By Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario
Ontarians will soon be able to easily grow blueberries on their own balconies or patios.
That’s thanks to an agricultural innovation made possible by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, and the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance.
Demand for more edible potted plants combined with heightened consumer interest in food production led researchers at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) to work on new technology to allow consumers to more easily grow plants in containers.
Dr. Youbin Zheng and his team have developed a new organic growing material – known in the plant-growing world as substrate – that is specifically suited to growing plants like blueberries or other small fruits in containers instead of in gardens.
“Potted blueberries are a new product that provides consumers with opportunities to grow their own fresh blueberries on their balconies or in their gardens,” explains Zheng. “At the same time, this will help Canadian nursery growers broaden their markets by being able to offer a wider selection of plants to garden centres and other retail outlets.”
Dark blue fruits like blueberries are great sources of anthocyanins – or antioxidants – that can boost human health. Those antioxidants are scavengers of free radicals – high energy particles in the human body that can damage cells – which mean they can help combat common health problems like inflammation, diabetes, and cancer.
The Vineland team has also established growing protocols for nurseries, such as best nutrient rates, application methods and timing for growing container crops using different growing substrates and fertilizer types like granular organic, liquid organic or conventional controlled-release fertilizers.
As well, they’ve developed a fertilizer guide to help growers maximize their profitability and minimize possible environmental impacts caused by nutrient runoff.
Being able to provide a plant with the precise amount of fertilizers it needs to grow at its best not only creates healthy vibrant plants for consumers, but also decreases the amount of nutrients growers need to purchase and use.
“The growing substrate and production protocols are effective for blueberries and similar plant species,” Zheng says.
“Growers can now use this information to produce a larger number of edible ornamentals to supply the marketplace so that consumers can grow their own fruit even if they live in apartments or condominiums without back yards or gardens,” he adds.
The organic growing substrate is now available to interested nurseries and manufacturers of growing substrate for licensing from Vineland, and production protocols will be made available this coming winter.