Man vs. Blueberries

Growing up in New England my father had 8 mature northern highbush blueberry bushes.  They were each about 5-6 feet tall and in the summer months we would picked about a gallon of blueberries every couple days.  We ate them like candy all throughout those warm months.  I moved to southern California after college and quickly realized that buying blueberries in those quantities at the grocery store was extremely expensive and really not feasible.  It was then that I said to myself that I would plant a bunch of blueberry bushes if I ever owned my own house.  A decade later I finally had my chance.

What to plant?  Where to plant?  How many do I really want?

My backyard has a brick raised bed garden which is about 12 foot deep by 16 feet wide.  We also have a 2.5 by 45 foot planting bed along side a concrete wall which gets about 6-8 hours of sun each day.  Both are perfect spots for blueberries.  I started off slow by planting five bushes along the wall in the garden – two Pink Lemonade Blueberries and three Star Blueberries.  The hope was that once the bushes matured they would soften the look of the harsh concrete wall and of course give us yummy fruit during summer months.  In our growing zone (9-10) the bushes do not loose all the leaves in the winter so we would have green in that area all year long.

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“Pink Lemonade” Blueberry Planted in Garden

The plants have done well in the garden, but I wanted more than just a few handfuls of berries a year.   I just couldn’t wait until they fully matured, so I did some investigation and found a variety called “Bountiful Blue” which not only didn’t shed it’s leaves at all in the winter (instead turning a lovely red), but also was a heavy berry producer.  They are supposed to grow well in pots, so I placed them outside our french doors in blue pots.  When planting blueberries in pots make sure to add in a lot of peat moss to whatever other medium you are using.  It will help with drainage and is also acidic, which Blueberries love!

Although they are far from mature, we are already getting about a thousand berries per season from these two plants; and since they are right outside of our door it is easy to pick any moment of the day.

“Bountiful Blue” Blueberries in Pots

A year later – with a toddler now in the house and eating all of our backyard berries it was time to think about more bushes…. yes more!  Our long planted bed – mentioned above – was now full of lovely young fruit tress (that story is for another post).  This left a good amount of space between each tree where you could only see the “lovely” concrete wall.  I needed to get some greenery into those spaces.  After some online searches I came upon O’Neal Blueberries.  I liked it because it is a highbush variety that should reach 5-6 feet tall, which is perfect to hide some of that wall.  Also, it is said to be one of the sweetest Southern blueberries.  I bought 4 plants to perfectly fill up space between trees.  Once planted, I noticed that the berries were fairly large and the taste sure was lovely. Can’t wait until this grows taller and provides more berries.

Young “O’Neal” Blueberry Bush Between Fruit Trees

So now after 5 years of home ownership and constantly rethinking what edibles should be growing in my yard I now have 11 blueberry bushes of various sizes, shapes and tastes.  Let’s see if I can stop myself from buying anymore in the future!

 

Man vs. Tomatoes

Growing tomatoes.  This is the reason most  home owners start a garden.  There is no other fruit or vegetable that tastes so much better grown at home versus buying in a grocery store.  I was never a huge fan of tomatoes until my wife suggested I grow them one year.  The taste was spectacular, but I found that growing tomatoes isn’t as straight forward as it may seem.  As with everything in life, some research and trial and error over the years does wonders.  Here is what I have learned.

There are several things to decide upon before choosing the right plant and planting method:

  1. Location location location.  You always need a location in your garden with a good amount of sun, but you also need to keep the plant about 2 feet away from any other veggie in your garden.  Tomatoes (especially indeterminate varieties) need room to grow.  You also want to make sure the tomato plant at its full grown size doesn’t shade out any other veggie from much needed sun.
  2. Support.  To cage or not to cage.  In my opinion, always cage.  Even determinate tomatoes can grow too high to support themselves.  The alternative is to let the tomato plant do what it would do in the wild – snake along the ground like a vine.  If you have the space to do this, great, but you will also have to deal with more diseases affecting the leaves and possible rot on the tomatoes as they come into contact with the ground.  Standard cages come in a variety of sizes and shapes.  Just be sure to buy sturdy cages that can weather multiple seasons, otherwise you are just going to need to buy new cages every year.
  3. Water.  Tomatoes tend to like a lot of water, focused on their roots, not on the leaves themselves.  If you hand water, this is easy.  If you have an automatic sprinkler system, see what you can do to convert to a drip line.  Not only will this make your tomatoes happy, but you’ll need to use less water.
  4. Determinant or Indeterminate.  Determinant tomatoes will only grow to a certain height and generally all fruit will mature at the same time.  Great for a smaller garden, but be sure to only trim dead or diseased leaves otherwise you can severely stunt the growth of the plant and the tomatoes.  Indeterminate varieties can easily grow 8 feet or more in height with proper support.  You can trim them back without affecting their output too much and the tomatoes will grow consistently throughout the season.
  5. Variety.  Really think about what you will be doing with the tomatoes you grow.  Cherry tomatoes for salads, beefsteaks for sandwiches, roma tomatoes for canning, any low acidic variety for just snacking on…

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This year I am growing only two plants – one is an Early Girl and the other is Mr. Stripey.  They have thus far produced far better then expected.  Here is my tomato tally:

WEEK ONE:  20 Tomatoes

WEEK TWO:  25 Tomatoes

WEEK THREE:  49 Tomatoes

WEEK FOUR:  12 Tomatoes

WEEK FIVE:  4 Tomatoes

WEEK SIX:  18 Tomatoes

I’ll keep up this count for the remainder of the season.

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Man vs. Potting Bench

Every garden needs a home base – a place to go for your basic tools, pots, soil, etc.  I needed a potting bench.  I have been using our patio table up until now and it simply was getting too messy or simply inconvenient to work at.  There are many options for buying potting benches online, but I really didn’t want to spend a few hundred dollars on a bench that I knew was going to be used and abused.  This means I would have to build it myself.  The good news is that I could build into it everything I could want.  The bad news is that I really don’t have a lot of experience building anything more complex than a box, so I started researching potting bench plans online.  I was happy to easily find some sites with detailed plans and videos.

Can’t do better than starting with This Old House.

Family Handyman was a great possibility too.

Ultimately I found myoutdoorplans.com, which seemed to have the best step by step plans and a simple design which hit all of my needs.  The plan looked something like this:

Building-a-potting-bench-600x354

I liked that the construction seemed straight forward enough for someone of my skill level and I liked that the frame seemed very sturdy with 2x4s.  What I didn’t like is that it wasn’t wide enough for my needs and 2×4 boards for the suface seemed like overkill.  I also decided against the need for any special modifications which would make the construction harder.  Yes, drawers for tools and a potting bowl built in would have been nice, but it’s just frankly not needed.  Ultimately I widened the bench.  Modified the shelves a bit and used 1×6 for the main work surfaces.  Materials cost about $120.

A little wood filler and paint later – and it’s time to get planting!

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