Bramble Creek Farm: UPick Blackberries Grown with Love
Pulling up to the wide farm gate on Hayman Road, anticipation of the sweet, yet slightly tart flavor of fresh, juicy blackberries has a grip on me. This is my third year visiting Bramble Creek Farm and I have a vision to fulfill – and a bucket!
It is an idyllic scene; slowly touring the hill with verdant, green grass on either side and a few grazing cows. Pull in and park under the magnificent grandfather oak tree and walk over an arched bridge surrounded by lush ferns, elephant ears, and oak canopies. Directly ahead are rows of trellised blackberry bushes as far as the eye can see. To the right is a golden barn adorned with a front porch and several chairs welcoming guests to sit a spell.
Ann and Gene Altman began their u-pick blackberry farm in 2004. For 2018, Bramble Creek Farm opens on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m., as well as Saturday and Sunday mornings from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., beckoning blackberry enthusiasts to come and gather their fill. “Having staggered days allows the berries to ripen between pickings, providing a better experience for our guests,” Ann tells me.
This year’s harvest is from mid-May to mid-July. The farm’s answering machine at 352-796-5473 is always kept up to date with the latest picking information – and I joined their email list for daily updates here. You may want to also.
In 1997, the Altman family purchased 12 acres at 23031 Hayman Road. They moved and built their home after their oldest daughter, Jenifer, graduated from high school. They planted their first row of blackberries when their youngest daughter Megan was in high school. Megan helped decide that the thorny variety just wouldn’t do!
In his younger days, Gene grew 200 acres of row crops including peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, and watermelons. After several tough years Gene decided to return to college and get his education in Civil Engineering. He began working at SWFWMD in environmental engineering, developing flood plain maps.
“Today I am proud to be working with the agricultural community in the Farms Section at SWFWMD. I think of farmers as the first environmentalists. Wise agriculturists protect the land and water resources to protect their farming investment,” Gene states with purpose.
When asked why blackberries instead of another crop, Ann shared the story of visiting Mrs. Frazell’s thorny blackberry farm in Land O’Lakes with her daughter and falling in love with the experience (in the late 1990s). “I had never been blackberry picking before. We went down there and I loved it! The fruit was marvelous and it was fun. We began our plan.”
Each variety of blackberry bush has its own characteristics, including firmness, size, yield and early-mid-late seasonality. The Altmans have worked with many varieties over the years.
“We found the thorn less blackberries to be sweeter, not to mention eliminating the scratches and cuts we would get when picking them. Megan and I were charged with that task in 2004. When the thorn less varieties proved to taste just as good, if not better, I told Gene to pull out all those bushes and plant the ‘good stuff’,” Ann explains.
“We select the varieties to plant based on the sweetness of the berries, not the yield because we have a quality over quantity philosophy here. The blackberries we grow also retain their structural integrity better than the thorny ones did. I can keep them in the refrigerator for up to a week after picking and they are just as good.”
Ann makes wonderful blackberry jams which are now available in the Blackberry Barn. She makes both seedless and seed-in jams without pectin. They are delicious and are comparable or better than high end varieties found in the supermarkets.
The barn also houses locally grown honey, bird houses, homemade jam, and soaps from North Carolina…and eggs (when the hens cooperate)! Ann has several happy hens that lay fresh eggs daily. You may see them wandering the farm.
This year, the Altmans are carrying Granny Nichols Bar-B-Q Sauce. Granny Nichols is actually Gene’s granny, and she began cooking up her ‘famous’ barbecue sauce with his grandfather for community events in Oxford, Florida. When Papa Nichols passed, granny began bottling the beloved sauce to supplement her income.
Gene makes blackberry and fig wine, generously offering a taste to most anyone who stops by. Perhaps one day they will open a winery on the farm.
For now, blackberries are in abundance here. Plan a visit or make a spur-of-the-moment drive to their relaxing farm on one of their open dates – before season is over. The Altmans will gladly point you to the best location to pick on your visit.
Blackberries are best picked when the drupelets are plump and full of flavor. They should be fully black. Red areas on a berry are not ripe yet and will tart the berry’s flavor.
For your comfort, you want to wear hats, sunscreen, and clothing that protects against sun and bugs. Wear old shoes with closed toes to protect your feet and reduce tripping on uneven terrain. It is recommended to bring a cooler to transport your berries home.
It is not appropriate to smoke, or chew gum or tobacco in fields and is always a good idea to wash your hands and berries before eating them. Pets should not be brought to the farm. Well-behaved children are welcome.
Bramble Creek has a portable toilet on site, supplies the tools for holding your berries while you pick and bags for taking them home after your selections are weighed and paid for. They sell water to help insure you stay hydrated while picking, but are fine with you bringing your own refreshments.
Come out to Bramble Creek Blackberries to enjoy the fruit, the wine, the blackberry barn, and the atmosphere. The berries are $5/pound for u-pick and $7/pound pre-picked (call 48-hours in advance to request pre-picked berries).
It is a fun place to bring the family, the club, or go it alone; your taste buds will thank you. But get out there before the middle of July, or the blackberries will be gone until 2019!