In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
May, 2012
Regional Report

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Let blueberries ripen through green and red to the deepest blue before you pick them.

Celebrate Blueberries

Seldom do I devote an entire column to one plant, but blueberries are the exception to that self-imposed rule. Incredibly easy to grow in the home garden, the plants could be on every landscaper's list even if they did not yield delicious, healthful fruit. When you are picking six pints a week from three old plants and two new ones with almost no effort, blueberries will top your list, too.

Grow Our Native
Blueberries are among the few native plants in the eastern U.S. that have always been a crop to one extent or another. People picked wild blueberries and their cousins, huckleberries, and a few attempts were made to commercialize them in the late 19th century. Those efforts made a splash locally, but did not begin to evolve into the burgeoning crop the blueberry is today until the development of southern highbush types made it possible to grow blueberries in the warmest areas.

Today, southern highbush blueberries are popular, along with rabbiteye blueberries, which need more chilling hours. Whichever type you grow, plant at least two of a type for best pollination. Pick a spot with at least half a day of sun or more and improve the soil if necessary to insure good drainage and an acid condition, such as for azaleas or hollies. These plants will be with you for years, so do not scrimp on soil preparation. Keep young plants well watered as they are getting established.

Blueberries grow well in the home garden with the simplest of routines including annual pruning, shaping after the fruit is picked, and small amounts of fertilizer in spring and summer. Once established, you may decide to forego fertilizer in favor of working in decomposed mulch and compost each spring when you lay on fresh mulch. The fall color of blueberry bushes is often stunning shades of red and yellow, especially in full sun with summer irrigation. With an attractive shape, easy care, color, and fruit, blueberries can be the start of a truly edible landscape.

Eat Healthful Blueberries
Every few months, more good news comes from the scientific community about the health benefits of blueberries. Rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C, low in calories and high in fiber, blueberries are the go-to fruit that brings blue to the plate. These qualities are important for different reasons and they all add up to good reasons to love blueberries. Antioxidants in food work to counteract free radicals, unstable molecules that have been linked to the development of several major diseases and age-related conditions. In fact, blueberries have polyphenols, particularly anthocyanins, in levels as high as any food as rated by the USDA. Vitamin C is not just the province of orange juice anymore and blueberries join them in bolstering the human immune system, but the berries also pack manganese for strong bones. At about 80 calories per cup, blueberries can literally be eaten by the handful without packing on weight, and their fiber contributes to a healthy cardiovascular system. That same cup contains a quarter of your daily Vitamin C need, promotes good gum health, and increases iron absorption. Hard to believe that one readily available fruit can do so much for your body and yet taste crazy good.

Cook Fruit Soup
In another departure from my usual topics, I offer a recipe for a blueberry dessert. I call it Fruit Soup because the first attempt was so liquid that we ate it over ice cream. I cut fresh Louisiana strawberries in half, sprinkle very lightly with pure cane sugar and freeze them every year. I thaw a cup of strawberries and mix with a cup and a half of fresh blueberries, plus one quarter cup of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Pour the mixture into an 8 inch square baking dish. You can top this with your own pastry and have a cobbler, but I prefer sweet biscuit dough, either homemade or from your favorite box brand (Pioneer, Jiffy, Bisquick). Each prepared mix has a recipe for cobbler or another sweet dough, so follow that but use a little less sweetener and add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Lacking space and desire to roll dough, I treat the mix like drop biscuits and plop spoonfuls on the top of the fruit mix. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees, or until the top is nicely browned and the fruit is bubbling. If I have company, I brush the top of the browned crust with a little butter and sugar in the last 10 minutes, just to pretty it up. Ideally, the ice cream goes on top.

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