Picking the season's bounty


Owners Jackie Cartey, left, and Patricia Collins sift through blueberries during harvest day at their Sugar Hill Blueberries u-pick blueberry farm in Belleview. The 14-acre farm is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day but Monday; Wednesday and Saturday the farm opens at 7 a.m.

Lisa Crigar/Correspondent
Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.

Despite an extended frost which pushed back the harvesting season in this neck of the woods, Alachua and Marion county farms are gearing up for a lush u-pick season this summer. And at some farms, it's already underway.

Facts

BLUEBERRY FESTIVALS

Annual Blueberry Festival
What: Florida foods, bake sale with blueberry pies and cakes, arts and crafts, children's activities, entertainment, dessert baking contest, blueberry and other plants for sale
When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. May 11
Where: U.S. 301, Island Grove
Admission: Free. Proceeds from sales benefit the Cross Creek, Island Grove and Lochloosa volunteer fire department (crosscreekfestival.com)

■ ■ ■

Florida Blueberry Festival
What: Cooking demonstrations, entertainment, arts and crafts, and fresh Florida blueberries
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. today
Where: Brooksville
Information: Visit floridablueberrygrowers.com/blueberry-fans/ u-pick-farms/

Aparna Gazula, commercial horticulture agent for Alachua County, said the popularity of u-pick season is growing because of the increasing demand for fresh local foods. People flock to area farms to pick fruits like blueberries, a u-pick staple, not only because they are delicious but because the experience is fun for the whole family.

This year, the harsh temperatures in March affected many farmers, Gazula said. Farms that produce both species of blueberries, the southern highbush and the rabbiteye, may have had a better chance of pulling through the frost because the two varieties mature at different times, she said,

The weather in Marion County also has troubled farmers who usually offer u-pick, Marion County Extension Service Director David Holmes said.

"We had January weather in March, and March weather in January," he said.

Marian Suggs, owner of Maid Marian's Blueberries in High Springs, said her farm will likely not be available for u-pick thanks to this year's odd weather patterns.

In past seasons, Suggs said she would pick around 300 pounds of blueberries a day for grocers like Ward's Supermarket. Her land teemed with fresh produce and local residents who were eager to pick them. But farming is a game of luck, and this year, she counts herself among the farmers who have lost fruits and blooms to a late frost.

Suggs, a seasoned farmer, said she knows she is not responsible for the weather, but still, waking up to find frozen berries is disappointing, she said.

Freezes are common in Florida, she said. This year, her berries bloomed early, fooled into thinking it was already spring due to the warmer temperatures. When the low dipped to 28 degrees, the blooms didn't stand a chance.

Despite the vagaries of Mother Nature, many farms will offer u-pick services to the public even though some berries are still in bloom. The sporadic blooms mean harvest times will vary from farm to farm, so guests should call to be sure which month — April, May, June or July — is best for u-pick.

Here is a partial list of u-pick operations:

Alachua County

■ Bluefield Estate Winery

U-pick begins in June. Open noon-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Blueberries

22 SE County Road 234, Gainesville

352-337-2544, bluefields_winery@hotmail.com

■ Burton Farm

Open by appointment

By mid-May for blueberries; June for sweet corn

2814 W. State Road 235, Brooker

352-485-1292

■ High Springs Orchard & Bakery

By mid-May Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. every day, please call for appointment

10804 NW State Road 45, High Springs

352-222-1343

■ Melrose Organic Blueberries

By mid-May, Friday, Saturday and Sunday 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

Blueberries

2911 County Road 219-A, Melrose

352-475-1072, blueberi@windstream.net

■ Rogers Farm

Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Strawberries

3831 NW 156th Ave., Gainesville

386-462-2406, ssingletary3@comcast.net

■ Southland Berry

Plantation

Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. every day

Blueberries

9308 County Road 1469, Earleton

352-468-2087

■ Wekiva Road Nursery

Open by appointment

Blueberries

5870 NE 77th Ave, Bronson

352-486-1289

■ Brown's Farm

Farm market open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Strawberries

18120 NE State Road 26, Orange Heights

352-475-2015

■ Berry Bay Farm

Call for hours

Blueberries

20256 NE 114th Ave./County Road 1469, Earleton

352-468-2205; kat0618@windstream.net

Marion County

■ Abshier Blueberry Farm

Open 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily

Blueberries

3960 SE 115th St., Belleview

(572-6382)

■ Sugar Hill Blueberries

Open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. every day but Monday; Wednesday and Saturday open at 7 a.m.

Blueberries

12690 SE 36th Ave., Belleview

(209-0819)

■ Plantland Nursery & Orchards

Open 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

Muscadine grapes and oriental persimmons for sale

5256 W. Anthony Road, Ocala

(622-7179)

■ Bay Lake Blueberry Farm

Opening first Saturday in June

Open 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays (call for appointment)

Blueberries (certified organic)

20525 Highway 315, Fort McCoy

(546-3834, gwaldron1219@aol.com)

■ B&G Blueberries

Open 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays

Blueberries (limited quantities remaining)

10203 NE 100th St., Fort McCoy

(236-4410, wdh47@embarqmail.com)

Nearby

■ Heather Oaks Farm

Open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

Different varieties of naturally grown blueberries

4240 Christmas Lane, Lady Lake, 3 miles east of The Villages

(753-1184, www.Heatheroaksfarm.com)

Making the most of your u-pick experience

Picking your own fruits and vegetables is great outdoor fun, but proper attire is necessary to protect yourself from the sun and outdoor pests. Here are some tips to make the most of your u-pick experience:

■ Wear a hat and remember the sunscreen: It gets hot in the fields, so protect your skin from harmful rays by wearing a good floppy hat and slathering on the sunscreen. Give yourself — and any children with you — a second coat of sun protection if you'll be out for longer than an hour.

■ Wear closed-toe shoes: Nature is wonderful, but it's home to ants, mosquitoes and other insects that can make life uncomfortable. Wear closed-toe shoes and bring along some insect repellent to protect from bites.

■ Hydrate often: Bring along a bottle of water to avoid dehydration. You'll last longer and enjoy the outing better.

■ Bring a bucket and some ice: Most u-pick operations provide a container to carry what you pick, but just in case, bring a bucket or bag you can easily carry or sling over a shoulder.

■ Pick firm, ripe berries: Try to pick every ripe berry on each plant rather than jumping from plant to plant and row to row. Be careful not to remove the tops of the berries.

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