The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Introducing the blueberries

Blueberry twig in the rain

A mass of blueberry bushes arrived in the mail on Friday afternoon --- thank you Heather and Kira!  They've been heeled in while Mark and I prepare their new homes, a process that may take a few days since some box-elders have to come down to provide light and I have to acidify the soil, which is currently too wet to work.

Soil acidification appears to be a more contentious topic than I knew.  Most people add sulfur to lower soil pH before planting blueberries, but I've read a few reports that the sulfur gives the berries a bitter taste (and I'm always leery of chemicals.)  Other people suggest modifying the soil with tea bags and citrus peels, both of which we have in profusion.  Or peat moss (which I'm morally opposed to, so won't use) and/or decayed pine needles (which we have plenty of up on the hill.)

Luckily, my friends picked out two plants of each variety, so the solution is obvious --- a paired experiment where I acidify the soil for one set of plants chemically and for the other naturally....

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I can't wait to see the results of this experiment! I've ordered two blueberry bushes this year (one lowbush and the other an evergreen variety) which I hope to propagate by layering once they get their roots established. I'll be using pine needles to acidify my soil as they are readily available in my neighbor's yard. Happy planting!
Comment by Elizabeth Sun Mar 15 14:25:41 2009
I was just reading about the possibility of propagating blueberries by layering! Please do let me know how it goes. I've tried propagating them with hardwood cuttings, with very little luck....
Comment by anna Sun Mar 15 19:58:11 2009

Can't wait for the results! I have three bushes. I used peat moss when I planted them as part of the soil mixture, then mulched them with a needles and bark from a Christmas tree that was thrown out after Christmas (and was left composting until last spring). This will be their second year and they didn't grow much the first year AT ALL so I added some sulfur pellets today. I also added them to my grapes, strawberry bed (to be planted next month) and my raspberries.

I do feel bad about using Peat Moss, as it isn't a renewable resource (at least not quickly) so if I could get the same results by concentrating my orange peels into a special "acid" compost pile that'd be great!



Comment by Everett Mon Mar 16 00:21:10 2009
Everett --- what was your starting pH, and have you checked the pH since then? Our starting pH is 6.1 --- not absurdly high, but way too high for blueberries. The ones we planted without acidifying have sat there for three years! I'm thinking of getting a little pH gauge to help me acidify the soil with less guesswork....
Comment by anna Mon Mar 16 08:08:04 2009

Shamefully, I haven't checked the PH. Our yard is full of clay soil in an arid environment (Denver) so I just assumed it was alkaline. I thought about getting a PH tester, but every online review I've read has mixed opinions, with many long-time gardeners saying those little electrode types don't work reliably even within a few points. So the other option is using the liquid test or sending in a sample to our extension agents.

Or, last and least, my current method of amend-and-pray.

Comment by Anna Mon Mar 16 10:41:17 2009

Hmm, not sure why comment 5 there said it was by me. I'm assuming it was by Everett... :-)

I hadn't looked into the reviews of electronic pH testers --- thanks for the warning! That was what I was thinking of buying! I did my initial test by sending it off to the extension agent, but would really like one I could do every year (or even more often) on my own. Maybe I'll have to get a liquid test kit...

Comment by anna Mon Mar 16 12:13:56 2009

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