawn area more sustainable, help the pollinators, and produce some delicious fruit try planting out
some wild blueberry seed in your lawns this fall and see what happens.
For more qualified advice on growing lowbush blueberries using various techniques, you can read this Wild New Hampshire Blueberries from the extension division of New Hampshire University.
In Permaculture we are often looking for ways to convert lawns into more productive and sustainable uses while maintaining or increasing the aesthetics that a home owner wants. Cultivating lowbush blueberries in an area of your lawn is one strategy.
Here is a photo of some blueberries in the process of being covered by soil in a bed that nothing we grows in (perhaps because too acidic) except a small spruce tree.
And here is the final versions with some chicken netting added to the top to keep out birds smelling a meal and our cats who also expressed interested in this project. A thin layer of aged sawdust was added to mulch out any weeds that might grow and to mimic some burned forest conditions that it is adapted to.
In 6 or 7 months we'll see if this experiment pans out.
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