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  • Author or Editor: D. Scott NeSmith x
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Growing southern highbush blueberries in milled pine bark beds ≈15 cm deep has become a popular fruit production system in Georgia and Florida. One of the primary limiting economic factors in this system is the cost of the growing media, which can exceed $10,000 U.S. per ha. In an effort to discover low-cost substitutes for milled pine bark, available waste or low-cost organic materials were screened for there suitability as growing media for southern highbush blueberries. Cotton gin waste, pecan shells, hardwood “flume” dirt, milled composted urban yard waste, composted urban tree trimmings, pine telephone pole peelings, and pine fence post peelings were evaluated. Only pine derived materials had a suitable pH (<5.3). Fresh pine telephone pole peelings (≈25% bark to 75% elongated fibers of cambial wood) and pine fence post peelings (≈75% bark to 25% elongated fibers of cambial wood) were evaluated for several seasons in containers and field trials. The growth index of blueberries in these materials was slightly less or equal to milled pine bark. Surprisingly, nitrogen deficiency was slight or not a problem. The results indicate that pine pole and post peelings may offer an excellent, low-cost substitute for milled pine bark for blueberry production.

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Rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei Reade) often exhibits problems with low fruit set. Little is known about the duration of flower receptivity in this species. The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of flower age at pollination on fruit set, seed number per fruit, and stigmatic receptivity. `Brightwell' and `Tifblue' rabbiteye blueberry plants were kept under controlled conditions in a growth chamber. Day/night temperatures during pollination were 23 °C/10 °C. Flowers were hand pollinated with self- or cross-pollen at 2-day intervals ranging from 0 to 8 days after anthesis (DAA). Flower age at pollination had a significant effect on both fruit set and seed number per fruit. Rabbiteye blueberry flowers were able to produce optimum fruit set during a period of at least five days. Fruit set was markedly reduced 6 to 8 DAA, depending on the cultivar. Flower age at pollination also had a significant effect on stigmatic receptivity, which was assessed as the number of germinated tetrads on the stigma 24 hours after pollination. Stigmas pollinated 0 DAA had a significantly lower number of germinated tetrads than those pollinated 8 DAA. Flower age at pollination and stigmatic receptivity were positively associated. To our knowledge, this is the first quantitative evidence of delayed stigma maturation in blueberry. Stigmatic receptivity and fruit set were not correlated. Overall, the data strongly suggest that stigmatic receptivity was not a limiting factor for fruit set of `Brightwell' and `Tifblue'. It is hypothesized that ovule longevity determines the duration of flower receptivity in these two rabbiteye blueberry cultivars.

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Blueberry species (Vaccinium section Cyanococcus) benefit from cross-pollination. Outcrossing increases fruit set, berry size, and ripening rate. Although knowledge of pollen dispersal is essential for maximizing cross-pollination and achieving optimal planting designs, this process has not been quantified previously in blueberry plantings. A novel method was developed to estimate the proportion of self- and cross-pollen transported by blueberry pollinators. The proposed technique requires a consistent difference in pollen size between two cultivars to predict the composition of a pollen mixture based on frequency distributions of pollen diameter. Vaccinium ashei Reade `Brightwell' and `Climax' were chosen for this study because they produce pollen tetrads of different size. Tetrad diameter and number were analyzed with a particle counter. The technique was validated by predicting the proportion of `Brightwell' in pollen mixtures where the cultivar composition was known, and predicted and actual values were linearly correlated (r = 0.995, P < 0.0001). The technique was then applied to pollen samples extracted from the bodies of pollinators that were collected in a mixed `Brightwell' and `Climax' blueberry plot. Numbers of blueberry tetrads extracted per bumblebee (Bombus spp.) averaged 4595 and 797 in 2003 and 2004, respectively, which was considered adequate to make accurate predictions based on frequency distributions of tetrad diameter. The proportion of `Brightwell' pollen carried by bumblebees changed with the phenology of the crop following an expected pattern, indicating that the method performed well under field conditions. This technique could potentially be used to quantify the likelihood for outcrossing and establish the effect of cultivar arrangements on pollen dispersion, as well as to examine pollen collection and manipulation, and cultivar preference by bees.

