Matt and I planted a lot of blueberries when we first started out up here on the mountain. Some were just sticks while others were more substantial plants in pots when we planted them on our land.
Now we have about 25 bushes of varying sizes and they are producing and abundance of fruit. Some of the bushes are not the originals we planted because we made the mistake of buying blueberry bushes from Lowes and Tractor Supply. The berry bushes that are in pots are okay but the bushes that come with a plastic bag covering the roots and packed in peat moss have a very high failure rate. When we bought the $5 bagged varieties we had a 50% loss within the first year. It is best to spend more for potted bushes.
Some of our bushes have a good story behind them. When Matt was growing up, him and his parents lived out in the country and had blueberry bushes. When they moved to town they dug some of them up and brought them with them where they are now flourishing.
Blueberries send up new shoots that you can dig and propagate. This makes them easy and inexpensive to spread around your place if you have a little patience.
After Matt and I moved to our property they gave us some starts off those plants. It is neat to think about how those original bushes have provided for the family over the years.
Blueberries are very easy to grow and you get a good return on them.
I bet a lot of the folks reading this have noticed how expensive blueberries are at the grocery store. The reason for this comes down to work. Unlike a lot of fruits, blueberries have to be picked by hand because they do not all ripen evenly and at the same time. Picking them yourself of course does take time but it is enjoyable work and gives you some time to gather your thoughts.
Blueberry bushes can be grown in containers or used to create beautiful edible landscaping as well. Insects can be a problem but they can be managed with organic pest control sprays like neem oil or pyrethrum if the problem is really bad. You just need to be sure to rinse berries well before preserving them or eating them.
The length and time of blueberry season depends on your region and the varieties you plant.
We have to pick blueberries every few days during the season. Some varieties ripen at different times and produce different size berries. If you want to get all your fruit at once then get bushes that ripen at the same time. If you are like us and like to get fruit a bit at a time, then plant varieties that bear all season or plant a few bushes that are early ripeners and a few late bearing bushes.
Matt and I picked these on July 18 so today I made two recipes of jam using Mrs. Wages Fruit Pectin. This pectin is available at any grocery store. I recommend buying pectin when on sale because at brick and mortar stores it can be twice as costly when not on sale.
If you plan on doing a lot of jams and jellies, I recommend buying pectin in bulk. I just ordered a 2 lb bag of Hoosier Hill Fruit Pectin today to save some money and avoid a ton of paper waste.
I used a blender to save some work and get a consistent result.
The Mrs. Wages pectin said to use 4 cups of smashed up blueberries to make jam. I washed and added blueberries to my blender and used the frozen drink blender setting to puree the berries. I was not sure how many berries would be needed to get 4 cups of puree so I just added and blended a few times until I got where I needed to be.
Next, the puree was added to a thick bottomed soup pot and I mixed in a single package of pectin. The directions called for 2 tbsp of lemon juice as well so that was added and mixed in. Some fruit jams and jellies call for lemon juice to be added and some do not so always check the directions.
You need to have the sugar measured out so you can add it quickly at the right time. I just used my blender again to avoid dirtying a measuring cup. I added just a little extra to account for what sugar stuck to the sides of the blender.
It is important to bring the fruit, pectin, and lemon juice to a consistent rolling boil without it sticking or scorching. You need to be right there to prevent this from happening. It is easy to get distracted if you are doing too many things at once.
Once the fruit, pectin, and lemon juice are boiling, add all the sugar at once. In the case of blueberries, the directions call for 5 cups of sugar. Stir rapidly until it is dissolved.
Bring the jam to a rolling boil while stirring constantly. When you cannot stir it enough to stop the boil, time 1 minute and then turn off the heat. It can be tempting to cook it longer but you can actually prevent your jam from setting up properly if you overcook the pectin.
Skim off the foam that rises and set aside to eat on toast or pancakes later on. We made some toast since it was early in the morning when I made the jam.
I poured the jam into clean mason jars and left a very small head space. You only want to leave 1/4 inch or less. Previously I had boiled lids and rings. It is important to wipe the rim and anywhere the ring and lid touches so that there is not jam drips that may interfere with the jar sealing.
I used a hot water bath canner to process the jam for 8 minutes. You can use any big pot that is large enough that you can fill it with water so that it covers your jar lids. There are steam canners out there too.
I have success using a big pot with a lid and boiling for about 8 minutes with water that is just a few inches below the jar ring. That is not the canning pro recommended way but it seems to work like an expensive steam canner and I have not had any spoilage issues.
Jam Making Tips
Always follow the directions on the pectin you buy.
It may seem like it would be faster and work out better to do a lot of jam in a huge pot and get it all done at once but in my experience it doesn’t work out that well and takes just as long as doing a few small batches. Packages of pectin come with directions to make sure your jam and jelly sets up good and doesn’t stay runny.
If you want to do two batches at once then use two different pots and stay at the stove the whole time so you can keep them stirred. It is always heartbreaking to work hard to grow and process fruit and then burn it due to distractions.
Either use the full amount of sugar or use pectin made for sugar free recipes.
Reducing sugar will result in jam and jelly that is runny. It may seem like you are using a lot and there may be a temptation to reduce the sugar slightly but do not do it. If you don’t want to have a lot of sugar then buy the right pectin so you get good results.
Buy sugar in big bags unless small ones are on sale.
It takes a lot of sugar to make traditional jams and jellies. Sometimes it is a better deal to buy the 4 lb bags if there is a good sale but usually you are better off buying 10 lb bags or larger.
A few years back they started selling sugar in 4 lb bags instead of 5 lb and the price remained the same. It was a way to keep the shelf price the same but charge more at the same time. I think they hoped people would not notice, but those that prep or can a lot at home were not fooled for a second.
Replacement canning jar lids and rings have went up a lot in price this year so shop wisely.
For some reason the replacement lids and rings for canning jars are a lot higher than they were in the past. Today I looked and I can get a dozen new quart or pint canning jars for $8-$10 including the lids and rings but if I want just the lids and no rings, it is more than $2! If you find a deal on replacement lids and rings, buy some extra and put them back in your preps.
Freeze fruit in season and make jam or jelly when you have the time.
If you have a little bit of freezer space you can freeze fruit and make jam later on when you have some extra time. Some people freeze fruit and then make jam and jelly in the fall and winter when they are stuck inside or doing holiday cooking.
Future Jam and Jelly Projects
We have a lot of lamb in the freezer so I want to make some traditional mint jelly for serving with leg of lamb this winter. Unfortunately I have waited so long to make mint jam that I am not sure of the quality of the wild mint we have growing around our place. If the quality is not so great I will use organic dried peppermint leaves I have on hand for making tea.
The wild blackberry crop was good this year so I may use some of what we have frozen to make jam later on. When they were coming in heavy I just didn’t find the time.
Do you make jam and jelly at home? What is your favorite type? In the past I have had good luck making blueberry-peach jam! What fruit combinations have you found that work well?