It was a clear evening in early April. Dusk was falling, but the afterglow of a young spring day still warmed the atmosphere. As I walked down from my house to pour feed for my horses, I noticed the distinct buzz of insects. Bees.
There was a handful of them — bumblebees and honey bees — busily humming around the tiny white blooms that had just sprouted on the branches of my lone blueberry bush. Those tart globes that fairly embody summer wouldn’t be ready for picking until mid-July, but it gave me a little thrill of excitement to know that nature was readying herself for the harvest this early on in the year.
We didn’t realize we even had a blueberry bush until my children and I ran across it on one of our ritual walks one day. There it was, loaded down with fruit and reaching toward the sky in overgrown glory. It had looked like a stand of privet every other time we’d passed by it. We ran and got a bucket and began plucking the ripe treats. The ones that made it into the bucket made satisfying plunks as they gathered on the bottom. The ones we popped into our mouths brought a sweet and tangy burst. The bush had grown so tall that I could not reach the topmost berries. I bent the branches down and stripped off the fruit I could get to.
For about three weeks, we’d make twice-weekly pilgrimages to the blueberry bush. It was somehow therapeutic to stand there in the July heat and harvest the ripe berries I had unwittingly grown and carry a full container up to the house. I made blueberry cookies, blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes … we ate fresh-picked blueberries next to our midday and evening meals. And for months afterward, there was the promise of those little bursts of summer that I’d stored in our freezer.
I knew there had been other, smaller bushes when we bought our farm 18 months before, but for some reason, they’d suddenly died. I was grateful that my tall, fruit-laden friend had survived. I had no idea one bush could produce such a yield, and I was surprised that the birds left it largely alone, leaving the berries there for us to return to them time after time.
“The Old Farmer’s Almanac” website, www.almanac.com, says some of these old bushes can produce for up to 20 years. I have no idea how old my plant is, but I suspect it’s pretty mature, based on its height and its full fruit yield. The “Almanac” says blueberry bushes reach full production after about six years. I also am not sure what variety it falls under, but again, its height gives me a clue, and I believe it’s a true highbush, as the “Almanac” says these bushes top out at about 6 feet.
If you’re lucky enough to have mature plants on your property, whether you established them yourself or you stumbled across someone else’s long-ago project like I did, you know the treasures they are. If you’re thinking of getting into blueberries, be aware that they’re gaining in popularity as ornamental and edible landscaping features. That’s right! You can actually plant a few of these attractive bushes around your home and enjoy their delicate green leaves from the spring through the fall as you wait for them to mature and begin producing fruit. Imagine stepping out of your kitchen to grab a handful of berries to rinse and sprinkle onto your morning cereal.
Of course, any time you cultivate any fruit or vegetable, you have to begin the project with a little know-how. “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” site is a great jumping off point, and if you really get into the endeavor and launch into exhaustive research, you can find a ton of specialized blueberry literature out there. So, whatever your situation, if the thought of having your own blueberries appeals to you, I can tell you they’re worth having.