Franklin County farmers open gates for pick-your-own blueberry season

By GRACE BIRD for The Recorder, July 18, 2019

SHELBURNE — While strawberry season spans three weeks, blueberries have just ripened and the plants will continue to bear fruit until August or even September.

Although it is long, the blueberry season took a while to get here. At Kenburn Orchards, 1394 Mohawk Trail, the season arrived last weekend — about a week later than usual, owners Susan and Larry Flaccus said. This wasn’t unusual in the region. After a cool, wet spring most crops saw similar delays.

“It was a really cold spring, and the blossoms came late,” Susan Flaccus said. “They do their own thing. We just sit around and wait.”

One secret to ensure a long blueberry season is to grow different species, the couple said. Different kinds of blueberries (such as the patriot, aurora, blue crop and reka varieties grown at Kenburn Orchards) ripen at varying speeds. For example, the patriot is ready to pick now, while others won’t arrive for a couple weeks.

Another secret to improve blueberry crops, the couple said, is bumblebees. Susan and Larry Flaccus import four hives of bumblebees from Michigan every year to help pollinate their blueberry plants. They explained this is because bumblebees are more efficient pollinators when it comes to blueberries, as they can reach the fruit more easily.

“Honeybees are not so crazy about working up, but bumblebees don’t mind that,” Susan Flaccus said. “And they also work on colder, cloudier days than honeybees do. They’re very efficient pollinators.”

This summer, Kenburn Orchards will be open for pickers Wednesday to Sunday, finishing up sometime in September — or, as Larry Flaccus noted, when the blueberries “run out.” Pickers of all ages can fill up a punnet or several.

“Some people pick 30 or 40 pounds to freeze, and then they’ll come back and buy just enough for this week’s breakfast,” Susan Flaccus said.

Though it took its time to arrive, summer has well and truly caught up to New England, delivering several scorching, sticky days recently — and more to come. That can pose a problem for pick-yourown farms, Susan Flaccus said, because pickers can become uncomfortable when it gets too hot.

“We’re very dependent on the weather,” Susan Flaccus said. “They don’t want to pick if it’s too hot.”

While the couple has run Kenburn Orchards for 15 years, Susan Flaccus’ connection to the property goes back a couple of generations. Her ancestors started an apple orchard on the property in 1924, and she recalled spending the first few years of her childhood there, going on expeditions many afternoons with her grandfather. After spending much of her adulthood away, Susan and her husband returned to Western Massachusetts and the orchard in 1998, setting up bed and breakfast on the property.

After retiring from full-time work a few years later, the couple decided to start the farm again. Knowing apples were expensive and time-consuming to produce, the couple instead chose to farm blueberries and Christmas trees, which are more manageable.

“You pick it and it’s gone,” Larry Flaccus said. “People like it, they love to bring their kids.”

Pick your own blueberries

Franklin County has a number of blueberry farms, many opening their gates on weekends and even during the week to those who wish to fill their own punnets with blueber ries.

Burnt Hill Farm at 118 Flagg Hill Road in Heath offers pick-your-own days in early August. The dates are: Aug. 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., plus Aug. 10 by appointment.

In the northeastern part of the county, Bernardston’s Couch Brook Farm is opening its doors this weekend to anyone who wishes to pick their own blueberries. The farm, at 184 Couch Brook Road, will be open Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to noon, until the season is finished.

Over in Whately, Sobieski’s River Valley Farm at 239 River Road started welcoming people to pick their own blueberries on Monday. Offering acres of blueberries, the farm is open to pickers every day of the week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Quonquont Farm, at 9 North St. in Whately, allows visitors to pick at their leisure or purchase an already picked container.

Blueberry festivities don’t have to stop at pick-your-own days. On Sunday, Quonquont Farm is holding its second annual Blueberry Festival from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event includes a “blueberry bake off” and discussion by expert Fred Morrison about the relationship between bumblebees and blueberries, according to the event’s Facebook page. And of course, attendees can fill their own punnet of blueberries to take home.