Blueberries in Silicon Valley (2010)

In 2008, I wrote a blog post about my initial success growing blueberries here in Silicon Valley.

Blog: Blueberries in Sunnyvale

It’s a great post, and it covers a lot of the basics of which varieties to plant, and an example of how to set up watering properly.  I ended on this note:

If you’ve read this far, chances are you think that replacing useless ornamental shrubs and bushes with gorgeous, fruiting blueberry bushes is a dream come true.   Well, you too can live the dream.  I’m happy to announce that growing blueberries in Sunnyvale is definitely a reality.

This will now be my third season harvesting blueberries, and it looks like it will be a bumper crop this year.  However, I thought it was worth putting together an update, because the second season was not very successful at all.  In fact, it was lessons from the second year that really led me to do some research and come up with the techniques that I believe have led to a great 2010.

How to Fertilize Blueberries

I’m not a terribly creative or active gardener, in that I tend to favor plants and setups that don’t require constant maintenance.  Blueberries don’t require a lot of work, if you set them up properly, but they do require fertilization on an annual basis.  More importantly, they require the right kind of fertilization.  (Sources:  Michigan State Agriculture, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture)

Here are a couple key facts:

  • Blueberries require acidic soil. Actually, according to eHow and other sites, the proper pH for Blueberries can be anything from 4.3 to 5.1.  That’s pretty acidic, and much more acidic than any soil you are going to find in the Bay Area naturally.  That means, you’ve got to add something to the soil at least annually for Blueberries to flourish.
  • Traditional fertilizers can hurt Blueberries. Like most plants, Blueberries need nitrogren.  However, they don’t handle it in nitrate form well, and it can lead to significant issues.  You can use fertilizers made for acid-lovers like Azaleas.  Instead, look for sulfer-based fertilizers.

I personally use the following process:

  1. I strip about 1-2 inches of accumulated leaves and top soil off the area.
  2. I use ammonium sulfate (purchased at Home Depot, in the garden section).  I sprinkle liberally around the bushes, based on the package instructions.
  3. I put down a few bags (about 1 inch) of new top soil from bags.  These bags contain fresh organic matter, which lightly fertilizes.
  4. I mulch the entire area.

When to Fertilize Blueberries

This is the part I got wrong in 2009.

In 2009, as per some of the recommendations on blueberry.org, I waited to fertilize my blueberries until they started to flower.  This was a huge mistake.  In the end, I was left with a small number (<30) flowers per bush, and a very sparse crop.

My working hypothesis was that, due to the warm winters in Silicon Valley, the plants never really go fully dormant, but do set based on the frosty nights in December/January.  As a result, they bloom by February, as the weather warms but is still wet.  A few articles on the web from other warm weather growers seemed to confirm this theory.

As a result, this year, I decided to prepare and fertilize my blueberry bushes over Thanksgiving using the treatment I found at this tree website.  I was actually very fortunate on the timing – we had quite a bit of rain in December, as well as a few frigid nights, so I felt like I did the work “just in time”.

Results for 2010

No harvests yet, but all eight bushes (four of each variety) are literally bursting with huge (20 berry+) bunches of green blueberries.  I think there are at least 200+ berries per bush.  Barring some unforeseen tragedy, it looks like the early fertilization and preparation was key for preparing the plants to make the most of their fruiting season.

Here is a quick snapshot that I tweeted out this weekend.  You can see some of the leaves are still red from the winter, although there are quite a few new green shoots and leaves.

I hope this helps any aspiring blueberry growers out there.  It’s a real delight to pick blueberries in the morning on the way to work.

iPad Tips & Tricks: My First 36 Hours

Around 11am on Saturday morning, I purchased one of the first iPads from the Apple Store in Palo Alto.  Yes, that one.  (I missed Steve Jobs by about 20 minutes).  I thought it might be useful to readers if I captured my initial thoughts, tips, tricks and gotchas from my first weekend with the device.

What I bought & why

I decided to purchase the 64GB Wi-Fi only model.  Rationale:

  • Wi-Fi is everywhere I’m going to use this device.  I don’t travel very much, so this device will be used mostly at home, relatives houses, work, and the occasional Starbucks.  When I travel, I tend to fly Virgin America and stay at hotels with Wi-Fi.  Paying the $130 premium for the 3G model, plus the $30/mo. data plan seemed unnecessary.  Besides, if I need it in a year, will be cheaper to sell this one and buy a new one than to pay all that money just for the “option” of using 3G.
  • I realized that storing a dozen movies and few TV show seasons is pretty likely.  Movies are 1.5GB each typically, so not hard to see using 30-40GB for video on the device.  So yes, I’m one of the suckers that paid $200 for 48GB of flash.  Rip-off, yes.  Pay-to-play, I guess.

