Planting and harvesting blueberries for tea making
It is well known how good blueberries are for us. They are high in antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E. They can help boost your immune system, sustain your eyesight, help lower cholesterol, and improve digestion. They may help with memory loss and can improve brain function and learning capacity.
1 Choosing the right variety
There are many cultivated blueberry varieties to choose from, and a very popular one is Vaccinium corymbosum, or high-bush blueberry. Try to buy two- or three-year old plants so that you will have some fruit in your first year. Choose the hardiest variety for your location so you do not have to worry about winter protection. There is another cultivated variety called rabbit-eye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) that bear smaller fruits, similar to wild blueberries, but are easier to grow than other high bush varieties.
2 Grow more than two varieties
If you have space, grow two or more varieties. Blueberry flowers have both male and female organs but they cannot be fertilized by their own pollen. Having other varieties close by will help the bees and ensure you get a bigger crop of fruit.
3 Acidic soil
Blueberries like an acidic soil, and the pH needs to be below 5.5 for most blueberries to thrive. You can buy simple pH test kits cheaply from garden centers to test your plot. If your soil is not acidic, it is easiest to grow blueberries in a container. Use ericaceous soil or acidic compost, which is for acid-loving plants. Try and find a low-peat version or one that uses pine bark instead of peat if possible, as peat extraction is very bad environmentally.
4 Drainage holes
Make sure your pot has drainage holes and crocks (broken bits of pot) in the bottom to help improve drainage. Blueberries like well-drained but moist soil, and a sunny or partly shaded, sheltered position. They love to be given rainwater to drink, as it is more acidic than tap water.
5 Feeding the plant
To feed the plant, put a layer of homemade organic compost from your composter or wormery around the plant covering with a layer of bark chipping mulch to help retain moisture.
6 Cover blueberries
When the fruits have formed and are starting to turn color, you should cover your blueberry with a net to stop the birds from eating your harvest. Position four canes in the ground around the plant and attach a fine net to these using clothes pegs or string.
Prune your blueberry plants in the winter to neaten them up and to promote new growth the following year. Cut any dead stems to the base and the brown ends of the stems to the closest growing buds. Cut any stems that have fruited that year down to ground level. If container grown, they will need repotting into a larger pot in the spring. Use ericaceous/acidic potting soil as before. You can take cuttings in the spring to make more plants. Make sure you use ericaceous or acidic compost for the cuttings.
1 Pick your blueberries when they are ripe but still firm.
2 Use them fresh or dry the berries using a dehydrator or an oven. As blueberries have a protective skin and are very juicy, they need to be either blanched or pricked before they are dried.
3 To blanch the fruit, place the blueberries in a metal sieve and dip them into a saucepan of boiling water for a few seconds (you don't want the skins to burst), then immediately plunge them into cold water. This should soften the skins to help speed up the drying process, which will take about twenty-two hours in a dehydrator.
Tip: I find the most efficient way was to prick each berry about ten times with a pin. This significantly reduces the drying time needed (about seventeen hours) but obviously takes longer to prepare than blanching.
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Excerpted from Homegrown Tea: An Illustrated Guide to Planting, Harvesting and Blending Teas and Tisanes by Cassie Liversidge. Recipes Copyright © 2014 Cassie Liversidge. Photography copyright © Cassie Liversidge. Excerpted by permission of Cassie Liversidge and St. Martins Griffin. All Rights Reserved.