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July 9, 2008 > Garden Column

Garden Column

The $64 Blueberry

By Pat Kite

Today I ate a $64 blueberry. Are you aghast? Don't be. My blueberry wasn't from some posh restaurant. Nor was I at a fancy estate caviar and rare fruit sipping. Instead I stood in the weed-festooned quadrant of my own side yard, summer sun dappling, while I gently, bated breath from anticipation, picked my very first home blueberry.

I admired it for a while then ate the berry very slowly, letting it linger in my mouth. It was tart and sweet, slightly crispy outside and juicy inside, and absolutely delicious. But why was it a $64 blueberry? Well, it's a story.

Many years ago, I was a guest speaker at a Highlights for Children writing conference. As part of hospitality, Dr. Kent Brown, father of Highlights editor Kent Brown, Jr., proudly took us on a tour of his blueberry garden. He encouraged us to pick blueberries, and eat them right there, summer sun dappling. Up until then, all blueberries in my life had come from the supermarket. Supermarket blueberries are o.k. At least they were o.k. until I had a fresh blueberry picked from the bush. Right then and there, I became determined to grow my own blueberries. Easier said than done. Textbooks state: "The best plants are grown on soil that has met three major requirements." Soil must be acid and fertile, have a lot of organic matter, and excellent drainage.

We are all familiar with local soil conditions, so I won't belabor that topic. I tried, at $15 a purchased blueberry pot, to succeed. I dug in quality organic matter at $5 a bag. I bought acid-based fertilizer at $8 a box. I watered diligently. The plants seemed to plan their own funeral from the get-go. For a while I gave up. Then Carol, one of my long-ago Ohlone journalism students, showed me her thriving blueberry bush. I tried again. More organic matter, more specialty fertilizer... another farewell requiem. Onward. I gave up again.

Then I attended a fundraising dinner for LOV Newark. Of course, I always bid on silent auction stuff. This time I got a pretty plant-laden basket donated by Pat Danielson. In it was a $30 gift card from a local nursery. A gift card from a nursery is like manna from heaven to a garden nutto. So many choices. What would I buy?

Yes, two blueberry bushes, since apparently some cross-pollination ritual makes them happier. The only place for eventual 6-foot high bushes was my weedy side yard next to fence cover roses. I dug in enough coffee grounds to give earthworms a caffeine jump. I bought more acid-base fertilizer. I watered. I sang, "Here we go round the mulberry bush," there being no blueberry-specific songs. And so, after several decades of trying, this summer I succeeded. As I add up all the costs, I think I spent more than $64 for that first blueberry. But there are some little things in life that make us quite happy, yes indeedy.

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