Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the energy required to sustain our food system. It is no secret that in the United States—and much of the world—the food system is predicated on the ability to use cheap energy to move foodstuffs over vast distances. In Iowa, where I live, it is estimated that the average carrot has travelled 1,600 miles to reach the produce section of the grocery store. This is unbelievable considering that Iowa is considered such an agricultural powerhouse yet cannot provide its own residents with a carrot.
With a gallon of gas spending much of the late spring and early summer tickling $4 a gallon here and higher elsewhere I have begun to believe that the resiliency of our food system is nil. So, I asked myself how I could incorporate as much food production into my landscape as possible. I was inspired by the ideas of permacutlture laid out by the Transition Town movement.
Blueberries seemed like a logical starting point. The plants themselves are attractive with white flowers in the spring and foliage that turns red in the fall. Furthermore, blueberries are native to North America. This is not some import that will require a lot of maintenance to keep alive and productive. My three-year-old daughter is a blueberry fanatic as well. She has been known to eat a pint of the berries in one sitting if no one stops her in time.
The house that I moved into in November was devoid of any landscaping, but was edged on all four sides with beds. It was a blank canvas. The west facing side of the house seemed perfect for a double row of blueberry bushes:
Armed with a pseudo-plan I went to the local nursery in search of plants. The variety of blueberry bushes was astounding. In the end, after much dithering, I ended up with a relatively normal selection of plants until my three-year old daughter discovered the Holy Grail of fruit—a pink blueberry plant. Note to parents: if your child loves the color pink and blueberries, do not take them to the nursery this year. Apparently, the Pink Lemonade blueberry is a hot new item.
As plans change on the whims of a child, I purchased a total of seven plants—3 Elliot, 2 Pink Lemonade, 1 Northland, and 1 Blue Crop.
In less than two hours the plants were in the ground and watered for the first time. Blueberries like acidic soil, being somewhat diva-esque, so a handful or more of used coffee grounds was incorporated into each plant’s hole along with a standard mix of black dirt, compost, and peat moss. The one thing that I do make a lot of at home is used coffee grounds.
During the first year it is suggested to pinch off any flowers so that the plant’s energy is directed toward growth rather than fruit. It is tedious, but if it is a nice day there is little to discourage a person from doing the job.
By June 16th the plants appear to have taken hold and look like this:
Next year I should be eating a lot of local blueberries.