When I was a kid, a piece of fruit generally meant a golden delicious or an over-ripe banana, or possibly a satsuma if it was nearly Christmas. Occasionally, we had fruit cocktail out of a tin and everyone fought over the two and half nail-varnish pink cherries that tasted nothing like cherries. But as we’d probably never had the fresh ones we didn’t know any better. My grandmother was the only person I knew who bought grapes, but that was because she was quite old and a bit posh. She even had special grape-snipping scissors. So she was definitely posh.
These days, grapes aren’t even a superfood. You’re basically a shit mum if you don’t feed your kids blueberries and mango and avocado and goji berries (organic, of course) at least three times a day. Anabel Karmel has a lot to answer for. Apparently, even raisins are now as evil as haribo, at least if you want to keep your teeth and avoid type 2 diabetes. If I was to draw a Venn diagram of all the posh fruit that all of my kids will actually eat, then it would all converge on blueberries. (I’m sure there’s a proper term for the bit where the semi circles overlap but I don’t know what it is.)
But given that blueberries are only marginally less expensive than saffron, and that the kids can inhale them faster than I can polish off a kitkat chunky – which is saying something – I’ve decided to grow our own. So, here it is: the allotmentmum guide to growing blueberries:
Things you need to know about growing blueberries.
- The birds bloody love them.
- Blueberry plants will only produce fruit if the soil is acidic.
- It’s best to grow a few different varieties in the same space so they can cross-pollinate (ie actually grow something other than leaves.)
The first problem can be solved with a bit of netting, or a savage cat. The second needs a bit more planning. So, how do you know if you’ve got soil that’s acidic, or to give it its proper name, ericaceous?
Well, if you’ve got Rhododendrons growing in your garden or allotment (unlikely!) then there’s a good chance you can grow blueberries too, as Rhododendrons grow in acidic soil.
Sadly, my soil turned out to be resolutely neutral. Bollocks.
So how can you make the soil acidic?
This is the tricky bit.
- You can add sulphur powder (available from garden centres or online) to the soil. However it can take months to have an effect, so do it now!
- You can mulch (stick stuff around the base of the plant) using pine needles. I found an old Christmas tree on the road and dragged it home to some rather odd looks ( it was April.) It’s now shredded and lying around the base of my blueberry plants.
- You could try adding lemon juice or vinegar when watering. To be honest, I don’t really know if this works and I suspect it may only work if you have a small area or a pot. But it could be worth a go.
- You can buy some ericaceous compost from the garden centre and grow your blueberries in pots, filled with said ericaceous compost.
The downside of this is you need quite a lot of compost and fairly large pots. You’ll then probably need to re-pot them into even bigger pots, with more compost in a couple of years time. So it may be cheaper just to buy the sodding blueberries from Tesco. On the positive side, this container method is likely to be easier than trying to alter the pH of your soil. But hey, I’ve always enjoyed a challenge!