Growing Hydroponic Blueberries – a Full Guide

Introduction to growing Hydroponic Blueberries

Blueberry plants are perennial flowering plants with blue or purple berries. Blueberry fruits are a good source of manganese and vitamins C and K1. Blueberries perform best under the hydroponics system because acidic soil requirements are best suited to Blueberries and be grown under the hydroponic system as pH and nutrient content are easily controlled and maintained in a hydroponics system. Growing Blueberries with a hydroponic system allows an increase in the cultivation density of plants, a greater rootedness and growth, and better control on factors of growth such as water and nutrition. Dwarf Blueberry cultivars, which have been bred to grow in containers, are now widely obtainable and can produce high yields of good quality fruit. Dwarf Blueberry varieties grow to around 2 to 3 feet in height and can be pruned to control size. For those with limited space, dwarf Blueberries are the most suitable crop as raspberry canes need more vertical space to develop and leaf out. In this article we also discussed the following topics;

  • Hydroponic Blueberry growing conditions
  • Hydroponic Blueberry nutrient requirements
  • How do you prune a hydroponic plants
  • Hydroponic lighting requirements
  • Hydroponic Blueberry growing medium

A step by step guide to growing Hydroponic Blueberries

Conditions required for Blueberries growing Hydroponically

Light-12 to 16 Hours daily

Solution pH level – 4.5 to 5.8

PPM – 1260-1360

The temperature level should be kept between 22 and 24°C.

Any fruit can be grown with a hydroponic, the trick lies in doing it cost-effectively. Some plant varieties will naturally lend themselves better to a hydroponic scenario. Fruits that thrive in moist and wet conditions generally fare better, Blueberries are one of these.

Blueberries, which need very acidic conditions when grown in soil, have little different requirements when grown in a hydroponic solution. Blueberries can produce well in hydroponic systems and they are not however without their drawbacks.

The main advantage of growing Blueberries using hydroponics can raise yields by 50% in the first year already compared to soil cultivation. During the first year of fruiting, the Blueberry hydroponic plantation yields a yield of 15 tonnes/hectare compared to a maximum of 10 tonnes/hectare when grown in soil.

NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) system for growing Hydroponic Blueberries

Blueberry fruit a great fruit high in vitamins for your meal, can be grown well in Hydroponics. This Blueberry plant takes longer to bear fruits than strawberries, often until the second year. They are grown in an NFT hydroponic system. It’s hard to plant Blueberries from seeds, so transplants are recommended.

The nutrient film technique uses a water-nutrient solution that constantly flows in a loop from a reservoir through a growing tray, where roots are suspended in air and absorb nutrients as the solution flows by. This NFT system makes the ebb and flow system a continuously flowing system, never taking periodic breaks.

Set Up the Water Reservoir and Aeration

The reservoir is located directly below the flood tray’s stand with the water and nutrients. Then, you will add an aeration bubbler in the reservoir to oxygenate the water.

Connect the Fill Tube, Drain Tube, and Pump

Connect the reservoir to the tray by a fill tube and a drain tube. Fill tube attaches to a submersible pump, and which controls the flow of water up into the flood tray. The drain tube allows gravity to pull the water back into the water reservoir after flooding so that the water can be reused. Unlike the ebb and flow methods, you do not require a timer, since it is continuously pumping the water.

Set up the Growing Tray

Instead of a flat tray, this system uses tubes or channels for the grow tray. This tubing makes it easier to set it at an angle and to make sure that the nutrient solution flows directly to the plant roots. Then, you can use a round tube or PVC pipe with holes drilled to fit the net pots or seedlings.

Set up a Light Fixture if Necessary

If using natural light, skip this step. Otherwise, set up a light fixture above the tray. If using incandescent light bulbs, set it 24 inches from the plants. LED and fluorescent lights are not as hot and place them 6 and 12 inches, respectively, from the plants.

Factors affecting growing Hydroponic Blueberries

The most important factors affecting cultivation in hydroponics are the irrigation regime, which mainly depends on climatic conditions, irrigation system capabilities, and water quality.

Also important is the pH level of the substrate, the application of fertilizers, and the use of mulch discs to prevent the growth of weeds. It also clarifies that special containers for growing Blueberries contribute to the proper growth and development of plants, as the plant is very sensitive to excessive moisture and when grown in a hydroponics system, it is necessary to ensure adequate drainage.

Why pH is important in Hydroponic systems

The right pH level is crucial because it affects nutrient availability for growing plants. A pH that is too high or alkaline can prevent nutrient uptake and lead to deficiencies. Iron deficiency causes pale or yellow color leaves in young plants, while leaf cupping and tip burn are telltale signs of calcium deficiency. Calcium can form salts that leave white deposits or scale on reservoir walls and equipment.

Hydroponically grown plants require different pH levels than plants grown in soil. Without soil, plants do not benefit from microorganisms, organic matter, and interactions between water and minerals that regulate pH. The hydroponic gardener should constantly monitor and adjust pH levels. Make sure that you do not apply pH level recommendations for soil-grown plants to hydroponically grown plants.

Nutrients

Blueberries are distinct among fruit plants in some of their requirements. They need a low pH – acidic conditions and will not grow under alkaline conditions. Blueberry plants are impossible to grow in conventional soil gardens with an alkaline pH regardless of the soil amendments added. In the hydroponics system, this is easier to control than Blueberries grown in soil but does require diligence.

