Blueberries are ready: Pick ’em while you can

The Greenfield Recorder, July 18, 2017, by Richie Davis

They’ve got the blues, and they’ve got ’em bad.

Cool temperatures this spring and early summer may have slowed the crop for Franklin County blueberry growers, but rainy conditions left the fruit plump and flavorful, say those farmers, who have berries ready for picking or, at least, picking up at farm stands and area markets.

“We get a lot of people who drop in,” said Larry Flaccus of Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne, which has 1,500 bushes spread over 2 acres for pick-your-own and opened about a week later than usual.

“It’s been pretty wet,” he said, with a silver lining to the cloud: “That’s meant no irrigating.”

Ken Spatcher of Spatcher Farm in Leyden agreed that this year’s blueberry crop is a little later than it has been, but added, “That means this year is a little more normal. And it’s good, because there aren’t too many.”

When the bushes are too heavy with fruit, they have to share more food from the root, he explained. “These are plump! The size is up, the condition is up.”

Spatcher, who sells at Foster’s Market, Green Fields Market and Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange, as well as larger quantities at the farm, says blueberries are especially helped by being located near the kinds of pools of standing water that have been prevalent this year.

Using their tube-like roots, he said, blueberry plants suck up water as if through straws, so the berries bulk up visibly.

“This is a good year,” he said. “It’s like a having a super irrigation system.”

At River Valley Farm in Whately, the bushes were heavy with berries as pick-your-own customers moved slowly through rows with large plastic coffee containers strung around their necks, plucking the succulent fruit efficiently.

Karen Beyel of Florence, who spent less than an hour one afternoon in mid-80s temperatures and returned with a cardboard tray piled high with berries, said she encountered “lots and lots” of fruit while picking with her son, Max Silverman, and contemplated all the ways she planned to use her blueberries: “I freeze some, I eat some and I’ll make blueberry buckle.”

Beyel said she appreciates that River Valley uses Integrated Pest Management rather than a lot of spraying and that she can park her car in the shade and have a nice conversation over picking with her son, who she said, “I wrangle” to join her on the outing. “When you’re with a friend, you talk with him the whole time, and it’s really fast.”

But she doesn’t fancy low-bush berries.

“When I was a child, I picked low-bush, and I’m telling you, this is so much easier. It’s so fast, and it’s enjoyable.”

It was the second time this year that Kristin Howard of Buckland was out picking at River Valley Farm, gathering berries that she mostly freezes to use throughout the winter, mostly in blueberry muffins.

“My dad also has blueberries, so I pick some there, too. But I like to come here to get a jump on the season,” she said. “The picking is really good here, every time I come. Sometimes I bring my 10-year-old.”

Meghan Ashman, who lives nearby in Whately, was accompanied by her three children — 1-year-old Sadie, 7-year-old Braden and 8-year-old Carsen.

“We live right up the road, but we’ve never been here,” she said. “We just decided to get the kids out to ‘summer kid activity,’ and had only one pint-sized green bucket to share among them. It’s just a little bit today, and we can always come back.”

For low-bush aficionados, the Benson Place in Heath has 34 acres of those tiny, wild berries ripening, with plans for by-appointment you-pick to begin by sometime next week, says co-owner Meredith Wecker, with weekend picking July 28 and 29.

For now, Wecker and her husband, Andrew Kurowski, are picking for orders, with delivery dates scheduled in Greenfield, Northampton and Amherst.

Because the bloom came this spring along with cool, rainy weather that kept the bees from doing their best pollinating, low-bush lovers should come prepared this year to spend extra time raking up those tasty little organic berries.

People come from around the Pioneer Valley, as well as from Vermont, New York, Connecticut and the Boston area.

“This year, it will be more like what it used to be,” Wecker said, after several years of early start dates.

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