A Brief History of Blueberry Cultivation and Best Practices
Blueberries are perennial flowering plants with blue/purple-colored berries. It is native to the Americas but has found itself cultivated across the world. Their cultivation started near the 1940s, and the story of their popularity has soared. Since then, new methods of cultivation (i.e., blueberry hydroponics) are becoming more popular.
Blueberries are one of the more demanding fruits to cultivate despite being native. Some of the difficulties are yellowing leaves, stunted growth, poor quality yield, and pests. These problems can come about in a simple backyard garden. However, these problems become exacerbated in blueberry fields. The reason being is that they need specific soil and environmental requirements for growth.
A big issue that farmers run into when they cultivate in fields is soil conditions that often vary greatly. Blueberries are sensitive to the earth because of nutrient antagonisms, unbalanced adverse conditions, obstructed irrigation water systems, aeration, and physiological water availability. By requiring specific climate, soil, and water levels for high yields, they can take up to 4 years to grow into maturity.
Blueberry productive growth cycle conditions:
- Slightly acidic soil, pH of 4.0 – 5.5, don’t tolerate high pH
- Moderate amounts of moisture
- Good Drainage
- Low absorption capacity from the fibrous roots, acid reaction
- Ample organic matter
- High aeration capacity
- Soil texture homogeneity
Farmers have the option to invest in their soil by acidifying it with sulfurs or phosphates to ensure blueberry growth—a viable option in California, where the soil averages between 5 to 8.5. If the investment to optimize soil conditions for blueberries is high, the opportunity to grow using hydroponic techniques is worthwhile.
Hydroponic cultivation has been around for a while. Initially, it alleviated the difficulty of controlling pests, climate and extend the growing season. The hydroponic method is one of the greatest assets to blueberry farmers, and it seems to be becoming one of the best ways to grow quality berries productively.
Hydroponics is horticulture that uses a soil alternative (growing medium or water solution) instead of soil. Blueberry hydroponics typically places blueberry crops in open fields with a controlled medium (a pot with coco peat, sphagnum, or perlite). The small environment allows for a controlled ecosystem where a nutrient and water system administers nutrition and water levels—effectively solving all the issues that arise from traditional cultivation.
One of the benefits of cultivating blueberries through hydroponics is that it is not dependent on location. You only need a large flat area to produce. Secondly, farmers can better monitor and treat blueberries’ batches through a water and nutrient supply system. Thirdly, the preciseness of the system makes for better quality products and higher yields. Fourthly, when grown potted, blueberries can develop faster. The reason behind it is that blueberries’ roots are fragile, and when grown on a substrate, they can expand effortlessly. The pot also serves as a small ecosystem that receives equal amounts of fertilizer and nutrition.
However, a hydroponic system can only be as beneficial as the monitoring nutrition technique and the nutritional product you are using.
The Crop Nutritional Monitoring System
AGQ Labs is no stranger to helping our blueberry partners build and grow their crop and blueberry hydroponic production. As well as improve product quality and size, optimize fertilizer and water usage, and control salinity and nutrient leaching. Without control, it would contribute to a financial loss and future financial risk when environmental laws sharpen. Since blueberries are among the more difficult fruits to grow, farmers and agronomists pursue finding better solutions. One of those solutions is the Crop Nutritional Monitoring system (CNM).
We have developed an internal proprietary procedure for crop nutritional monitoring and control based on the analysis of soil solutions extracted by AGQ Labs’ patented suction lysimeter probes. AGQ Labs’ Crop Nutritional Monitoring Program establishes its foundation on the comprehensive control of the Soil-Plant-Water system. The lysimeter probes can be considered artificial roots that mimic real-time uptake. The real-time imitation gathers data that would otherwise need to be replicated in a lab days later through traditional soil testing (drying, grinding, and rehydration).
Throughout the campaign, we monitor the water and nutrient uptake of the harvest and advise our clients on adjusting their irrigation and fertilizers to the optimal level. This type of control also allows AGQ Labs’ clients to follow sustainable agricultural practices as a result of:
- Minimal environmental impact
- Increased nutritional efficiency
- Optimized fertilizer irrigation
- Decreased leaching
- Higher quality yield
- Significant fertilizer cost savings
- Increased productivity and performance
- Faster detection and control of toxicity
- Nitrate leaching control
- Data development for research and investigation
Blueberry Hydroponics Nutrient Substrates
After using the CNM, clients have various options to fix and optimize their blueberry hydroponic system. Some popular solutions are substrates (an underlying substance or layer), coconut fiber, Sphagnum blonde peat, or perlite. One way that blueberry crops can be grown at optimum levels is through substrates. A material that living things use to obtain their nourishment.
Coconut fibers are vital substrates for blueberry hydroponics because they aid in water retention, nutrient availability, infiltration rate, and as a potassium source.
- pH Range: 4.0 – 7.0
- Electrical Conductivity: .1 – 6.0 dS/m
- Organic Matter: 85% – 95%
- Cation Exchange Capacity: 20 – 30 meq/L
- Total Porosity: > 80% (high aeriation)
- Hydraulic Conductivity: High
- Density: 50 – 100 kg of dry matter per m3
Sphagnum blonde peat is the second substrate that functions as a conduit for handling.
Sphagnum comes from a variety of old decomposed moss that died and flooded. One of the main reasons for its usage in horticulture originates from its properties to sustain nutrient uptake through the root system. Its primary use stems from horticulture because of its excellent water retention.
- pH Range: 3 – 3.92
- Electrical Conductivity: .1 – .2
- Organic Material: 80%-98%
- Cation Exchange Capacity: 100-120 meq / 100g
- Total Porosity: > 60% (average aeration)
- Hydraulic Conductivity: High
- Density: 207 kg/m³
Perlite is a rapidly cooled volcanic rock with numerous indentations and closed pores that retain water as an inert material that does not decompose. It does not contain microorganisms because it is sterile by the procurement process. Its primary use is to aerate the plants as an alternative to soil.
- pH Range: neutral (6.5 – 7.2)
- Electrical Conductivity: very low (.01 – .12 dS/m)
- Cation Exchange Capacity: 1.5 meq / 100g
- Total Porosity: > 75% (average aeration)
- Hydraulic Conductivity: moderate
- Density: 30–150 kg/m3
- Water retention: dependent on size
- Aeration capacity: 0 – 70%
- Water content: 0 – 45%
All in all, blueberries remain a sensitive crop to grow. It requires extra care and attention whether growers choose to grow using hydroponic cultivation. With the help of hydroponics, blueberries have a significantly higher chance of growing strong and healthy. Additionally, growers who add a crop nutritional monitoring system increase their chances of a consistent large-quality yield.