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Talking blueberries

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It's spring. Finally.

Time to push aside Robert Frost's introspective "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and pick up Ruth Krauss' ode to exuberance, "A Hole is to Dig."

These flirtatious, teaser springs we get each January are like nature movie trailers for the next season's upcoming blockbuster launch. They make me think of planting and pruning.

So that's how I ended up in the blueberry patch. Though I've planted dozens of apple, peach, pear and cherry trees over the years, it's the blueberries that took—and took over.

Blueberry bushes send out runners looking for water. With shallow root systems, the plants thrive in heavily mulched cleared areas. The slower-growing apple and cherry trees can only watch in envy.

Some folks grow blueberry hedges. They shape up real well. My bushes grow wild and free, always pushing toward open space. A few old wooden stepladders come in handy at summer's peak harvest time.

Alice Blue, Bluebell, Garden Blue, Powder Blue and Tifblue are very happy these days. They persuaded me to empty a few more bags of fall's leaves all around their perimeter. They encouraged me to prune their neighbor fruit trees with a chain saw, not little pruning shears.

"They're taking all the eastern sun," they shouted."And could you do something about all this silly honeysuckle while you're here?" Anyone who's done battle with honeysuckle vines knows just how tenacious their root systems are. Reminds me of the time I transplanted a wisteria. Never again.

The willowy and woody branches of blueberry bushes are a thicket of anticipation. Already, the tips of each twig have tiny red buds. New growth green shoots are poking their way through composting leaves. Year 'round, among all fruit, the blueberries especially show signs of life. Their bright red leaves, often the last to fall in December, provide a counterpoint to the seasonal holly bush displays. Right now they're as ready as I am for that last frost date, truthfully still a few months away.

The Alice Blue rabbiteye blueberries will ripen in mid-July. The Powder Blues wait until mid-August. I'm thinking I could probably get some hardy 3-year-old plants right now, plant them by mid-February and have fresh blueberries (with vanilla ice cream!) in six months.

I know one of the main reasons I love blueberries so much is because they're so low maintenance. Don't need to prune them, don't need to water them. My dogs and I have traveled a well-worn path hauling wagonloads of mulch to keep the blueberries cozy and rosy.

The blueberry patch—in the middle of a forest clearing, surrounded by swaying pines, with small animal paths spoking randomly in all directions—is my "eat, pray, love" zone. Just the act of walking the winding trail there is liberating enough. Looking up, looking around. It's all so basic out there. Any new green poking out of the ground? Where's the sun? Any signs of deer or rabbits? The dogs romp ahead, noses poised, eager for any engagement, well familiar with my backwoods meandering.

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