Blueberry Season is On: Pick yourself Happy
I picked my first two pounds of the 2018 Nature Coast blueberry season Wednesday. I ate half of a pound on the way home from the farm, but I feel better already. I am fighting a cold and blueberries are full of vitamin c and antioxidants. I love the peace I experience in a field of blueberries, with a bucket and the knowledge that I will fulfill a mission.
Blueberry season is on!
As you may have gathered, picking blueberries is one of my favorite things to do from April through May on Florida’s Nature Coast. I easily pick ten pounds at a time and the delicious, healthy fruit keeps well in the refrigerator. I give some to my neighbors, some to my friends, and I eat A LOT of blueberries while picking because they taste so very good.
The History of Blueberries
In 1911, Elizabeth White, daughter of a New Jersey farmer, teamed up with USDA botanist Frederick Coville to identify wild plants with the most desirable properties for cultivated blueberries. The duo crossbred the bushes to create vibrant new blueberry varietie, harvesting and selling the first commercial crop of blueberries out of Whitesbog, N.J., in 1916! (source: US Highbush Blueberry Council)
How to Choose Which Berries to Pick
Ripe berries are soft to the touch and their flavor makes the taste buds sing for joy. When picking, one needs to select berries that are already ripe because they stop the process as soon as they leave the bush. Ripe blueberries are fully formed, dark to medium blue, and pull easily from the bush.
If the bush doesn’t want to give up its berry, you don’t want to pick that one. It isn’t ripe.
Social Blueberry Activities
Expeditions to pick blueberries with the ladies in the neighborhood achieves several goals; we catch up with what is happening, get some easy exercise and fresh air, go home with tasty treats and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. Rows of blueberries have plenty of space between them but are close enough allow conversation while reaching out to pick each blue orb of delectable health.
One person can pick on one side of a row, while their partner picks the opposite side. The berries are usually plentiful at waist height and above, so there is minimal bending. Every farm I have ever picked on has an “eat as many as you want while you pick” policy, so I always enjoy tasty mouthfuls between bits of fun conversation as I work the rows.
Families have a blast picking together! Children can pick the lower branches, run to their hearts content and contribute to the bucket of goodness. Many farms encourage you to bring a picnic, some have farm animals and play areas and some are just fields of berry bushes in long, neat rows for the kids to learn how their food is grown in Nature’s classroom.
The Farm Environment
Upick farms are often 10-20 acres, and some commercial blueberry farms offer visitors the opportunity to pick their own on the larger 80-120 acres fields.
Either way, it is peaceful and serene to search for the perfect blend of size, color and taste on each blueberry bush.
And there is a lot of fauna to be found on a blueberry farm: butterflies, birds, bunnies, and bees all love a blueberry farm.
Florida farm fresh blueberries get huge! Often I pick several berries the size of a quarter that are just as flavorful as the smaller ones. I love to put a blueberry between my front teeth and then squish for a burst of blue flavor!
I know, blue is a color, not a flavor, but when it comes to fresh picked blueberries, I beg to differ. Blue is sweet and tart and juicy and cool, even if the berry is hot off the bush. Why? I don’t know. It just is.
The Best way to pick Florida-fresh Nature Coast Blueberries
Get out there before the end of May because they’ll be gone until 2019! Some farms close right after Mother’s Day. We recommend choosing one of our NatureCoaster blueberry farms:
- Brooksville Ridge Blueberries
- JG Ranch
- Spring Lake Blueberry Farm
- Starkey Blueberry Farm
Check out their locations and hours by selecting a farm in the directory.
It is best to pick early in the morning or later in the evening as the Florida sun can get a bit overbearing in the blueberry fields.
Any time of day is ok when you bring a hat and wear sunscreen. You need to wear closed toed shoes and stay hydrated. Bring along water to keep you comfortable – some farms provide a drink, and some charge for bottles of water, but hydration is imperative to avoid heat stroke.
Long sleeves and long pants are a good idea when you are picking. They protect your extremities from bugs, sunburns, burrs and brambles. Farms are not the place to work on your tan.
Each Blueberry Farm is a little Different
It is fun to try more than one farm in a season to see what you like best about each one. Prices range a little from farm to farm, but there are several other things that can weigh into your choice of a favorite picking location.
Most farms have bathrooms, picnic tables and areas to rest. Some have play areas for children who didn’t get enough of a workout in the fields. Days and hours vary by farm. Some are open daily from sun up to sun down. Others are open limited hours on weekends only. Be sure to call before you go if you have any questions.
Some farms have other fresh fruits and vegetables available on-site. Many offer locally grown honey and locally made preserves to tempt you. Others sell blueberry plants and other flora. Some farms only take cash.
Upicktopia has a winery onsite, utilizing the fruit they grow to add another dimension for their guests.
How to Make a U-Pick experience Great
When you arrive, please park in the designated areas.
Apply your sunscreen, don your hat and spray for bugs outside of your car. Get your water bottle, cash or credit card (some farms only take cash) to pay for your spoils, and head over to the farmer to ask which part of the farm is best for harvesting today. Some farms provide a place to wash your hands.
Many farms supply a bucket. A belt of baling twine will hold the bucket on your waist for an easy pick-and-go system. If you are traveling a long distance, bring a cooler with ice to hold your fresh blueberries.
A full bucket holds approximately five pounds of berries.
Why you should get out and pick Local Blueberries
The University of Florida developed the blueberry bushes that are grown in Florida’s Nature Coast. They were designed/crossbred to grow plentiful amounts of berries and have those berries arrive into the international market in a specific window of time where Chilean blueberries were not available and northern U.S. blueberries had not come in yet. At that time, Mexico had not really entered the U.S. blueberry market.
Many Nature Coast farmers began growing these fruits, purchasing the plants from UF. Originally, clippings could be taken from the purchased (licensed) plants and those clippings could grow into a new bush for the farmer to plant or to sell. Several years ago, this became illegal with only licensed blueberry plants being legal to grow or sell. This meant farmers had to repurchase stock and/or pay a licensing fee to the University as their bushes aged and needed replenishing.
IFAS at the University of Florida (a State University run with American taxpayer dollars) developed a new variety of blueberry plant in 2008 and sent it to Spain. A Spanish company patented it and has provided the variety called Rocio to Mexico and Peru who are now contributing as many blueberries to the market as our local farmers were. Supply has met and, in some cases surpassed, demand in the commercial blueberry market, lowering the price, which causes the Nature Coast’s commercial blueberry farmers to have to work harder to make money.
Upick is one of the ways we can support our local blueberry farmers and provide healthy food for our families, as well as get some exercise.
Fresh air, fresh, healthy food, light exercise and a congenial atmosphere make for a worthwhile trip – and the amazing taste of a freshly picked blueberry, perhaps over ice cream or with fresh-made whipped cream, have made this one of my favorite Nature Coast traditions.
Get out there and try it this season – before mid-May. You will be glad you did – and I bet you will be back for more.