249 Cropping Highbush Blueberry in Coal Ash-Compost Mixtures

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  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Fruit Laboratory, Beltsville, MD 20705

Highbush blueberry plants require low-pH, well-drained sandy soils. To increase the range of sites available for highbush blueberry production, by-products were tested as constituents in soilless media and as soil amendments. By-products, including coal ash, municipal biosolid compost, leaf compost, and acid peat, were combined in different proportions and compared to Berryland sand (alone) and Manor clay loam (alone and compost-amended) for a total of 10 media treatments. The pH of all treatment media was adjusted to 4.5 with sulfur. One-year-old tissue-cultured plants of `Bluecrop' and `Sierra' were planted in 15-L pots containing the pH-adjusted treatment media in 1997, producing their first substantial crop in 1999. For the 1999 crop, ripe fruit was harvested at weekly intervals over 5 weeks. ANOVA for yield indicated a significant cultivar × media interaction. `Bluecrop' appeared more sensitive to media treatment as yields on Manor clay loam were 80% less than on Berryland sand. Yields of `Bluecrop' on coal ash-compost mixes were similar to that of Berryland sand, and 1:1 coal ash:compost mixes produced significantly higher yields than did the 3:1 mixes. Yield of `Sierra' on Manor clay loam was 41% less than on Berryland sand, and plants growing on soilless mixes yielded 17% to 58% more than those on Berryland sand. `Bluecrop' fruit size was greatest for Berryland sand, but did not differ significantly among coal ash-compost mixes. For all media treatments, `Sierra' fruit size was inversely correlated with yield. Fruit from `Bluecrop' plants on coal ash-compost mixes ripened slightly earlier than on Berryland sand, but ripening date of `Sierra' did not vary significantly with soil treatment. The potential for employing these by-product mixes in small-scale commercial blueberry production will be discussed.

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