A Very Berry Bird Backyard

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's a backyard built for the Birds -- and those thieving robins will thank us with even more thievery in the coming years.


We've planted more "Bird food" as evidenced by the photo to your immediate right. That my friends -- is a bare root blueberry bush purchased not all that long ago from the endless garden aisles at Home Depot.

This Southern Highbush variety Blueberry known as "Misty" has two other friends planted nearby called "Sharp Blue." And they are the latest entrants into the Backyard of Bird.

Venus and I didn't let the past weekend go to waste. While snow has buried vast areas of the country -- Mother Nature blessed us with two days of abundant sunshine and moderately warm weather.

While it wasn't quite enough to completely dry out the mudpit that is our current backyard status -- it firmed up enough to get some much needed work done. The clock is ticking on bare root season folks. The new fruit and berry additions to the Back 40 go in now -- or you face the prospect of paying top dollar later this spring and summer or -- worse yet -- waiting for Bare Root Season 2011.

The first project? Find a home for the two Black Satin Thornless Blackberries and one Thornless Boysenberry that I ordered through Bay Laurel Nursery earlier this winter. I had the spot picked out -- but I needed to do more than just "dig and plant."

Nope -- it's got to look "the part." I'm snobby that way. Plus -- it's got to be irrigated. I can't be dragging a hose or watering can all over the yard this spring and summer. What does this mean? It means a small profit for the Man's Toy Store that is Home Depot -- lots of screws -- quite a bit of clay mud (a great leveling tool), straps to hold everything together, a big pile of drip tubing and some well amended compost for the bed itself.

I don't want just any old blackberry. I want Monster Berries. Since I've yet to fail with any gardening item planted in a raised bed -- I'm hopeful we'll have a mass of berries to harvest in another year or three. The hard work won't pay off with a harvest this summer, but next year and the year after? Time will tell.

I got hooked on the Black Satin Blackberries after spotting a blackberry bush in the backyard belonging to South Natomas Gardener Extraodinaire Nels Christenson. Did I say "spot?" Attack would be a more appropriate word here. After all -- it did take a crowbar and quite a bit of pressure for Nels to pry me off the thing.

My one memory of that event? Man -- those were some mighty good berries. The bruises from the crowbar have long since faded.

The berry culture has come quite a long way since I grew boysenberries as a kid growing up in Modesto. Back then? Blueberries didn't grow on the West Coast. That was an "East Coast thing," according my mom. Boysenberries did grow well here -- but I soon discovered they had thorns. Not just any thorns either -- but thorns that produced ear piercing screams of pain from a young boy who really didn't know any better.

It didn't take long before I avoided that bush like the plague. Hey, I liked boysenberries -- but nobody told me about those THORNS FROM HELL. I think I eventually took the thing out with a flamethrower. My first experience with the berry business was a bitter and painful disappointment. But -- I digress.

Fast foward from the Sluggish Seventies to the New Century -- and breeders have taken over with advanced versions of your favorite berries -- minus the thorns. Not only that -- but that "Blueberries only do well on the East Coast" argument -- has also gone by the wayside.

Suffice to say -- these are not your "mom's blueberries." The Southern Highbush varieties are a relatively new entry into the blueberry market. Derived from the Northern Highbush varieties that did not produce anywhere outside of the State of Maine (OK -- that's just a little joke) -- the Southern Highbush has been hybridized to where it will perform -- and perform well in Central California climates. Further hybridization has led to more than a handful of different types like "Sharp Blue" and "Misty." But there are many others.

Why are we planting Blueberries? Because we can. Where are we planting them? Underneath the stone fruit trees. What? Who said you can do that? Blame Ken Menzer. The Folsom City Arborist not only told us we could do it during a recent Orchard Management class -- he actually commented it was "beneficial" to both stonefruit and berry bush.

Well -- we have lots of room underneath our two peach trees and two cherry trees...And Ken Menzer not only said we could do it -- he all but reccommended it...

Nuff said. Berry madness has officially taken over...

Venus and I worked as a madcap team during the bare root planting effort this past weekend. I would mix together yards of compost and steer manure fertilizer -- drop them at the base of the fruit trees in question -- and Venus would shape those piles into half moons and plant bare root blueberry bushes and strawberry plant starters.

The last step? Irrigation. The new beds are irrigated. They are planted. The weekend planting effort resulted in the planting of four blueberry bushes -- two strawberry plant starters -- two thornless blackberry bushes -- one thornless boysenberry (thank God) -- a Flavor Finale Pluot tree and yet another Improved Meyer Lemon for our "citrus patch."

Are we done yet? Hardly kids. Scratch another item off the long list of "things to do." But there's still more adventure to come. Bare Root season is just getting started...


Brown Thumb Mama said...

Hmmm...blueberry pancakes sound mighty tempting. Might have to get a few ourselves!

Anonymous said...

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Daffodil Planter said...

Go Bill and Venus! Looks fantastic.

Fred Hoffman said...

What is the pH of the soil where you planted the blueberries? If it is above 6, you may have poor production. This is why blueberry planting around here is recommended for containers, where you can control the pH. More info here:

Bill Bird said...


I saw that article from Don Shor regarding soil pH -- but he did also mention that the Davis area is fed by well water -- and this affected soil pH. If I'm not mistaken, the water pumped into the North Natomas storage tanks is straight from the river. But I could also be wrong. My guess is the soil pH of the existing clay soil isnt' going to measure up, which means I will have to amend. Don't worry. I'll keep track of it.


Fred Hoffman said...

Bill, there is little correlation between soil type (clay, loam, sand) and soil pH. It's the other stuff in it that determines the pH. Clay soils can be alkaline; clay soils can be neutral; clay soils can be acidic. The only way you know for sure: test your soil. pH test kits are inexpensive and available at any nursery or hardware store.
Please read this info on growing blueberries in the Sacramento area, prepared by the University of California: http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/filelibrary/5842/25993.pdf

Fred Hoffman said...

That link for growing blueberries... again:

Fred Hoffman said...

I am not sure why the link keeps dropping the last letter, the "f" on "pdf".

Veg Growing said...

Carry on Venus, you will get the success in preparing the veg plants...

SacVolleyball.com said...

Hi Bill, I planted Triple Crown thornless blackberries about 4 years ago and they are THRIVING over here in Orangevale. I started with two plants and they have re-rooted all over the fence line I planted them. They are bout 8 feet tall and probably 20 feet wide right now. Let's just say that I have plenty of blackberries in the freezer to this day. Seems to supply me with year round blackberries, and plenty of cuttings or rooted plants to anyone who needs them. (they root when the tips hit the ground). My only advice is to keep the canes clean. I let mine just go because I wanted as much as possible and it's a little sloppy now. I will go in soon and cut out old canes and move the new canes into more of a formal position. :)

Nels said...

Come see me for bird netting when you finally have a blueberry crop to harvest.