July 27, 2011

Berries plentiful for pickers

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Crabtree's, a popular pick-your-own blueberry spot in Sebago, opened to the public a week later than usual this year.

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HERE are some southern Maine farms where you can pick your own highbush blueberries. It's always a good idea to call ahead to be sure they're open. Most places take cash only, or cash and checks only, so don't count on your credit card to get your blueberry fix.



231 Blueberry Hill Farm, off Foxes Ridge Road



Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Bring your own containers.



195 John Small Road


Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily



114 Waterman Road



Hours: Call or check the website



33 Colburn Way



Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Closed Mondays.



86 Sawyer Mountain Road (follow u-pick signs off Route 11 in Limerick)



Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, but sometimes they are closed a day or two for ripening. Call first, or check the website.



Otis Allen Road, just off of Route 4 in South Sanford by the Country Club Golf Course


Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday



Route 107, 1.5 miles north of Town Hall


Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday




85 Spiller Farm Lane


Hours: Days and hours vary. Call first.


But the early picking is good, with ripe fruit practically dripping from the bushes.

"It's almost like you put the bucket under the bush and just will the berries to fill up your bucket," said Allen Crabtree, owner of the farm. "People are going down and coming back with 5 quarts, 10 quarts of berries in less than a half an hour. It's just phenomenal."

Highbush blueberry pick-your-own businesses are open for the summer, with most of them welcoming their first pickers within just the past couple of weeks. The season generally extends through Labor Day, but in some places picking is good until early October, depending on the varieties they grow.

Many growers are reporting average or slightly better than average crops of berries this year, although it's no bumper crop.

As far as wild blueberries go, David Yarborough, blueberry specialist at the University of Maine, said if the berries get enough moisture the rest of the summer -- rainfall was inadequate in June and early July -- the crop in Maine could be slightly above average.

Here in southern Maine, though, the focus is on highbush blueberries.

This year, Crabtree said, there was no winter-kill to damage the ends of the branches, and not much of the heavy snow that breaks branches. And pollination this year was "perfect."

"During the pollination times, you could walk down through the rows and the air would be filled with bees," Crabtree said. "Just wonderful. So, a good set of berries."

At Payeur's Pick Your Own in Sanford, the berries have "sized up quite well," said Karen Payeur. She added that the recent heat and humidity has been helping the berries ripen.

"They're doing much better than last year," Payeur said. "Last year, we had a problem with a late frost that damaged a lot of the blossoms, so last year was not a good year. But this looks like it's going to be a really good year."

On a 75-acre hilltop farm near the New Hampshire border, more than 3,000 blueberry bushes are producing a "just slightly better than average" crop this year, said John Bozak, who own's Berry Best Farm in Lebanon with his wife, Chris.

Bozak said he was a little concerned in May when a cold, wet period hit right when the plants were flowering, "but Mother Nature came through."

"We had a tremendous number of native pollinators, especially bumblebees," Bozak said, "and they did a great job of pollinating our blueberries, because we've got a good crop. We were pleasantly surprised."

The Bozaks grow 10 varieties of blueberries. Earlier varieties tend to produce larger berries, but what people want depends on what they're planning to do in the kitchen, Bozak said.

"One of our last varieties is called Jersey, and it has a fairly small berry, but people like it for making muffins," Bozak said. "We have a small number, probably less than a dozen plants, of a variety -- it's not ripe yet -- with berries that have a slight cinnamon flavor to them. There are a couple of customers who come up every year, and they're looking for this particular bush, because they want to get that cinnamon-flavored bush."

Some people come as much for the experience as the berries.

Allen Crabtree places picnic tables on his farm for families who want to hang out for a while. He only opens four days a week to the general public so he can accommodate busloads of 100 summer campers on off days. Many of the kids, he said, have never seen a blueberry outside of a grocery store.

"We have one strict rule around here, and that is you must sample," Crabtree said. "I check the kids' tongues, and if they're not blue, I know they haven't been eating enough berries."

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:



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