Grow your own blueberries at home

Today, I want give you something to consider for the vernal equinox, more commonly known as the first day of spring.

I often report on the brain and health benefits of blueberries. I’ve also discussed the difference between wild, native, low bush and the cultivated, high bush varieties — and the differences in potency between the two.

Wild, low-bush blueberries grow naturally in the craggy, post-glacial terrain in New England and the upper Midwest (as well as Canada). Blueberries require a lot of sunlight. So — it makes sense that they grow naturally in these climes, compared to more southern climes — where the forests are denser. In New England and the upper Midwest, sunlight reaches the ground where the low blueberry bushes grow.

For the first time last summer, I noted that the local grocer in New England where we were on vacation was selling young blueberry bushes in pots you could plant at home.

In fact, you can plant and grow virtually unlimited amounts of blueberries in your own backyard. (At least “unlimited” in the sense of “all you can eat.”) The bush takes up to six feet to expand naturally, but you can place them three feet apart when cultivated. If you don’t have the space or soil conditions to grow them in the ground, you can grow them in large patio containers.

To start, get a small bush at your local nursery or grocer this spring after the last frost . Alternatively, you can also wait until fall, before the first frost.

Being a “blueberry farmer” is much easier than you think

To begin planting, ruffle the roots with your hands before placing the plant in a hole in the ground where you want it to grow. Add more soil around the roots and pat down the top layer. Water it well, since the roots are shallow and the plant can become dehydrated. But the soil also needs to be well-drained.

A pH acidity level of around five is the ideal soil for this plant. (You can observe the acidity of your soil if you have a hydrangea plant growing. The “flower” of the hydrangea is actually the tiny little yellow florettes at the end of the stems. The round bushy colorful parts, in which these little yellow flowers lie, are the leaves at the terminal ends of the branches. These leaves act like litmus paper in a chemistry experiment. If the soil is acidic these leaves turn their beautiful pink color; if the soil is alkali, they turn blue; if neutral, they are white.)

For mulching your bush, you can use sawdust, pine bark, rind mulch (but not from cedar or redwood trees), or grass clippings (which you really need to save for mulching, and not discard as refuse). Apply two-to-three rings of mulch to preserve moisture and prevent growth of weeds.

When the bush starts to thrive, begin pruning on a regular basis to permit the strongest branches to grow and support the health of the plant and berries. This step will also avoid over-fruiting, so that the individual berries will grow bigger.

When the flowers bloom, detach most of the flowers and dead branches with small clippers or scissors. Eliminate low growth around the bottom of the bush, clear out dead wood, and remove discolored or short branches. Overall, you want to clear about half the woody parts from the bush.

If you fertilize, use only organic forms to prevent damage to the bushes and berries. Organic fertilizers last longer, and are non-toxic and environmentally friendly.  Fertilize in early spring, just when the leaves begin to break-out from dormancy, and again after pruning.

Sweet benefits year after year

When grown this way, your blueberry bush will live and produce fruit for at least four to five decades. If you plant two or more bushes, try different varieties of the fruits for cross-pollination, which will help increase the yield.

Then you can enjoy all the health benefits of these tasty berries, fresh off the bush, right at your own home.

You can eat berries raw, added to pies, muffins or scones as a natural sweetener, without added refined sugars. You can also squeeze the berries into juices.

A cup of blueberries provides nearly four grams of fiber, one-quarter of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, and over one-third of vitamin K. Blueberries are also rich in antioxidants, which help protect against cancer and promote healthy aging. Blueberries also protect blood vessels, reduce blood pressure, and lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Some of the most striking studies on blueberries show brain benefits for prevention of memory loss and dementia, as I reported in September 2016 in my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. (If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you can look up this archived article called “The Wild Blueberry Breakthrough” on my website, www.drmicozzi.com, by logging in to the subscriber section with your username and password. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started. Plus, I will be giving more on the latest research studies in the upcoming May 2017 Insiders’ Cures newsletter.)

Of course, if you don’t have a green thumb, you can also try dry, powdered, water-soluble blueberry extract, which can be added to any beverage, smoothie, or juiced drink. You want to take blueberry extract in doses that are found in food quantities. That’s why I never recommend those little, dried fruit/vegetable capsules. (It might have been fine for the “Jetsons,” but don’t kid yourself.) Look for blueberry powder and blueberry blends combined with other food powders. Add to water or juice by the spoonful, according to directions.

That’s a blue-ribbon prescription for both brain and body benefits, year-round.


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