22.11.14 Today I visited beautiful Peachester, on the Sunshine Coast hinterland, to attend an open day at Brymac Blueberries. A hot day, despite Spring not being over but well worth the trip for the information given by Dean (Bryant), owner of the farm. I have previously killed off a Blue Berry bush and wanted to learn how to make one thrive! so I can have the thrill of cropping my own at home.
There were maybe 5 varieties on offer for sale. I have come away with four plants for $10 each:
Two Powder Blue – The fruit has a powdery blush and is medium in size. It is one of the toughest blueberry varieties with a harvest later in the season. A bigger harvest can be achieved by mixing with other varieties such as the tifblue or others will suit. A great selection for QLD and northern NSW as they don’t need many chill hours for the fruit to set.
One Rabbiteye – This is a late season variety, which can endure warm and humid summers and tolerate dry conditions like no other, making it right at home in Northern NSW and Queensland. Its name comes from the calyx, which when ripening looks just like little rabbit eyes looking back at you.
One Sunshine Blue – This low chill variety produces a heavy crop of mid sized summer fruit in almost any climate. Needing only 150 hours of winter chill, Sunshine Blue will fruit reliably even in the subtropics. This compact semi-evergreen shrub is also the most tolerant of a higher pH, and is well suited to growing in containers.
Not sure how many acres Dean and family have up there but there are two acres under bird/hail netting with mature blueberry bushes, many up to 2m tall. These plants were planted around 1980 by a previous owner of the property. The property was completely overgrown when Dean first inspected and to his surprise found a mature orchard of blueberries under the mess.
Dean uses Biodynamic methods of farming – no chemicals, no fertilisers, no sprays and very little problem with pests due to the extreme good health of the plants. A Brix meter comes up with an amazing reading of 31.
There are perhaps 20 ducks living inside the enclosure that have kept the Fruit Fly population down to zero since they were introduced as they eat any fallen or any infected fruit. There are also at least two native bee hives which help pollinate the plants.
Dean makes his own compost for mulch using the lasagne method, no turning. This compost is the mainstay of his feeding method for the plants. He vehemently abhors any form of commercial liquid fertilizers, used by many other growers. These cause the plants to burn out, destroy the soil microbes and only feed the plant not the soil according to Dean. Plants fed this way crop “sour sacs of water” in his words and become sick and attract insect pests.
Dean mixes his compost with Biochar for best results.
Dean uses a drip watering system on his farm which he has found to be the most efficient and beneficial, at the rate of 2lt per hour.
Some of the interesting facts Dean provided us with:
- Blueberries are very shallow rooted. The surface of the soil must be kept moist at all times. Use a good compost or hardwood (not pine) chips as mulch and water every second day. Allow the pots to drain well – do not use a tray. The hardwood mulch allows water through but is tough enough to keep the heat out.
- BB’s love acidic soil.
- Tubs (the “bigger the better” according to Dean) are great for growing BB in a home setting. Use an acidic potting mix such as Searles Azalea/Camellia mix (any quality acidic mix would do) and mulch the plants well.
- BB require the presence of Mycorrhizal Fungi in order to thrive. Fungi need the carbon to grow hence the Biochar (see above).
- Only prune out the old canes once they are 5/6 year old as production decreases on older canes. BB fruit on all growth.
- BB’s sucker prolifically. At the farm, these are mowed over.
- BB’s can be left on the bush for 7 to 10 days after first turning blue. They can double in size and flavour during that time. They are ready for picking when given a slight twist they fall off into the hand easily.
- Coffee grounds make a good addition to your compost pile or used as mulch, but watch the PH.
- Don’t wash off the bloom on organically grown fruit! It’s not harmful in any way. Store bought fruit on the other hand could be covered in pesticides and always needs to be washed.