Initial thoughts with the physical device

  • It is much thinner than I expected. I realize this is an illusion based on the increased screen size, since it’s not thinner than an iPhone.  But it’s surprisingly thin to look at and hold.  Still feels sturdy, though.
  • Orientation. Despite the natural orientation vertically, it really wants to be held horizontally.
  • Surprisingly, it feels safe to “let go”.  When I’m sitting down, I find myself letting go of the device in my lap, and using two hands.  Not to touch type, mind you, but to hit different areas of the screen with different hands.  For the first few minutes, I used it like an iPhone, but once I let go, I got much faster with the device
  • The touch is addictive. The combination of the speed of the device and the touch interface makes it incredibly engaging.  You just want to interact with it.  Everyone who has played with it has said the same thing – there is something about this form factor that demands engagement beyond the iPhone or iPod Touch.
  • iBooks is gorgeous. If Apple worked a deal where you got the physical book and the iBook for one price, I’d be on this train immediately.
  • The new Video Player is great. I was confused at first, because I expected the video in the “iPod” application.  But once discovered, the new Video app is excellent.

Takeaways

  • iPad native applications are an order of magnitude more interesting than iPhone apps.  While a few iPhone apps are enjoyable on the device, the full native applications are phenomenally better.  I didn’t realize this until I had the device.  The native interface controls, larger real estate, and the design of the native iPad apps (both Apple & 3rd Party) are phenomenally better.  So much so that I think the iPhone apps are just a numbers game for marketing purposes.
  • The pricing for iPad apps is higher.  Almost all the games cost money, versus the plethora of free games on the iPhone.

Gotchas / Minor Problems

  • It was not obvious to me at all why I couldn’t rotate the display.  Turns out, the hardware switch on the device is not a vibrate/mute switch like it is on the iPhone.  It’s a “rotation lock”.  I spent at least a few minutes looking through every setting on the device to figure out why it wouldn’t rotate.  This is a place where a simple contextual help bubble when you click the lock icon would have helped.  This is a UI blunder.  Let me put it this way, if you wanted to confuse the maximum number of users, you would design a device that looks exactly like an iPhone, use a control exactly like the iPhone, and then change it’s function.  I think they should have left the mute button the way it was, and added a rotation lock separately.
  • Some MP4s won’t play. Still trying to figure this out.  Some of my older Handbrake generated MP4s won’t play on the device, even though they play on the AppleTV.  This seems foolish – all these devices are powerful enough now to deal with the files that play on Mac Minis.  They should make them more tolerant of all MP4s.
  • Storage is stingy for video. As predicted, I quickly filled up the device with photos & video.  Let’s hope they take these to 128GB and 256GB soon.
  • Volume & Rotation Lock on the right, not the left. Why did they change this from the iPhone?
  • Adding Apps from the App Store is a pain on the device. They should make this easy.  Instead, every time you click install, it boots you out of the App Store, and puts the icon on a new page.  Why?  Did they really want to torture iPad users?
  • Get Ready to Spend Some Time on Configuration. My goodness, Apple.  Did you really need to make it so that by default, all my iPhone apps move to the iPad as well?  What a mess.  I had to uncheck all of them, and manually check the ones I wanted.  I could have really used some intelligent defaults, like initially only installing apps that were suitable for the iPad.  This was a miss for the iTunes team.

Final Assessment: Is it worth getting the iPad 1.0?

Absolutely.  Believe the hype.  This is a transformative device.  The engagement of the native iPad applications tells me two things:

  1. Native > Web.  Look, I love HTML 5.  I love web development and web apps.  But the seamless touch interface, animation, and graphical richness of the iPad native applications has raised the bar again.  HTML 5 may help web apps catch up to the dated, stale interfaces of Windows and Mac applications.  But the iPad is something different.  The story on the iPad will be native apps for the next 2-3 years, minimum.
  2. Touch is for real. Watching my 5 year old with the device, I realize that touch is the 80 in the 80/20 of future device interactions.  I’m realizing how many things I don’t really need a physical keyboard for.   And the mouse?  Except for detailed graphic design, I don’t need it at all.  I’m not saying keyboard/mouse is going away anytime in the next decade.  But I am saying that an increasing number of use cases may not need it.  I can already see how photo viewing via touch will give way quickly to photo editing via touch.