Saturday, December 5, 2009

My blueberries make me happy, so I make them happy. (They made me happy this year to the tune of 150 quarts of berries, half of which are in the freezer.) I don’t know how much work bearing all those berries was for them, but I have begun my annual fall ritual of lugging cartload upon cartload of wood chips over to the berry patch to spread beneath the whole 25 foot square planted area.

I don’t begin this ritual spreading until the blueberries’ leaves drop. Then, old leaves and dried up, old fruits are on the ground and get buried beneath the mulch, preventing any disease spores lurking in these fallen leaves or fruits from lofting back up into the plants next spring. Rainy, overcast summers or hot, dry summers or any weather in between – my bushes have never had any disease problems.

I did do two things before spreading that mulch. First, I spread some nitrogen fertilizer: my universal pabulum, soybean meal, at the rate of 2 pounds per hundred square feet. And second, I spread some sulfur, at about the same rate, to keep the soil acidic.

The mulch, a couple of inches depth, went on top of the soybean meal and sulfur. In past years, I’ve mulched with leaves or with wood shavings. Pine needles would also be fine, as would any other weed-free, organic material.

Besides suppressing potential diseases, that mulch decomposes to create a soft root run that retains moisture, just what blueberries’ fine really like. Mulch and good nutrition coax my bushes to make a couple of feet or more of new growth each year. Fruit is borne on shoots that grew the previous season, so all that new growth translates into a good crop in the offing for next year.


This year also brought in a bumper crop of pawpaws, another learning year for growing this uncommon fruit. Pawpaws are the northernmost member of the tropical custard apple family, and the fruit does indeed taste very tropical –a flavor mix of banana, mango, avocado, and vanilla custard – even though it’s easy to grow and native throughout much of the Northeast. Two trees would be adequate for most households; I have about 20, just so I can learn more about them and their individual differences. That makes for a lot of pawpaws!

Right after bloom, I started thinning the small fruits. Pawpaw has a multiple ovary so each blossom can give rise to as many as 9 flowers. Some research indicates that reducing the fruit numbers would yield bigger fruits, which we humans like, especially when the fruits have large seeds, as do pawpaws. The small fruits are hard to see because they match so closely the green color of the leaves, so I didn’t thin as many as I had hoped. That said, at season’s end, fruits on thinned clusters seemed no larger than fruits on unthinned clusters. That said, the trees did bear a lot of large fruits.

Beginning around the middle of September, I began harvesting the first fruits. I picked some up from the ground and picked some soft and some firm from the trees, all of which continued up until early November. I was curious how well the fruits would keep in cold storage. They kept better than expected; ones that I picked back on September 29th and October 17th are still flavorful.

I also wanted to see which varieties (grafted, named clones) or seedlings (unnamed plants grown from seed) tasted or stored best. Nothing consistent bubbled to the surface in this regard. Expanding the palate, I also offered a lot of tastes locally and beyond. The only thing consistent was the “Wow” that followed those tastings. Almost everyone loves the taste of pawpaws.


Scarlet runner beans were not a bumper crop this year, but only because I didn’t plant many. I grow this vining bean, as do most people, primarily as an ornamental, for its scarlet blossoms. I occasionally eat the fat, hairy, yet delectable green beans. Every year I collect some of the matured black and pale purple, calico seeds for replanting the following year. This year, I decided to cook up some of these seeds and taste them.

Scarlet runner bean seeds are quite tasty (and, I learned prior to eating, nonpoisonous). So I collected all the mature seeds still hanging on the dead vines. Next year my yard will be aflame in scarlet flowers and, because the plant is pest-free – even to Mexican bean beetles -- I expect to reap a bumper crop of beans.



  1. Lee,

    About the sulfur around the blueberries... is that the same fine light yellow powder used by some for pest control? I have a bag of that "GreenLight Wettable Dusting Sulfer" which I think is pure sulfer mixed with some anti-caking agent (clay?). If it helps my blueberries without killing any other useful organisms in the ground, then I'll use it.

    Thanks, Ron

  2. Chemically, it's the same thing. But it's in a form that can be sprayed so is extra expensive. Also, it's dusty, and breathing any dust isn't good. That's why I use pelletized sulfur. The pellets are not dusty and are more reasonably priced for the amounts you would use for soil applications.