Caring for Blueberry Bushes

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So I pruned my blueberries a few weeks ago. Super Important. You will not believe how much blueberry production will increase if you’ve never pruned before. More branches and growth do NOT equal more blueberries. For more info on how to prune go HERE. If the plant is using all of its energy and nutrients to feed leaves, guess what it won’t be doing? That’s right, making blueberries!

Now is the time (I’m zone 7) for all of the flowers to cover my bushes. And time, too, for the very important work of bees. Without the bees and their pollination, the blueberries would not be possible.

A busy bee at work pollinating my blueberry bushes.

//assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit.jsThis essential pollination is why you should have at least two varieties of blueberry bushes planted. Next to each other.The cross-pollination will greatly increase the production of blueberries. Some varieties won’t produce at all without cross-pollination. Side note: this is really the only time of year bees will be attracted to the plants. So if you have bee sting concerns, don’t worry!

All of these flowers will soon be blueberries!

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During the time of year when the bees are pollinating the bushes, I also like to fertilize with Epsom salts. I let 1/4 cup dissolve in a couple of gallons of room temperature water, and then I divide it between the two mature plants. (I planted 3 new ones this year, and I’m not going to fertilize them this year.) Epsom salts provide magnesium, which blueberry bushes like. (Your tomatoes and bell peppers like it, too, BTDubs.)

Okay, so are you ready to see my bushes? I hesitate to post a picture because it doesn’t look like these two could actually produce the gallons of berries that they do. Here you go…

These guys are in full sun on the south side of our house.
They love to be mulched, so there is pine straw covering the soil. 

Can you believe it? They don’t look like much, but they are big producing bushes!

If you want to read more about my blueberry care and other blueberry related posts:

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Pie

Misc. Blueberry Nonsense

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How to Prepare Your Garden Soil for Planting

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Yay, Spring! If you missed my last post on my plans for my garden beds this summer, check it out HERE. Before I plant anything, I want to make sure that the soil is healthy for my plants. This will help them to produce the maximum amount of food and keep them disease resistant. Here are a few steps I take before summer planting:

#1 Turn over the soil. 
One reason I like raised beds so much is that if you don’t need heavy machinery to till the soil before planting. When I prepare the garden soil for planting I like to turn the soil over to loosen it up, remove rocks, and also to search for unwanted pests. To do this, simply put in your shovel, dig in, and turn it over. Go through the entire box and dig down as deep as you can. My boxes have been there for several years, so the organic burlap that I laid on base to kill the grass the first year has now decomposed. I am able to reach down and mix in some of the Georgia red clay with the garden dirt.
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Here are my 4 – 4×4 garden beds. They are about 12″ deep. I’m in the process of installing garden pavers for a path through and around them, which is why there are 4 random pavers in the middle. 

#2 Check for pests. 
As I mentioned above, while you are turning over the soil look for unwanted pests. An important part of preparing your garden soil is to remove these guys. If you dig deep enough and thoroughly, you will be able to see if there are any grubs or larvae. I had a problem with tomato hornworms last year, so when going through the bed I had my tomatoes planted in I was especially vigilant for getting the hornworm larvae out. You can toss out smaller grubs and step on them. The tomato hornworm larvae are disgusting and large, so I take a shovel to them and annihilate them. I can use terms like “annihilate” with them because I hate them. Hate is such a strong word. It works here.

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A tomato hornworm larva that I removed from my garden.
They are large, but blend in with the soil. If you find them, remove them and destroy them. It’s much easier to remove them as a larva then after they have changed into the green, destructive pests that will ruin your tomato plants.

#3 Rotate your crops. 
A little advanced planning will help you prepare your garden soil for the next season of planting. You don’t want to plant the same thing in the same spot two years in a row. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the pests that are attracted to particular crops will become a problem. Also, your soil will become nutrient deficient. Some plants use a lot of nitrogen and some feed the soil nitrogen. With quick and simple planning of how to rotate your crops, you will be able to make sure that your crops are actually producing food.
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How I plan to rotate my crops over a 4 year period.

