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

Preparing a blueberry bed

Gathering punky wood

I really meant to prep our blueberry bed the instant we landed on our new property. After all, soil acification takes several months, especially in cold winter soil. But getting our water turned on, installing a source of heat, then keeping the pipes from freezing seemed slightly more here it is a week before the bushes arrive and I have no soil ready to put them in.

Which is a long way of saying, before I dive into the rest of this post, please do as I say not as I do. Prepare your blueberry beds months in advance!

Above ground hugelkultur

Okay, caveat aside, back to the point at hand....

Blueberries like three things --- lots of organic matter, lots of water, and lots of acidity. The first two points can be assisted by starting your bed off with a healthy helping of punky wood (placed atop a kill layer of cardboard in this image so we don't need to till). In a perfect world, this wood is already starting to crumble apart, although any logs and limbs dead enough to fall to the forest floor will do in a pinch.

Acidifying compost

Since rotting wood will rob some nitrogen out of the soil for the first couple of years, I'm going very heavy on the nutrients in our blueberry bed. In fact, we're filling in all the gaps between the wood with straight compost...well, straight compost laced with sulfur.

"Sulfur?" you say. "That doesn't sound very natural." Unfortunately, I learned the hard way with our last blueberry patch that natural methods of acidifying the soil aren't quite enough for these acid-loving plants. So I bought five pounds of ferrous sulfate (faster acting than elemental sulfur) and did some back-of-the-envelope math to figure out how much to apply.

Mixing sulfur into compost

Without a pH test and with blueberries hitting the ground in short order, I'm playing it safe and assuming I'll need to top up the sulfur every year for a couple of seasons. To that end, I used one heaping cup per wheelbarrow load of compost (which is much easier to mix if you sprinkle half a cup on top of half a wheelbarrow of compost then repeat with the second half on top of the full load). This assumes the compost has a pH around 6.5, the underlying soil is clay loam, and that you're using ferrous sulfate --- for elemental sulfur, lower the application rate down to two tablespoons per wheelbarrowful of compost.

I guess we'll know by the end of the summer whether the blueberries approve of their new home. We only bought three test plants to get us started, but if they do well I suspect we'll expand.

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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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Love watching you two begin again and turn this place into something special. Did you get more than one type of blueberry? If so don't worry about buying new plants to expand. Use cuttings instead. They root super easy and grow fast! If you only bought 1 variety then buying a second will increase your production.

Comment by Barbie Mon Mar 12 13:40:06 2018
I am by no means an expert but I've had my blueberry bushes since 1997. I live across the river from you in WV and this is what I did when I planted mine. I had a big unsightly patch of broom sage growing in my yard and that's where I planted them. The acid loving blueberries wiped out the broom sage in a couple of years, I assume because they were leaching the acid from the soil. I planted them in a whole filled with compost and since than all I do is put pine needles around them every year. I have berries every year some years they are loaded and other years not so much. Just out of curiosity where are you getting your bushes from? I purchased mine up in your neck of the woods near Beverly from a berry farm. I beleive they have since than gone out of business.
Comment by Tressa Mon Mar 12 14:47:32 2018
Is punky wood the same as rotted wood?
Comment by Anonymous Wed Mar 14 21:09:32 2018

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