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In July of 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proclaimed July National Blueberry Month. So here are a few interesting tidbits about these delicious berries.
Blueberries belong to the family Ericales. This makes them related to cranberries, Brazil nuts, persimmons, camellias, azaleas, and rhododendron!
The silvery/whitish film found on blueberries is called a “bloom.” This is a natural compound that helps to protect the fruit. This is why you should never wash blueberries until just before you plan to eat them. They’ll last longer.
Blueberries are native to North America, where they were gathered and eaten by Native Americans. They called them “Star Berries” because of the shape of the flowers. They believe they were a gift from the Great Spirit to relieve the hunger of children during times of famine.
The United States is the world’s largest producer of blueberries, producing more than twice as much as the next closest country. The U.S. grows 98% of its blueberries in just 10 states—California, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
Blueberries contain an important phytonutrient called anthocyanin, which is a powerful antioxidant. It’s the anthocyanin that gives them their blue color. They are considered a “super” food—aiding in heart and bone health, blood pressure, cancer prevention, and preventing age-related mental decline.
And they’re easy to grow—if you understand their basic requirements. Blueberries, like their relative azaleas and rhododendrons, need acidic soil. They do not tolerate wet feet, but are very shallow rooted so can’t go but so dry either. While they do prefer at least six hours of sunlight to produce well, they can tolerate some late afternoon shade. Of course, because the fruits are so delicious, you’ll want to invest in some bird-netting.
Blueberries adapt very well to container growing and can thrive easily on a deck or patio.
They are also partially self-pollinating, but you’ll get a greater yield if you plant two different varieties that bloom at the same time.
I’m going to celebrate National Blueberry Month by taking home a couple of pints of blueberries from our Farmers Market (every Thursday from 10 until 2 in the parking lot here at The Great Big Greenhouse) and making my grandma’s blueberry cobbler.
How are you going to celebrate? One way would be to go pick your own. To find a spot near you go to www.pickyourown.org. Otherwise, look me up at our Farmers Market and I’ll show you fresh, local, Virginia-grown blueberries!