Blueberries are perennial flowering plants of the genus “Vaccinium” that are usually grown for their dark berries. These berries can be consumed as raw, added to breakfasts, baked goods, and yogurts (curds) or made into jams. Blueberries have incredible nutrition and health benefits. Blueberries are not only popular but also repeatedly ranked in the U.S. diet as having one of the highest antioxidant properties. These berries are native to North America. In India, Blueberry farming is very limited and there is a huge future potential for commercial blueberry farming due to its excellent health benefits. Blueberries have successfully started growing in Nepal with correct cultivation practices. For sure, Blueberry farming will have a bright future in Nepal
Health Benefits of Blueberries:
The following are the health benefits of Blueberries.
- Blueberries are the excellent source of antioxidant foods.
- Blueberries are low in calories and high in nutrients.
- Blueberries may help in protecting against ageing and cancer.
- Blueberries can help in maintaining brain function.
- Blueberries protect cholesterol in the blood from becoming damaged.
- Blueberries may lower blood pressure.
- Blueberries may help reduce muscle damage after a strenuous workout.
- Blueberries can have anti-diabetic effects.
- Blueberries may help fight urinary tract infections.
- Blueberries may help in preventing heart disease.
Climate Requirement for Blueberry Farming:
Blueberries can be grown on a wide range of climatic conditions. However, they best thrive in warmer (full sun) climates. When you are ready for farming, you should check with nearest horticulture department for suitable cultivar for your area climatic conditions.
Soil Requirement for Blueberry Farming:
Blueberry crop prefers soils which are highly acidic, fertile, aerated, moist and well-drained. The optimal soil pH range is 4.0 to 5.5 for best growth and yield. In case higher pH, adding a small amount of sulfur to the soil can reduce the pH of the soil. Before starting a blueberry cultivation, go for soil testing.
Varieties of Blueberries:
There are many varieties available in Blueberry farming. Every cultivar will produce for a period of 3 to 4 harvesting weekly. However, thy are grouped into 3 categories. : highbush, lowbush and hybrid half-high. The following are the improved varieties of blueberries: Duke, Toro, Chandler, Chanticleer, Oneal, Misty Nelson, Legacy, Elliott, Elizabeth, Arlen, Revielle Prince, Columbus Premier, Powder blue Climax, Bright well, BlueCrop, Blue Ray, BlueJay.
Propagation in Blueberry Farming:
Propagation can be done through seeds, hardwood cuttings.
Land Preparation, Planting in Blueberry Farming:
Land should be levelled and ploughed till it attains the fine tilth stage. Main field should be made weed free. Plant spacing should be 80 cm in between rows and 3 meter aisles. Blueberry planting can be done any time during the year provided there is sufficient irrigation available. 1 year or 2 year plants grown in a 1 liter or 3.5 liter container should be planted in the main field. The preferred stem length is 15 to 25 cm & 25 to 45 cm. Pits should be dug 10 inch deep just before 2 weeks of planting the trees. Pits should be dug out a square about one meter across to give the side-spreading roots. The soil taken out from the pits should be mixed with equal parts of leaf mould, coco peat or compost.
Pruning in Blueberry Farming:
Generally, Blueberry plants are a bush type and grow stems from its crown. Usually, the number of productive stems should be 9 to 12. Pruning should be carried out every year by removing canes that are 5 to 6 years old. One should not allow the blueberry bush to produce fruits for the first couple of years. Pinch back blossoms, this will help to stimulate the growth of the plant. Pruning should be carried out in late winter, preferably just before growth begins. During the initial 4 years period, there is no need of pruning.
Plant protection in Blueberry Farming:
Generally, Blueberry plants are resistant to pests and diseases. The main problem is, these berries are a favourite food for birds, so avoid birds in the orchard by adding nets around the plants. Especially this is needed at the time of fruiting (in June).
Irrigation in Blueberry Farming:
Irrigate the plants immediately after transplanting in the field. Blueberry plants should be irrigated once a week. Rain water is better than the tap water as it is more alkaline in nature. In long dry spell weather conditions, it may require frequent irrigation based on soil moisture holding capacity.
Intercultural Operations in Blueberry Farming:
Weeding should be carried regularly by removing dried or damaged leaves. To control the weeds, plant basins should be kept clean and use any kind mulch (in spring season) along with any fertilizer made for acid loving trees. Mulching will save the water loss, controls the weed growth, protect the soil from erosion and mulching material will become well rotten organic fertilizer. Mulching can be done with a 2 to 4 inch layer of wood-chips or saw dust after planting. Remove basal growth as half of the fruiting and flowers starting at the basin, remove all fruits that are growing on the lower portion of the plants to make the plants stronger especially to make the root system stronger.
Manures and Fertilizers in Blueberry Farming:
The use of composts in blueberry farming has many potential benefits. Well-rotten farm yard manure (FMY) like cow dung should be supplemented at the time of land/soil preparation. As Blueberry plants love acidic soils, look for a high acid blueberry bush fertilizers that contain ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, or sulfur-coated urea. These tend to have a lower pH (higher acid). Fertilizers should be applied in the spring before their leaves have grown in.
Harvesting in Blueberry Farming:
Blueberry plants will start producing fruits from the second or third season of growth. The plants produce berries once a year. Harvested fruits can be marketed as fresh as well as canned (frozen). After harvesting the berries, all canes hat produced berries should be removed. Usually, harvesting will start in the month of Aug thru Sept. Don’t pick the Blueberries as soon as they turn blue and wait for a couple of days. When they are ready to harvest, they should fall off right into your hand.
The yield in Blueberry Farming:
The fruit yield depends on many factors like variety (cultivar), soil type, irrigation and weather conditions. Generally, in Blueberry farming, one can expect 1 kg of fruits per each plant in the first harvest. In subsequent years, Blueberry plant will double in yield until the 6th to 7th year of maturity. The maximum yield can be expected form a plant is 10 kg and an average yield is 5 to 6 kg per plant. In most cases, Blueberry plants produce fruits up to 20 to 25 years.