July is National Blueberry Month

July is National Blueberry Month and we want to make sure you know how to celebrate in the berry-best way! Blueberries provide us with more than just scrumptious berries in summer to snack on all day long. Here are just a few excellent benefits of growing blueberry bushes:

The flowers of blueberry shrubs are a great food source for early season pollinators.

There are varieties of blueberries that grow short and compact, and are self-pollinating, which make great container plants for small spaces.

Blueberry bushes are attractive shrubs in the garden as they give a prolific bloom of lovely bell-shaped flowers in spring, awesome fall foliage color, and winter interest with colorful red stems.

Blueberries are one of the most nutrient dense berries containing 4 essential nutrients including fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and manganese.

Berries can be used in a variety of recipes to enhance flavors and give a sweet or tart twist to a dish such as pancakes, salads, and smoothies.

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants which protect your body from free radicals that can damage your cells and contribute to aging and disease, such as cancer.

History of the Blueberry

The origin of most commercial crops is lost in antiquity. We’ll never know who to thank for selecting and taming wheat and corn, or tomatoes, or apples and cherries, nor exactly how many thousands of years ago they went from wild collected harvests to intentionally planted staples.

But blueberries are different. We owe the tasty, antioxidant rich modern wonder (and multi-billion dollar agricultural industry) that is the high-bush blueberry to an American woman – Elizabeth Coleman White.

elizabeth blueberry
In honor of Elizabeth Coleman White.

Growing up in New Jersey in the late 1800’s on her family’s cranberry farm, Elizabeth developed an intense interest in the business of farming at an early age, and as an adult continued to work alongside her father on the plantation. In 1910, she read a US Department of Agriculture bulletin by Frederick Coville, on propagation and cultural needs of the wild blueberry. Though common wisdom was that the blueberry was too picky and variable to cultivate, she had wondered if the ones that grew wild on the plantation could be developed, like wild cranberries had been a few decades before. She contacted Coville, offering to pay the USDA to use her property to research blueberry varieties and breeding, and arranged for local wild blueberry harvesters to select and bring in exceptional bushes for trial and breeding. Over the next four years, she selected and propagated the best 100 wild blueberry plants she could locate, planting them on the farm and sending specimens to Frederick Coville to continue work on breeding new and improved varieties.

In 1916, the first commercial harvest of domesticated high-bush blueberries was carried out on the White’s plantation, yielding 600 quarts of large, uniformly shaped and ripe berries. One of the original selections, the Rubel, is still widely available; Coville’s breeding created many more varieties, and the development of the blueberry continues to this day. New blueberries for the home gardener have been selected to be self fertile, to produce over a long season, and to grow in small spaces (even in containers).

Image courtesy:  http://www.scc.rutgers.edu/njwomenshistory/Period_4/white.htm