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Five experiments were run using surfactants and gibberellic acid (ProGibb). Fruit set is a problem with rabbiteye blueberry plants. Gibberellic acid sprayed on plants when they are in bloom does enhance fruit set. Currently, it costs $247/ha to achieve this enhanced fruit set. `Tifblue', `Climax', and `Woodard' cultivars were used in on-farm experiments. Usually, applications of 80 + 80 are used. With use of X-77 and L-77 surfactants, rates were reduced to 40 + 40. Other rates examined were 32 + 32, 24 + 24, 16 + 16 + 16. Fruit was enhanced significantly over no spraying. Airblast I sprayer performed better PropTec, whether used for day or night applications. Spraying slanting downward produced greater fruit set than from the side. E1: Trt = 15 – 20, C = 11 lb/lo. E2: 32 + 32 = 12, 16 + 16 = 7 lb/lo. E3: AB = 64, PT = 48 %FS; Trt = 56, C = 35 %FS; `C' = 73, `T' = 39 %FS. E4: 5% FS with Trt; `T' = 53, `W' = 57 %FS. E5: 30 + 30 = 87, – 40 + 40 = 80 %FS.

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Fruit set of rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei Reade) can be pollen-limited under certain conditions. The objective of this study was to determine production, release, and viability of pollen, as well as pollen-ovule ratios in the rabbiteye blueberry cultivars Austin, Brightwell, Climax, and Tifblue. In vitro tetrad germination varied among genotypes, although, values were high (≥80%) in all cultivars. Pollen viability does not seem to contribute to reproductive failure in the cultivars studied. Total pollen production per flower averaged 8434 tetrads across all cultivars. On a per ovule basis, pollen production was very low relative to other xenogamous species. The low pollen-ovule ratio of rabbiteye blueberry (≈400) may be an indicator of the high efficiency of its pollen dispensing mechanism. Total pollen production varied among cultivars. Furthermore, a significant difference in pollen release was found between two cultivars with similar total pollen production per flower. The possible mechanism regulating pollen release in these cultivars is discussed.

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Georgia has an excellent window for organic blueberry production since much of the crop ripens ahead of production in the northern U.S. Major challenges facing Georgia organic blueberry growers are weed control, organic fertilization, insect control and disease control. A team of Georgia growers, extension agents and scientists are working together to solve these production problems. Since 2002 a series of experiments have been conducted on blueberry establishment and maintenance. Various mulch materials were tested. On young plants, pine straw produced the highest yields, but pine bark and landscape fabric were also successful. With the pine straw treatment, a respectable yield of 0.97 kg/plant occurred 24 months after planting. In addition, a bed shaper–plastic mulch layer was modified by developing a removable center. Using this system, beds are formed, plants are mechanically transplanted, plants are pruned to 75 mm, and plastic is then pulled over the stem. This produces a fairly tight fit around the stem and a nearly weed free system except for weeds growing from the edges. On mature plants, pine bark and wheat straw were tested. Wheat straw produced excellent weed control and improved blueberry growth in year one and two. However, pine bark mulch provided the best weed control in year three. Various organic burn down compounds such as vinegar, Xpress, Alldown, and Matran 2 were tested for winter weed control efficacy. In these trials Matran 2 was the most effective, and the product also performed well on woody weeds that were winter pruned, allowed to resprout and then treated. A propane torch was also tested, but discarded because of the fire hazard. Entrust insecticide was tested for thrips control and gibberellic acid for fruit set. Thrips populations were low, so no effect on fruit set was noted from Entrust. Gibberellic acid significantly improved fruit set.

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