#4 Amend the soil.
With raised beds it is easy to forget that you aren’t replacing the soil. Instead you are amending it, adding to it. After the first year you don’t want to just dump bags of garden soil from the hardware soil into your boxes. You want to mix it with the native soil. While I am turning over the soil (see #1!) I will add a bag of compost, some bone meal, some blood meal, and some Epsom salts. If you make your own compost or buy it, 1-2 cu feet of compost per box is a good starting point. Don’t overuse the blood meal and bone meal; a little goes a long way. Blood meal and bone meal are exactly what they sound like, and what they sound like are a little disgusting. But they are good, organic options to fertilize and amend the soil. Preparing your garden soil by amending it will again keep your plants healthy, making them disease and pest resistant and yielding high crops.

Just a side note, the first year you start raised beds you’ll most likely need to fill them up with bags of soil from the store. In subsequent years you might need a bag or two to keepl the soil level up. What I recommend avoiding is completely replacing the soil each year. I don’t think it’s necessary, and it would not be cost efficient. Use these steps to amend the soil, and you won’t need to replace it.

#5 Consider cold weather crops.
Another good way to prepare the garden soil is to plant something in the cooler seasons that will replace nutrients used in the spring and summer. Kale, peas, and many other foods can be grown in the colder months. (I’m in Zone 7; things may be different in your area.)

#6 Consider helpful insects.
If I happen to be digging elsewhere in the yard and notice lots of earthworms, I will take them and put them in the garden. Worms, bees, ladybugs, praying mantis and many other types of bugs and insects are friends to your garden. Consider ways to attract beneficial visitors that will either contribute to the soil or prey on harmful pests.

I hope this is helpful! Enjoy your garden.

Square Foot Garden Plans for 4 x 4 Beds

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Today is the first day of Spring, so it’s fitting that I post about my garden plans! I made these plans for myself, but I thought that I’d share them with you.

Just to be clear, I am not a master gardener. I am average in my experience, but above average in my passion for growing things. What I lack in experience I make up for in random knowledge of gardening that I’ve picked up over the years.

I am so thankful to be living in that Age of Information. Several years ago when I was planting my first garden I checked out dozens of books from the library and did countless hours of research on the internet. Anything you want to know, it’s out there! You just simply have to ask Google!

Our backyard is on the south side of our house, which is perfect for full-sun loving plants. I have set up our raised bed garden boxes to orient along with the east-west axis that the  sun travels in. I purchased our raised bed garden boxes as kits from Home Depot. While it may be slightly more money than making the boxes on your own, there are several reasons why I chose to go with a kit. #1 I could do it myself. I’m a small person and working alone I needed to be able to handle the materials and build the boxes. #2 No tools required! While we own all of the tools needed to cut wood, I am not comfortable using them without help. #3 My step-dad was recently building some garden boxes for my mom and had an accident resulting in a hospital visit and loss of fingers. #4 These come with untreated cedar. Treated cedar will poison your food and I didn’t want to hassle with finding untreated wood. I know these garden box kits are still available because I recently had to purchase another one to replace broken boards from a passionate soccer player we have in the house.

Knowing which direction the sun moves across your garden is very important.

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Knowing where North and South are will help you decide what to plant in each garden box. This is very important because you will want to make sure that the taller plants are on the North and West sides of the garden, otherwise they will shade your other plants and block the sun that they need. In my case, I need to make sure the taller plants are on the left and back sides.

Below are the details of the 4 garden boxes that I am planting in this area. You may wonder why I chose the plants I did or did not use. First and above all else, you’ll learn quickly to only plant what you will eat. Also, there are things that I love, like carrots, but after 4 years of trying with no luck to grow them I am giving up on them. Maybe a neighbor will trade some with me.

