Blueberry season off to early start

Area farms also expecting larger yield than usual

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
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Gary Boel of Halfmoon fills a small bucket with fresh blueberries at Winney's Farm in Schuylerville on Tuesday.
Gary Boel of Halfmoon fills a small bucket with fresh blueberries at Winney's Farm in Schuylerville on Tuesday.

— Better brush up on your blueberry buckle baking skills. Blueberries are ripe ahead of schedule, and there are plenty for the picking.

Farms across the Capital Region are reporting larger-than-usual crops, and at several of them, harvesting has been under way for two weeks.

The season started two weeks earlier than expected at Winney’s Farm in the town of Northumberland, where owner Byron Winney tends around 40,000 bushes.

“This is probably the biggest crop we’ve ever had,” he said.

He attributed this year’s bounty to the flying insects he imports.

“We’re not afraid to pay for bees for pollination,” he said, noting that he prefers bumblebees to honeybees.

“They fly when its only 50 degrees outside. Honeybees wait until it’s about 60. And bumblebees will work in the rain, so they’ll pollinate in the rain,” he explained.

Since June 22, blueberry lovers have been making their way to Winney’s Farm, sometimes by the busload, to take advantage of the bumper crop the bumblebees helped to bring forth.

“We had one party this morning [that] picked $117 worth,” Winney said. At $2.25 a pound, that amount of berries could translate into all sorts of jam, cobbler and pie.

Around 200 carloads of berry pickers descend on the farm daily during blueberry season, Winney estimated.

Customers are also flocking to Bohringer’s Fruit Farm in Middleburgh.

“Business has been really good,” said Susan Fydenkevez, who shares ownership of the farm with her husband, Joseph.

“The berries are wonderful. I just got done eating a pint,” she said.

Customers also began picking blueberries at Bohringer’s about two weeks ago, which Fydenkevez estimated is a few days earlier than usual.

A pound of pick-your-own berries costs $2.50 there.

This is the sixth year that Bowman Orchards in Clifton Park has grown blueberries, and this year’s crop looks more bountiful than any before it, said Kenny Bowman, whose father, Kevin, owns the orchard. Kenny Bowman attributes the bounty to the fact that the bushes are now gaining maturity.

“I think with the sun, it’s ripening [the berries] a lot faster,” he noted.

Picking started at Bowman’s two weeks ago, as well, about a week earlier than usual, and the pick-your-own crop, which sells for $4.29 a pound, looks very good, Bowman said.

The blueberries at Meadowlark Farm in Broadalbin won’t be ready until around July 18, but that’s still about 10 days earlier than usual, said owner Kevin Myers.

The farm features about 4,200 bushes on just less than five acres, and the berries those bushes bear will sell for around $1.75 a pound, Myers estimated.

“We have a lot of blueberries. Right now, the plants look good and the berries look good,” he said.

This season’s lack of rain is of concern to him, however.

“If we go much longer [without rain], we may have some negative effects,” he said.

Although blueberries are abundant this season in the Capital Region, New York state is one of the smaller producers of the fruit, said Mark Villata, executive director of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. Of the 532.9 million pounds of blueberries grown in the United States last year, New York contributed just 1.8 million pounds.

“Nationwide, it looks like a crop on par with last year’s,” Villata noted. “We’re seeing really good quality, and there are some areas that are a little bit ahead of schedule.”

 

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