Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum, V. angustifolium) are best known as an antioxidant superfood – so we link them in our brains as we put them in the shopping trolley or fresh picked on to morning muesli as a food that slows down the aging process – and yes by mopping up free radical damage they keep your cells protected from age-related disorders.
In fact blueberries are one of the richest sources of proanthocyanidins – flavonoids that provide flavour to fruits but also protection against predation to plants. These plant immune system molecules can boost our immunity when we ingest them but they also exert other effects, such as improved insulin sensitivity – great news if you are a diabetic GIYer.
Proanthocyanidins and other phytoflavinoids within blueberries have demonstrated lower risk of heart disease and cancer when included in the human diet. With the latter, blueberries deliver a nice dose of ellagic acid which in the human system prompts a healthy rate of apoptosis— how our body seeks out and destroys any harmful agents or damaged cells, including precancerous and cancer cells. When it comes to heart disease they are somewhat cardio protective but the really fight is in obesity related complications of the heart and other organs.
As a weight loss support the Catechins present in blueberries switch on the fat-burning genes in abdominal fat cells. Recent American research (including studies at Tufts University School of medicine) suggests that increased catechins in our diet can improve abdominal fat loss by 77 percent. If you are young, slim and healthy then the vitamins C, E, riboflavin, niacin, and folate content of this delicious berry will keep you that way, if you wish you were that way then growing your own blueberries is a great way to make a resolution a reality.
Growing tip –They love a sunny spot and acidic soil (a pH of 5.5 or lower) and they thrive better if watered with rain water. If you don’t have a catchment system in place yet for our abundant rain then there is a way to make tap water less harmful to your plants – simply boiling tap water then cooling it overnight will change both its pH and ion capacity to a better suited proposition for your precious fruit bushes.
I grow my blueberries in large tree pots with a mix of sand, soil, leaf-mould and homemade compost and a broken up peat briquette in the middle to leech acidity in to the growing media for decades to come. The secret to bumper yields is to protect flowers from frosts but remember to not mummify the bushes with layers of fleece as if the bee can’t get in the flower remains unfertilized and won’t become a fruit.
Even though most varieties are self-fertile, cross-pollination always increases yield so it is also a good idea to have a second blueberry bush (within 2m/6ft). Irish grown stock and garden centre varieties tend to be Northern-High-Bush varieties which can benefit from a tidying/ late winter pruning from year three on.
Blueberries will fruit via the fat buds on the short side-shoots produced during spring and early summer of the previous year (any ‘flatter’ buds are leaf/stem buds). They can also form fruiting buds at the tips of strong shoots from the second flush of growth that often happens at the end of summer. In commercial growing circles the aim is one-third old, one-third middle-aged and one-third young stems but we can prune to remove crossing stems and open the fruiting buds to light and air circulation.