The Season's Fleeting
For Tim and Dee Mulaly and their kids Lauren and Ian, blueberry picking is a spring tradition. They know that come mid-April, the season is likely near – and start calling their favorite farmers to see when the you-pick season will open. It’s always a bit iffy. Many larger farms only open to the public once their commercial crop has been harvested; even for those that are exclusively you-pick, a few cool nights can significantly slow ripening, so a prediction of being open by the next weekend, can easily turn into the next ... and even the next.
But when the bushes are ready with fruit ripe for the picking, the family jumps in the car to head to the patch.
“We easily pick 20 pounds,” says Tim. “We like to go in the height of the season, when the bushes are loaded with fruit.
“I rig a little system where I wear the bucket on my waist and can pick with two hands. And the kids have been coming since they were tiny, so they’re basically professionals now.”
If you’re newer to harvesting blueberries, you’d do well to heed the two most consistent pieces of advice that growers offer: Wear closed-toe shoes (to protect from ants and other critters) and slather on the sunscreen (blueberries grow in full sun).
The list on the next page represents a sampling of growers throughout the region. They range from a few acres of bushes to huge farms, but most provide picking supplies (buckets, take- home bags), as well as drinks and bathrooms for your convenience. Most emphasize that they don’t use chemical pesticides on the bushes; USDA certified organic farms are noted. Finally, while berries are usually available beginning in mid- to late-April through the end of May, it’s usually best to call the farm – or in some cases, check their website or Facebook page – before you head out, as days and times can vary depending on what’s ripe and when. And take cash – many of the farms don’t take credit cards.
Berry Care Basics
That white powdery stuff that’s on blueberries occurs naturally and provides a protective surface that helps prevent deterioration, so there’s no need to wash it off. In fact, since moisture is the enemy of keeping your blueberries just-picked fresh, it’s best not to wash the berries until you’re ready to use them – even if they’re headed for the freezer.
Instead, Charlie Poulton – who recently welcomed edible Tampa Bay to the three-acre, you-pick patch he calls Patriot Ridge Blueberries – recommends spreading the berries on a towel on your kitchen table, removing stems, leaves and anything else that made it into your bag, and letting them sit overnight. This allows any moisture that may have been on the berries when you picked them to dry out, and any under-ripe berries that snuck in to turn blue. From there, you can refrigerate the berries for up to two weeks or freeze them. To freeze, spread dry berries on a cookie sheet; once frozen, you can transfer to bags or containers.