A week ago I was fortunate enough to purchase three very healthy blueberry plants at the local grocery store. They were even on-sale which saved me at least $10 Euros. Needless to say, I was thrilled. It is a surprise that blueberries are a bit of a delicacy here in Germany because the soil is sandy and well-drained and the climate is very similar to in New York where we always enjoyed blueberry picking come summertime. The reason is more simple than I had expected – the plants are native to America. And here I thought I had stumbled across one of the great mysteries of the world…
After making my purchase, three blueberry plants, a raspberry plant and a blackberry plant, I went to my bike and tried to fit all five of the plants into the bike basket. That was a definite no go. This was a little unnerving to me because it meant that I would have to drive the bike one-handed. My hometown is not exactly bike friendly and even if it is, we only have one traffic light, so there are no real concerns about traffic. So, I am still a bit nervous about cars and people and dying. Regardless, I reminded myself that it is important to overcome my fear and learn to drive my bike like an adult. So, I set off with my windshield of plants, plus one in my arms. The garden is not very far from the grocers, about 1km. I did not think anything about riding my bike on the side of the road that my street is on. This seemed safer. Unfortunately, the police did not share my sentiment. You got that right – I was pulled over while riding my bicycle. I got a nice 10 minute speech about the rules of the sidewalk in Germany. The officer did not care that I did this to avoid imminent death because there is no traffic light or stop light where I need to cross to get back to the garden. Nor did she care about the little hill that I frequently roll backwards on and almost fall when I try to start moving quickly to cross. The really busy road is scary! She only cared when I complained about the other people driving by on the other side of the street who were not getting in trouble. After that statement, she said something about learning the rules of the country when visiting because next time I would be getting a $20 Euro ticket. This was a relief because I did not have any ID with me which would have certainly caused bigger problems.
That was probably the only time it has paid to be a foreigner.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed and still not wanting to cross the street with all the plants on the bike, I continued driving on the wrong side of the road careful not to look back in case the officer and her helpers were watching. I know – what a rebel! Two minutes later, I was back at the garden.
I paced the garden for a while to ponder the merits of each possible location. Would they get enough sun? Would the plants grow well with others? Did I want to use them to make the garden a little more private? It ended up taking long time to decide. As I knew that they had specific soil requirements, I settled on a plot near the back adjacent to the overgrown herb bed because herbs will grow with everything. Or so I hope…
Eager to finally plant something instead of ripping everything out, I carefully measured the space, dug the holes and plopped the little gems into the soil. I had previously read that the plants need acidic soil and thought that I could be organic and resourceful and use coffee grounds to achieve this result. This is a flat-out myth. Darn. Instead, it is recommended that blueberry growers first test the soil to gauge the pH, then add phosphorus accordingly. If the pH of an area is too high (6.5 <), raised beds are recommended, so that specialty soil can be used. The magic pH number is between 4.0 and 5.5. It is also reported that blueberry plants enjoy full-sun and moist soil that has good drainage and is full of humus. Mulching is also suggested, but one should be careful not to put the mulch too close to the base of the plant because it will discourage new branch growth. Semi-regular fertilization with a special mix of phosphorus and potassium is ideal. Planting more than one variety also helps with production due to cross-pollination (something that I did not do and am now a little worried about).
Now, there are three little blueberry plants sitting in my garden. In three years they will bloom and give me tasty fruits that are juicy little reminders of summers in New York. They also happen to be quite healthy – low in fat, high in fiber, full of anti-oxidants and phytonutrients, rich in manganese and packed full of vitamin C. These qualities may make them effective in promoting cardiovascular and brain health, improving insulin response and reducing the risk of cancer. Yes, please!
And if you were wondering what exactly makes blueberries blue? The answer is anthocyanins: water-soluble vacuolar pigments that vary based on the pH of a plant.
Until next time…
the transplanted gardener(in)