You may know that blueberries are packed with disease fighting antioxidants. But what exactly is an “Antioxidant” and how does it keep us healthy? Look no further than your own back yard….
A lot of the blueberry’s healthy impact, has to do with OPC’s. OPC stands for “Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins. (Now you know why they’re called OPC’s for short). These OPC compounds are found in most fruits, vegetables and herbs.
They help make blueberries blue, cherries red, and blackberries black. If you see a dark or black colored food, it’s likely to be a good source of OPC’s. With the exception of some foods like dark or black pasta that might be colored with squid ink!
Antioxidants work by deactivating or neutralizing the unstable “free radical” cells within the body. Although our bodies create antioxidants, most of us these days are exposed to elements in the environment like pollution, smoking, alcohol, or just poor diet choices. This exposure increases free radical production, (oxidation), which our bodies may have a hard time defusing over time. The build up of free radical oxidation can lead to inflammatory processes, in turn leading to heart disease, cancer, arthritis and premature aging. That is why maintaining a diet rich in antioxidants is so beneficial. The National Institute of Aging has measured the levels of antioxidants in foods and their ability to eliminate free radicals. The TOP TEN HIGH ANTIOXIDANT FOODS ARE……1) Goji berries 2) wild blueberry 3)dark chocolate 4) Pecans 5) Artichoke 6) Elderberry 7) Kidney bean 8) Cranberry 9)Blackberry 10) Cilantro. Of these the easiest to grow in our zone 4 of northern New England is THE MIGHTY BLUEBERRY!
Blueberries grow best in a well-drained sandy loam, rich in organic matter. Clay soils can be made suitable by adding organic matter such as peat moss and sand. In poorly drained soils, blueberries may be planted in ridges 4 inches above the surrounding soil level. Full sunlight all day long is essential for maximum production.
Blueberries require an acidic soil with a pH range of 4.5 to 5.0. A soil test will confirm your acidity and may be obtained through the UNH Cooperative Extension or test kits available in retail garden shops.
Plant your “life giving” blueberry bushes 3-5 feet apart in holes at least twice as large as the plant itself. Backfill with good topsoil and a small amount of peat moss well moistened. Do not put any fertilizer into the planting hole, but water thoroughly and regularly until the bush is well established. Be sure to mulch well around the perimeter of the bush with pine needles, leaves or organic non-dyed wood chips a good 3 to 4 inches deep. Three to four weeks after planting, apply 1 ½ ounces of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Apply fertilizer in a circle 15 to 18 inches from the plant.
Blueberries do not require a lot of attention however, after 2-3 years of growth, a little pruning of dead branches and keeping them to your desired height is all you have to do.
The “Mighty Blueberry” will begin to ripen in early to mid-July in New Hampshire, depending on your variety. Peak production occurs in early August. Fruit is produced in clusters of 5 to 10 berries which ripen in succession over a period of several weeks.
Pick only fully ripe berries. Blueberries often turn blue with a slight reddish tinge several days before they are fully ripe.
Delay picking berries until they are fully ripe and totally blue so that you get the sweetest tasting and plumpest fruit. Use in pies, cakes, breads and cobblers or freeze for later use in those cold winter months when healthy antioxidants may not be so readily available.
A complete list of blueberry varieties suitable for planting in Northern New England is available through the UNH Extension publication “Blueberry varieties for New Hampshire growers”, but here is a short list of what I planted in my blueberry patch over the past two years. Duke, Northland, Late Blue, Earliblue, Herbert and Chanticleer. All are hardy to -25 degrees and self-pollinate.
(July 2016 Horticultural Newsletter)
University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet, “Growing High bush Blueberries,
Sideman, Becky, PhD and Lord, Bill, MS, Winter 2015
Dr. Axe, Top Ten 10 Antioxidant Foods, (Dr. Axe.com)