Sunday, May 3, 2009

Watch our blueberries grow!

Our established plants are doing exactly what they should be at this point...growing blueberries, or at least growing green berries larger so that they can become blueberries. Only a scattered flower remains in any of the fields and the bees have done a wonderful pollination job this year as we have converted lots of flowers into small blueberries that are growing daily.

This week has been a busy one and full of the tiniest of blueberry plants. On Tuesday and Saturday, we planted a total of 650 New Hanover variety plants in the back field. My husband doesn't really consider them plants, he refers to them as sticks. This is because when they are propagated, cuttings are taken that are about 6 inches long and they are put into a prepared medium for growing roots.

The sticks that we planted this week were cut in July of last year, and though most have tiny leaves on them, they are still basically sticks with a root ball on one end. Sometimes the root is a couple of strings. These are the plants we think likely won't make it. However, the norm is a quarter to golfball size root ball and the best of them have a large root system attached. Once you plant them, however, you just get the tip of the stick and whatever accompanying leaves they possess above the ground.

The New Hanovers are similar in harvest date to the Croatan variety, but they are larger and the plant is more durable during a wet season. This variety has a lot of promise as a substitute for the Croatans.

Croatans are the oldest variety in North Carolina. They have a very sturdy plant and a large volume harvest. They are also considered a very sweet blueberry with a thin skin which makes them an excellent choice for baked goods and other processed foods. The Croatans also make a very nice hedge row for backyard plantings. The downside to them is that because of their sweetness, during a wet harvest season, they have a very short life after harvest. For those of us in the food business, this is called shelf life.

The New Hanover cultivar, or cultivated variety, was developed by the Agricultural Research Service as an alternative to the Croatans. These appear to have more desireable characteristics in every way to a Croatan with a similar harvest interval, however they are also susceptible to shortened shelf life during a wet harvest season. So we'll see how they work out for us. If they look like a go after several years, we may migrate half of our Croatan production to New Hanover to give us a bit of diversity.

The O'Neal blueberry plants that we set out earlier this spring are growing remarkably well. Usually we have quite a bit of plant loss in the first several months after transplant. So far, we have lost 2 plants and that might have been because of a poor root set prior to transplanting. That is incredible success, at least on our farm! I have to confess that the credit can't all be taken by us. These plants came as 1 year olds rather than the sticks described above, so success is much more likely with an established plant than with a cutting. With good weather and irrigation, we hope to be able to keep the entire crop of sticks and yearlings alive and healthy so that they can become productive, blueberry-bearing plants in just a couple of years.

The most serious problem I see right now is fire ants. We treated for them last week, but it takes several weeks to see a reduction in force. I obviously didn't wait long enough to plant because the ants were out en masse and thought my knees were a delicacy during the planting process this week. I have to say this, though. Calamine lotion works remarkably well to reduce itching.

All in all, the warm weather is good and we're expecting rain this coming week that should help settle the dust. Looks like we're still right on track for having a decent harvest.

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