The 3 Sisters method using cantaloupe instead of squash.
C = Corn, B = Beans


//assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit.jsIn the back left corner I am using the Three Sisters method. This is a Native American technique of growing food. Traditionally the 3 Sisters are corn, beans, and squash. The corn gives the beans something to climb on. The beans feed the soil nitrogen that the corn and squash use. The squash with its large leaves shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist. I love squash, but my family hates it. So I am not opting for summer, zucchini, or pumpkin. Instead I am using another relative of the squash family, the cantaloupe! Since I am working in a 4 x 4 garden box, I am using a dwarf variety. But honestly, any variety would work. In the Three Sisters method, plant the corn first. When it is 6 inches high, plant the beans and cantaloupe (squash). I am also including Marigold and Nasturtium because they are companions for them, deterring pests. I’m using a dwarf variety of Nasturtium to save space. Did you know you can eat the flowers and leaves of the Nasturtium? Hmmm…

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In the back right corner I am using the 3 Sisters method again, but with a dwarf variety of watermelon. We want a full size variety also, so I’m going to find another spot in the yard for that. I have enough wood for one more square foot garden box, I just need to decide where to put it.

Tomato Garden Plan for a 4 x 4 Raised bed

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In the front left corner, or southwest corner, I am planting a square foot garden box for tomatoes. Mainly what I want to note on this one is the placement of the taller plant varieties so that they don’t shade the shorter varieties. Also, I’ll be planting companions basil and marigold to deter pests. I’ve had issues with Hornworm in the past. I know they aren’t completely avoidable, but I detest them, and I’m hoping the basil and marigold will cut down on them. When I prepared my boxes (another post maybe), I did search for any larvae. The box I’m using for the tomatoes is a new addition this year. I’m hoping that will also help. Did I mention that I hate loathe Hornworms? I’m going to plant several different varieties with different color. We eat a lot of homemade salsa in the summer, and it’s beautiful to see the different colors in it.

Cucumber & Pepper Garden Plan for a 4 x 4 Raised Bed

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My final garden box in this area is for cucumbers and peppers. I always grow my cucumbers vertically. The easiest way to do this is to put a round tomato cage over the mound. As the cucumber vines grow, train them onto the cage. You have to do this; they won’t do it on their own. My daughter and I love to find the “curly q’s” (unofficial term) at the end of the vines and wrap them onto the cage. You can also use twist ties from bread to keep the vines on the cages. I do this for two reasons. #1 It saves space in a small square foot garden box. #2 It keeps the vines off of the ground and away from pests.

Notice that the lettuce is intentionally planted to get shade. This is another reason you need to consider sun movement. Also notice that two weeks after the first cucumbers are planted there is a second planting. This is will just extend the time we can harvest cucumbers. For this planting I will possibly NOT grow them vertically. They can shade the ground and keep in moisture for the peppers.

The other plants are companions and will keep pests away. (Hopefully!)

I hope this helps you! Maybe this will be your first year gardening…you can do this! I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. I’m not an expert, but I don’t mind sharing what my experiences have been. Feel free to leave any questions in the comment section below.

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Summer Bucket List & Atlanta Summer Bucket List

We are gearing up for SUMMER! Fall is my favorite season, but summer is close to my heart. It’s my time to spend with my kids — making memories, reinforcing values, focusing on Christ-like behavior and studying His word, and family bonding time.

We sat down the other night and made a list of the special things we wanted to do this summer. Then I put them all together to hang on on fridge.

Here’s our Summer Bucket List:

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  • Vacation
  • Sleepovers
  • Catch Fireflies
  • $1 Movies
  • Baseball Games
  • Homemade Ice Cream
  • Night Swimming
  • Play in the Rain
  • Watch Fireworks
  • Water Park
  • Ride Roller Coasters
  • Outdoor Concert
  • Read Good Books
  • Ice Cream for dinner
  • Hikes
  • Go to the Park
  • Play in the Sprinkler
  • Make Lemonade
  • Family Time
  • Build a Fort
  • Outdoor Movies
  • Make Popsicles
  • Bowling and Laser Tag
  • Family Game Night
  • Laser Show

    I also made an Atlanta Summer Bucket List.

    //assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit.jsYou can print either of them by right clicking on the picture. Enjoy!
    Happy Summer!

    Blueberry Investment: Blueberry Pie

    The birds left a few blueberries for us to eat. We only have two bushes, so when we manage to actually get some ripe berries before the birds, I really try to use them wisely. I froze several small baggies for smoothies or for using in muffins. We ate a quart or so for snacking, and the kids ate a bunch off of the bushes. After that, I’ve been hoarding them. I wanted to make something delicious and I knew that would require a great investment of blueberries.