Do not confuse Hydroponic ph and Soil pH. The optimal pH level for 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 the 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. the pH level of Blueberries must be kept at 4.5 to 5.8 and 1260-1360ppm.

Sulfur

Blueberries use high amounts of sulfur, which is not lacking in a hydroponic for normal plants, but Blueberries need elevated sulfur levels. The normal range of sulfur in the initial water is from 10 to 80 Parts per Million [ppm], more comes with standard nutrient formulas. However, Blueberries frequently need more than standard formulas can furnish. And 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 plant leaves and veins. Leaf tips will frequently yellow color and curl downwards. A uniform pale green yellowish chlorosis throughout the entire plant and the younger leaves generally appear paler much earlier than the mature foliage. Stunted growth, less branching are other symptoms.

Sulfur Prills for Blueberry Hydroponics used in a sulfur evaporating system are one method of adding much-needed sulfur to Blueberry plants. Though, another method sometimes used is sulfate salts of other major nutrient elements, in particular magnesium and potassium -Magnesium Sulfate hydroponic Blueberries or Potassium Sulfate. Epsom salts are recommended for use on Blueberry plants grown in soil, in a hydroponic system it is always useful and could foul up nutrient solution big time. Epsom salts when not accurately used can wreak havoc. Before adding any to your system you first want to be certain that your pH level is in the correct parameters. If your pH level is out of kilter and you add Epsom salts you run the risk of burning your plants and creating additional problems. Too much Epsom salt, in addition to fouling up the pH level also tends to dry out root systems.

Another method, that seems to be working, is companion planting Blueberries with Garlic. Because, garlic accumulates sulfur, and some are 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.

Lighting requirement for growing Hydroponic Blueberries

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Lighting for growing Blueberries Hydroponically.
Lighting for growing Blueberries Hydroponically.

The best option for lighting is a High-Intensity Discharge lamp or HID fixture. They are among the most intense and closely simulate sunlight. Fluorescent fixtures will suffice with decreased crop yields. LED Lights will also work, they are not as good as the HID but tend to be cost-effective. You may want to consider using Mylar Reflective Film to optimize your use of available light to the plant. Approximately 12-16 hours of light daily is best, the lighter the better, but never 24/7. Like all fruit plants, they do require several hours of darkness in each daily cycle.

In a conventional garden, Blueberries require a growing season of around 140 days. In a hydroponic setting, this time can be shortened depending on the conditions you give, to allow for multiple harvests. However, keep in mind that any Blueberry plant grown hydroponically must be placed into a simulated winter for at least a month annually.

Pruning Hydroponic Blueberries

Some of the reasons for pruning hydroponic crops are to;

  • Enhance health and vigor,
  • Allow high planting densities,
  • Increase fruiting and flowering,
  • Prevent or repair the damage,
  • Easily spot and pick mature fruits,
  • Control size of plants, and
  • Increase the size and quality of fruits.

Pruning is important for plants growing in every environment but is crucial in hydroponics. Growth rates are higher in hydroponics. Without regular pruning, excessive growth, which is hard to manage, can occur. The root systems of hydroponic plants are not as strong as plants growing in soil because plant roots do not have to spread out in search of nutrients. Plants in the hydroponics system are not able to support heavy loads due to poor anchorage of the roots. So, pruning allows high-density planting and greater quality products.

Dormancy and Pruning in Blueberries

Dormancy in Blueberries can be averted; however, they need a cold season to adequately set fruit. There is little chance of harvesting from any single Blueberry plant year-round and which is another reason to have several. Averting dormancy in Blueberry plants will lead to a plant that grows lush vegetation but no or little fruit.

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

Early Pruning of Blueberry plants

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Early Pruning of Blueberry plants.
Early Pruning of Blueberry plants.

Early pruning means remove any flowers or Berry buds the first year to divert energy and nutrients to foliage. This can be a difficult thing to do, knowing 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.

Clean the Hydroponic system regularly

Lastly, all these tips can be done perfectly, but if the hydroponic system is dirty and contaminated it won’t matter. Cleaning a hydroponic system regularly is a crucial part of maintaining a successful operation as it keeps a system free of pests and diseases.

After completely sterilizing the entire grow room growers must clean the nutrient solution reservoir. It is done by emptying the reservoir and filling it back up halfway and using a deluded bleach solution for an effective clean, ensuring there is no solid material buildup in the tubing. Reservoir cleaning is usually done every 2 to 3 weeks. Clogging can be avoided by opening the valves for a few seconds once a week.

Scrubbing down the buckets or grow trays is important in the cleaning process to avoid pathogen buildup. This procedure is simple and can be done by using a scrubby and 10 percent bleach solution. A grower would apply the bleach and scrub until they are spotless and rinse them out to finalize the process. This is done after each growing season or after every harvest. There it is, a few helpful tips that any grower can use to run a successful hydroponic system. Maintain a healthy growing environment, ensure good water quality, implement a fertigation system, select an effective growing medium, clean the system regularly and you’ll find your operation set up for success

Harvesting of Hydroponic Blueberries

Harvesting of Blueberries is one of the most rewarding tasks of an indoor hydroponic garden. Ideally, berries must be left to fully ripen and color on the plant before harvest. Then, this ensures the full flavor profile and aroma have developed. Perfectly ripe Blueberries are soft and fragile; raspberries need careful handling and must be eaten as soon as possible after harvest.

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