Hydroponic Blueberries

Techniques to Growing Blueberries Hydroponically

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Cyanococcus     Light-12-16 Hrs. Daily     Solution pH: 4.5 to 5.8


Basically, any fruit can be grown with a hydroponic system, the trick lies in doing it cost effectively.

Some varieties will naturally lend themselves better to a hydroponic scenario. Fruits that typically thrive in moist and wet conditions generally fare better, blueberries are one of these.

Blueberries, which require very acidic conditions when grown in soil have little different requirements when grown in a hydroponic solution.

Blueberries can produce well in hydroponic systems, they are not however without their drawbacks.

Quick Facts

pH for Hydroponic Blueberries should be 4.5 to 5.8

Temperature should be kept between 72F and 76F

12-16 hours of light daily optimal - but a minimum of 8 hrs.

Planting blueberry plants from seed is not feasible. Transplants are recommended.

Optimal humidity range should be 65% -75%

Harvest 12 months/year is possible with staggered growth cycles.












Nutrients


Blueberries are distinct among fruit crops in some of their requirements. They require a low pH - acidic conditions and will not grow under alkaline conditions.

Blueberries are impossible to grow in conventional soil gardens with an alkaline pH regardless of the soil amendments added. In hydroponics this is easier to control than blueberries grown in soil, but does require diligence.

pH ... Keep in mind that the requirements of Soil ph is not the requirements of Hydroponics pH


Do not confuse Hydroponic ph and Soil pH. Optimal pH for a standard nutrient solutions is between 5.5-6.0, although most plants can still survive in an environment with a pH of between 5.0 and 7.5. If your nutrient solution or growing medium is too alkaline or too acidic many of the vital Hydroponic Nutrients will be wasted , un-absorbed by the plant. Blueberries MUST be kept at a Ph of 4.5 to 5.8 and 1260-1360ppm.



Nutrients - Sulfur

Blueberry plants use high amounts of sulfur, which is generally not lacking in a hydroponic system for normal plants, but blueberries are not normal plants, they require elevated sulfur levels. The normal range of sulfur in the initial water is anywhere from 10 to 80 Parts per Million [ppm], more comes with standard nutrient formulas. However blueberries frequently require more than standard formulas can furnish. Adding sulfur to the solution for blueberry plants can be problematic as sulfur is not water soluble.

Signs of nutrient deficiency are the yellowing of the leaves and veins. Leaf tips will frequently yellow and curl downwards. A uniform pale green yellowish chlorosis throughout the entire plant. The younger leaves generally appear paler much earlier than the mature foliage. Stunted growth, less branching are other symptoms.

Sulfur Prills Sulfur Prills for Blueberry Hydroponics commonly used in a sulfur evaporating system are one method of adding much needed sulfur to blueberry plants, another method sometimes used is sulfate salts of other major nutrient elements, in particular magnesium and potassium -Magnesium SulfateMagnesium Sulfate hydroponic blueberries or Potassium Sulfate. Epsom salts are recommended for use on blueberry plants grown in soil, in a hydroponic system it is not useful and will in all likelihood foul up your nutrient solution big time.

Another method I've experimented with, that seems to be working, is companion planting blueberries with Garlic. Garlic accumulates sulfur, and some is released in the solution which is readily absorbed by the blueberry plants. It's not a quick fix, but is helpful in the long run.

Growth Technique and Conditions

The berries that I grow, I frequently put into inexpensive poly bags ~ Grow Bags ~ with a mix of Perlite and vermiculite, 70% Perlite 30% Vermiculite. Perlite does not retain much water, it draws it up via transpirational pull, Vermiculite retains too much water - with Blueberries and other berry crops ,you want to avoid too much moisture near the root base for extended periods due to the high susceptibility to root rot. A blend of these 2 mediums seems to do the trick

Although the perlite vermiculite blend is best - other mediums such as expanded clay will also suffice.

A drip system is best, and any surplus solution that drains from the bags goes directly into a waste receptacle which gets reused for one cycle, and one cycle only, and then goes onto my outdoor compost. I find this much more time efficient than endeavoring to constantly maintain nutrient levels.

Specific plant requirements will vary slightly from one variety of blueberry to another. The amount of light and nutrients for example - but in general most blueberry cultivars have similar needs.

Grow Bags for Hydroponic blueberries

It is best to plant at least 2 or more plants of each variety you choose.

Staggered ripening intervals can also be advantageous if wish to harvest continuously.

Blueberry plants take 3-5 years to get established and bear good yields, don't expect much of a harvest - if any at all - the first annual cycle - by the second you should start getting a very modest amount.

Light

The best option for lighting is a High Intensity Discharge lamp,[HID] fixture. They are among the most intense and most closely simulate sunlight. Fluorescent fixtures will suffice with decreased yields.LED Lights will also work , they are not as good as the HID, but tend to be more cost effective. You may also want to consider using Mylar Reflective Film to optimize your use of available light to the plant.

12 -16 hours of light daily is best , the more light the better, but never 24/7. Like all plants they do require several hours of darkness in each daily cycle.

See: Grow Lights

In a conventional garden, blueberries need a growing season of around 140 days. In a hydroponic setting this time can be shortened - depending on the conditions you provide, to allot for multiple harvests. However keep in mind that any blueberry plant grown hydroponically should be placed into a simulated winter for at least a month annually.



Dormancy and Pruning

Dormancy in blueberries can be averted, however,they require a cold season in order to adequately set fruit. Basically , there is little chance of harvesting from any single blueberry plant year round - which is another reason to have several. Averting dormancy in blueberry plants will lead to a plant that grows lush vegetation but no or very little fruit.

Blueberry plants grown indoors need to pruned , even more so than those grown outdoors. Pruning blueberry bushes improves the quantity and quality of yields. Remove any dead wood, discolored and excessive low growth (about 1/3 off your plant should be pruned away each year) . Proper pruning practices contribute significantly to consistent production, high yields, and fruit of good quality and helps to ensure a long life for the planting.

berry and foilage buds on a blueberry plant

Early Pruning

Remove any flowers/ Berry buds the first year to divert energy and nutrients to foliage. This may be a difficult thing to do , knowing that those flowers will yield the delicious blueberries that you crave, but it is necessary to ensure an abundant crop and healthy plants in the coming seasons.

Pollination

Hand pollination is time consuming and labor intensive, but Blueberries can't be adequately pollinated by simply shaking the plants. If you have a location such as a greenhouse, garage or shed where you don't mind letting bees and other pollinators in - go for it ! If not you will need to hand pollinate See Indoor Pollination

Avoiding Root Rot

1. If transplanting from soil to a hydroponic system be sure to remove all soil residue off the root-ball without saturating the roots. Try not to let the roots dry out in the hardening and transplanting process. The plants energy is stored in the root system so be sure to do as little damage as feasible when transplanting.

2. Hydroponic Root Health supplements will help to eradicate Root rot , so will horticultural peroxide. The least expensive route is common household bleach. Add 5 - 7 drops per Gallon of water twice weekly. Chlorine will naturally dissipate in water so it should be added every 3 -4 days or 'twice weekly'.

If you prefer to stick with an organic method Beneficial microbes / Beneficial bacteria have been reported to be successful. Most commonly Mycorrhizae, which are beneficial fungi that penetrate the root systems of most plants in nature. They are helpful in providing improved uptake of water and nutrients from the growing media. They also help protect the roots from harmful pathogens and disease.

Trichoderma is a beneficial fungus that colonizes root systems. They prevent harmful fungi from entering the same root system, stimulate root development, and improve the plant's adaptability to environmental stress.


 

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