The mystery of the birdless blueberries

Some day I would like to have a well-built blueberry cage (like Kent’s) to grow many bushes in protected conditions.  For now, however, what I have is three bushes (with a fourth coming along) that are part of my landscaping in the front yard (next to the bed of Hemerocallis fulva, common orange daylily, that I inherited from the former owners).  Blueberries make excellent landscape plants, with their pretty flowers, clusters of berries in season, and glossy leaves that turn red in fall.

“But what about the birds?” people ask me.  I shrug and say that they get some of mine, but I still harvest plenty, and I’m not sure why (because everyone else with unprotected bushes seems to end up with no berries).  I’m still not quite sure why I manage to harvest most of my blueberry crop, but this weird year where everything came early has given me a clue.

Usually my berries start to ripen by the end of the first week of June.  This year, they were three weeks early, and I’ve been harvesting since mid-May.  I have three different varieties (some blueberry plants are self-pollinating, but most require another variety for pollination and therefore fruit).  Mine are Ivanhoe, Herbert, and Atlantic (they came as a set) and they usually ripen in that order.  Ivanhoe ripens very early compared to many blueberries; that’s where I get the early June/mid-May berries.  I’ve always been able to harvest most of the Ivanhoes (I do see the birds visit the plant, but they don’t seem to take much), and most of the Herberts, but few of the Atlantics, because by the time they ripen the birds are actively stealing.  (I’m sure they don’t regard it as stealing; in fact they seem sure I’m stealing from them.)  This year, I’ve been harvesting Atlantics for a couple of weeks, and it wasn’t until yesterday that I went out to harvest and found practically no ripe berries left, though plenty of unripe ones still hanging.

So my theory is that birds don’t start eating blueberries in large numbers until mid-June, and the early season this year didn’t affect that behavior, though it did affect berry ripening.  It may only be my local birds that are so particular; I can’t promise that if you plant blueberry varieties labeled as early you’ll get more fruit, but it’s possible.

Other small fruits now available in my yard: black raspberries (birds eat these too, but I get plenty); Alpine strawberries (inside the vegetable garden fence, so not eaten by squirrels and rabbits, and the birds don’t seem to notice them, especially the yellow ones); and tiny kolomikta or Siberian kiwi, just starting to ripen.  I may get a couple dozen fruits off my one female vine this year.  The male is more vigorous, not needing to make fruit, and has interesting variegated green/pink/white leaves.  I am adding another female this fall.  I don’t think the birds notice the kiwis (don’t tell them!).

We’re starting another hardy kiwi variety (Issai, a self-pollinating arguta type) at the demo garden this year.  I hope it does well!

2 Comments on “The mystery of the birdless blueberries

  1. I absolutely LOVE figs. Jon just shared some cuttings of his fig with me. I don't know where to plant them. Do you have any? Do you have problems with birds or deer eating them? I think they wouldn't be as attractive in my ornamental beds as blueberries since the get so large and need winter protection.

  2. I just have a little fig that has many years to go before it's full size and probably another year or two before it starts fruiting. Deer are not supposed to eat fig leaves, but one did chew on mine last fall, and then a rabbit chewed the bark off the trunk. The fig is still alive, but much smaller than it should be.

    I've heard from friends with fig trees that squirrels eat the fruit.

    Plant it in full sun and protected from wind, and it shouldn't need winter protection after a few years. Mine is sheltered and I didn't wrap it its first winter – last winter I did because of the varmints. I think they're attractive trees, but they do get big.

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