Florida-fresh Blueberries in the Nature Coast: Picking and Grinning
Picking blueberries throughout Florida’s Nature Coast is one of my favorite things to do in April-May. I easily pick 10 pounds at a time and they keep a long time in the refrigerator. I give some to the neighbors, some to my friends, and I eat a lot of blueberries while picking because they taste so good.
Florida blueberries are soft to the touch and their flavor makes taste buds sing for joy!
To select ripe blueberries, look for ones that are 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 eat that blueberry. They do not ripen after picking.
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. Oh, and there are no thorns on blueberry plants.
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.
And there is a lot of fauna to be found on a blueberry farm: butterflies, birds, bunnies and bees all love a blueberry farm.
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.
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 that 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.
So, what is the best way to pick Florida-fresh Nature Coast blueberries?
We recommend choosing one of our NatureCoaster blueberry farms. Check out their hours. Get out there before the end of May because they’ll be gone until 2018! Some farms close right after Mother’s Day.
It is always easiest 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 as long as you bring a hat, wear sunscreen and 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.
Long sleeves and long pants are a good idea when you are picking. They protect your extremities from bugs, sunburns, burrs and brambles. Closed toe shoes are a must to keep the dirt out. A farm is not as good for tanning as the beach.
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.
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. This knowledge will help you gauge how many blueberries you are picking.
Most farms have a port-a–pottys for bathroom breaks and chairs to rest. Some have hammocks and picnic tables set up for a family fun time. Make a day of it.
Farmers often 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.
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 (Bet you can’t eat just one!), perhaps over ice cream or with fresh-made whipped cream, have made this one of my favorite Nature Coast traditions.
**Thanks so much to Ragan, of Ragan Photography for her many image contributions to this article. You can contact her by clicking here.