A Passion For Blueberries

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

There’s something enticing about being around enthusiastic, passionate people. It’s contagious. While I love horse manure, I have no desire to get on and ride a horse, but spend a few minutes with my neighbor Alyce in the barn saddling up for a ride and I’m tempted to strap on my chaps, grab the reins and ride into the sunset. So far I have resisted.

The first time I met Bill Kemp, I was getting some NiCad batteries from him when he was upgrading to some newer lead acid ones. I was having problems maintaining the charge on my NiCad’s and asked if he had any suggestions. This was my first exposure to someone who really “gets” the whole off-grid renewable energy thing. He drew a chart and showed me how I just wasn’t charging long enough to get the batteries up the curve so they would maintain their charge longer. Who would have ever thought that anyone could be so juiced about batteries?! Michelle and I were just about to start editing a renewable energy magazine and I knew I had to get Bill to contribute. He was so pumped about his first article that I convinced him to write “The Renewable Energy Handbook.” Ever since publishing his first book we’ve had people contact us and come up to us at shows and tell us that Bill’s enthusiasm jumps off the page. And they like it.

It’s one of the things I talk about in “Thriving During Challenging Times” as an antidote to dealing with some of the darker forecasts of the future that involve peak oil and climate change. One of the keys to happiness is to surround yourself with positive happy people, and I’ve certainly found it works.

My friend John Wilson has boundless enthusiasm for blueberries. I know what you’re thinking … spend too much time in the woods and you start losing it. In fact John has a you-pick blueberry farm and he grows amazing blueberries, and he is really stoked about them! Think of the people who wear cheese hats to Green Bay Packers games and paint themselves green — John is so enthusiastic about blueberries that I can see him wearing a blueberry hat and painting his face blue. I’m going to suggest that John do that in the next local parade.

John began planting his blueberry plants more than 20 years ago and he just enjoyed his best summer ever this year. He has “highbush blueberries” which grow quite large and produce prodigiously. Wild blueberries produce smaller berries that grow on bushes very low to the ground. He originally planted 2 acres but has scaled that back to 1 acre so that irrigation is more manageable. When we went to his blueberry patch in July the bushes were just laden with berries. We could fill a 3-quart basket just standing and picking from one plant. John’s wife, Denice, is also enthusiastic about blueberries and works side-by-side with John weeding and pruning and sharing her recipes with the folks who come to pick berries, but I sense that John was the one who started them down the “blueberries rule my life” path. Passionate people are very lucky when they can find people to share their passion with.

I admit to having been a wild blueberry snob. I always claimed that I preferred wild blueberries but I didn’t really having any experience to base this bias on. “They taste better,” was my line. But after eating John’s berries for several years now, I can tell you I was wrong. His berries are exceptional. And picking high bush berries compared to picking wild blueberries is a dream.

The rocky acidic soil around my place is great for wild blueberries. If I was so inclined, I could go out on a sunny day in July and be eaten alive by deer flies and pick for four hours, bake in the sun, and maybe end up with half a pint. Michelle and I picked blueberries at John’s place this year for a little over an hour and this is our haul. It’s unbelievable! You’ll note that I wore a blue shirt and my awesome new “blue” pants with the foam pads built into the knees. I like to pick on my knees rather than bending over the lower bushes and I might have squished a few blueberries on those pants, but you’d never notice! I’m a genius!

I love to talk to John about all things blueberries. I’m always blown away to meet someone with his sort of vision. Twenty years ago John decided he needed a retirement income so he started ordering 2-year-old bare root blueberry bushes. This was the most economical way to do it. He’d put the plants in 1 gallon black plastic pots so that he could nurture them for a few years before he put them into the ground. After he planted them, he spent many more years tending them until they started to produce a crop large enough to start selling. One of the challenges with growing blueberries is that they like a really acidic soil, which is the opposite of most plants. Most of the time when you garden you’re trying to keep your soil fairly neutral, not too acidic and not too base. Blueberries have to be acidic or they will not thrive. So for years John has been applying sulfur, and coffee grounds and mulch and anything he can find that will lower the pH. And he tests, and he weeds, and he waters with religious fervor, and he grows amazing blueberries.

His enthusiasm has rubbed off on me, and I’ve planted about eight blueberry plants, but it will take a few years before I’ll get any fruit. In the meantime, we’ll pick at John and Denice’s Fabulous you-pick patch in Tweed and we encourage everyone else to pick there too. Blueberries are insanely healthy, and whenever you see one of those lists of “The 10 superfoods you MUST eat,” blueberries are always on it because of their anti-oxidant qualities.

I’ve blogged about how we’re all getting too specialized and how I like to try to be a generalist. I’m envious of people like John who are so knowledgeable and passionate about one thing, though, and do it so exceptionally well. And I’m really only kidding when I suggest that John is one-dimensional or (in his case) blue-dimensional. He is a world-renowned cameraman who has filmed numerous nature documentaries and has toured North America presenting and lecturing on them. But I’ve only known him a short time, so to me he’s “the blueberry guy.”

I convinced John to go through my blueberry chapter in “The All You Can East Gardening Handbook” to check for accuracy, and his comments were great. Next spring I’m hoping to spend some time helping him prune his bushes so I can learn how to do that properly. I continue down my path of life-long learning on renewable energy, sustainable living and organic gardening, picking up new information all the time and surrounding myself with people who are knowledgeable and passionate. And for all things blue, I will continue to learn from the passionate blueberry man from Tweed.

Photos courtesy of John Wilson.

For more information about Cam or his books, please go to http://www.cammather.com/ or http://www.aztext.com/.