    This is what 5 cups of blueberries looks like. For what? A pie. I don’t know why it had to be a pie. I’ve never baked one before. Which is ridiculous, considering the number of pie plates that I own. I looked on the web for the easiest, simplest recipe that I could find. I picked this one.

    Pour one tablespoon of lemon juice over 5 cups of blueberries and set aside.

    Mix one cup of sugar, half a cup of all-purpose flour, 1/8 teaspoon salt, & 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

    Add the blueberries and gently stir together to coat the berries. Next use pre-maid pie crust to cover the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate. Fill the crust with the berry mixture and dot with 2 tablespoons of butter. Use the remaining crust to cover the pie. Trim the edges, crimp, and cut slits to vent.

    I know, I know. It’s not pretty. But I did it! My first pie. And I didn’t burn it!

    You simply have to have it with some vanilla ice cream. So good.
    XOXO,
    Abby
    P.S. I hope one day my pies will be this beautiful. And isn’t this pie plate to die for? Love it. 

    I "garden" at Publix.

    I really, really want to be good at gardening. The planting part is easy. Next when little plants germinate and poke their green heads out of the ground there is a huge feeling that something wonderful and amazing just happened. Then comes the growing part. Things happen then. Strange, gross, frustrating things.

    We have blueberry bushes. The thing about blueberry bushes is that they take a few years to really get going and produce fruit. Within that time there won’t be a single bird in your backyard.

    You will know when your bushes are going to explode with berries, because the year before that you’ll notice one or two birds. You will proceed to Home Depot and buy a scary looking owl to keep the birds away. It will work.

    The following year your bushes will literally have dozens, even hundreds of green blueberries just waiting for the sun to ripen then. But the birds will come, and they will land on your owl. And they will poop on it. They will steal your blueberries. All of them.

    If it’s not the birds, then it is bugs. I don’t even know if “bugs” is the correct term, because half of the time I cannot even identify the alien looking creatures crawling out (yes, out) of the food I am growing. Imagine my excitement when tomatoes actually start growing and butternut squash spring off of the vine.  And then I find this on a squash:

    It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s gross. Nothing within 12 inches of where this was found will be eaten. I may even (once I get the nerve up to put my hands back over there) pull up the whole plant. Why? Because it’s gross. And we don’t eat Gross for dinner.

    Hi, I’m Abby. And I garden at Publix.

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    Perfect Pink Peonies

    There are many, many times where I have told y’all that a certain project is super easy. Or, perhaps I’ve said that “the hardest part was getting started.” But there is one kind of project that frustrates me to no end. And yet, I keep going back.

    *sigh* In theory, I love gardening, and I’m fabulous at it. In reality, well, not so much. Gardening for me is like one big science experiment. Sometimes the experiments work. But most of the time the science experiments end up getting annihilated by weird, alien-looking bugs that devour my plants in the dark of night. Any bug within a hundred mile radius with an appetite for squash, tomatoes, or peppers has found its way into my backyard. And laid eggs. Did I mention that I.Hate.Bugs?!?! (This should probably be titled, “The bugs. THE BUGS!!!: Part I)

    I might be about to make a gardening mistake. But I’m going to do it anyway. Through Pinterest, I have fallen in love with peonies. They are beautiful, sophisticated, and delicate. I want them. The problem? I’m in the deep south. I’m in the land of “full sun” and heat. Peonies don’t like the land of “full sun.”

    Today I went into Walmart looking for a hard to find shade of lipstick, which could not be found. And on my way out of the store, empty handed, I found myself staring at a shelf of flower bulbs. Perfect pink peonies.

    There, at Walmart, was a cultivar, “Sarah Bernhardt” that is supposedly hardy to zone 8. I’m zone 7.

    I didn’t walk out empty handed. I’m going to give them a try. Stay tuned.

    XOXO,
    Abby


    photo credits:
    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2422/3615244765_5a167c1d95_b.jpg
    http://arosynote.blogspot.com/2011/06/summer-look-for-living-room.html
    http://www.burpee.com/perennials/peony/peony-sarah-bernhardt-prod002366.html