Researching soil needs for blueberries

In 1992, Cornell University published a book about high-bush blueberry production. The 200-page award-winning* tome gathers advice from nearly 30 experts, and has effectively become my bible. One night while reading scripture, my eyes stumbled across a sentence that went something like this: ‘Weed control the preceding planting year is essential.’ Essential, it said. I read it ten times; the word didn’t change. During my past nine months of research I have repeatedly read about the importance of soil amendment the preceding planting year (which I have done), but nothing about weed management (which I have not done). Maybe most people would assume that pre-planting weed control is a given but it didn’t occur to me. My planting is mere weeks away so it was a bit of an emotional bombshell.

I called Charles for a second opinion (he and his wife Judi own and operate a huge, successful blueberry farm near Toronto) hoping he would tell me that “essential” was too strong a word. But no – turns out it is exactly the right word! To my horror, he said the weeds take the nutrients and water from the soil, provide a habitat for pests, disease and fungus, and will overpower the shallow, tender root system.

Ok, breathe. Time for plan B. Laying adjacent to the field I’d prepared for berries, was another field that a neighbouring farmer had planted with soybeans last year (with my permission of course) and he’d already purged it of perennial weeds. This, I decided, was to be the new home of my soon-to-be-picked-up blueberry plants. I will need to increase the 6000 cubic feet (560 bales on 27 pallets) of peat moss that I already have on order to compensate for the higher soil ph. and change the size and layout of the rows but I can do that with no problem as I haven’t finalized my irrigation system or netting yet. An inconvenience, but a workable one.

When I set out on this hair-brained adventure, I fully expected a learning curve. But to find out about the weed problem too much later would have been a sharp and unfortunate turn south. With deep gratitude I thank the angel on my shoulder for opening my eyes to the bible. Praise be unto thee, oh Highbush Blueberry Production Guide, publication number NRAES-55.

*The publication was awarded a blue ribbon in the 1993 ASAE Educational Aids Competition, whatever that is.