‘Tis the Season for U-Pick Blueberries!
There is something almost magical about picking vibrantly blue blueberries off a bush and eating them fresh. If you watch the blueberries develop, you see them go from shades of pale green and blush red to dark and puffy and bright blue. When a blueberry is ready – you know it!
Blueberries are one of the few crop plants that are actually native to eastern North America. The most popular types are the rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei) and the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). Both can be found in northern Florida and southern Georgia, and the highbush blueberry can be found as far north as southeastern Canada. There are at least eight other Vaccinium wild blueberry species that can be found in the woods and near swamps in Florida. They are usually smaller and don’t taste quite as sweet as the rabbiteye and highbush, but birds rely on them heavily for forage.
If you’ve never experienced a fresh blueberry right off the bush, then you may want to consider either foraging for wild blueberries, growing your own, or scouting out a local u-pick blueberry farm near you.
Let’s first consider the joys of growing your own. Blueberries require an acidic soil pH, between about 4.0 and 5.5. Lucky for most of us in the Panhandle, our soil pH is largely naturally acidic. If you have pine trees growing in your area, you most likely can grow blueberries. And the pine straw makes an excellent blueberry mulch! There are many rabbiteye cultivars that have been specifically developed to grow well in our hot climate – requiring fewer “chilling hours” than their northern counterparts. Check out varieties such as Powderblue, Brightwell, Tifblue, and Climax. Highbush blueberries can also do well in northern Florida, although they tend to flower early, making them susceptible to late freezes. Try highbush varieties such as Bluecrisp, Emerald, and Star. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks, such as fruit cracking and insect susceptibility. Click here to learn more about growing blueberries in Florida.
If you are not already growing blueberries, and you want fresh blueberries, then be sure to check out a local u-pick near you. This year you may have noticed we had a warm winter, which delayed the onset of blueberry dormancy. This means the crop is hitting its peak about two or three weeks later than normal. But don’t delay – blueberry season in north Florida typically declines by the beginning of July, so the season is upon us!
If you are in the east Panhandle, be sure to check out u-pick operations such as Blue Sky Berry Farm, Myrtle Creek Farm, Green Meadows Farm, and Blueberry Springs Farm.
Blue Sky Berry Farm, which is located just three miles south of the courthouse in Monticello, on 1180 Ashville Highway, is entering its second season as a u-pick, and its bushes have really grown! They use organic fertilizer and grow using sustainable farming methods. Blue Sky Berry Farm anticipates being open Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. this summer, but anyone interested in picking blueberries should first check the Blue Sky Berry Farm website (http://www.bskyfarm.com), as it is updated regularly during the season.
Green Meadows Farm, located at 177 East Bluebird Road in Monticello, is five acres of USDA certified organic blueberries. The farm is located among the trees and has been designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. It is open Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon and 5:00 p.m. to dusk, and Tuesdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon, while the blueberries last.
Myrtle Creek Farm, located at 2184 Tram Road in Monticello, has beautiful blueberry fields that are dappled with shade in the late afternoon and early evening. They currently have u-pick blueberries and blackberries available. They are open during the weekdays and weekends while the blueberries last, but do call ahead (850-997-0533) to check on availability.
Blueberry Springs Farm is located at 383 Wacissa Springs Road in Monticello, and is celebrating their 25th anniversary of harvesting blueberries. They first planted in December of 1991 and had their first harvest in June of 1991. They are open Tuesdays through Sundays 7:00 a.m. to noon and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. You can contact Blueberry Springs Farm at (850) 997-1238 for updates, pricing, and directions.
Also check out the Florida Blueberry Growers Association website and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services u-pick locator to discover u-picks around the state, including grape and blackberry u-picks.
Whether you are foraging for wild blueberries, picking your own blueberries, or visiting a u-pick, be sure to bring along plenty of water, a hat, close-toed shoes, and sunscreen, as blueberry season can be a very hot and sunny time of year! But once you’ve experienced your first taste of hand-picked Florida blueberries, you will be hooked and coming back for more each and every summer!