It's nearing the end of the u-pick season, but it's been a fruitful year, according to blueberry farmers in Hillsborough County.
Doug and Joy Stafford own Stafford Blueberries at the intersection of John Moore Road and Bloomingdale Avenue in Brandon. Joy said this year has been a particularly good year for blueberries because they weren't overrun with birds – specifically the Cedar Waxwing.
“We have had fewer birds this year compared to last year,” she said, adding the birds came in flocks of 200 or more last year to eat their berries. “We had hundreds of birds last year. This year has been all the difference in the world.”
And that difference has translated at the cash till, as well.
“For us, it's been a great year,” Joy said. “This is our fifth year. I have had 20 or 30 calls this morning because people who know anything about blueberries know it's toward the end of the season. They may be having a hard time finding places that still have blueberries.”
Although they are typically open Tuesday through Sundays, they only open the gates for the u-pick customers if there are enough ripe berries.
“We have had a real good day this last Saturday,” said Doug. “They picked all the ripe berries — that's a good sign.”
“Our season is almost ending,” Joy said. “This may be the last four weeks we have because we only have a 2-acre patch. At least 500 of our bushes are babies. They aren't a year old.”
She said the five varieties they grow are the Princess, Sapphires, Jewels, Emeralds and Prima Donnas. Most of the berries are sweet, but the Emeralds – which are ripening now – tend to be tart. Tart berries are popular with some pie-makers as well as wine-makers.
Stafford said he likes to share his best blueberry buckle recipe with customers at the farm, 3111 John Moore Road. He leaves recipe cards on the counter.
“I like blueberry buckle,” he said, adding that buckle is similar to a blueberry cobbler. “Blueberries are good for you.”
After the season is over, he prunes the blueberry bushes. The new growth produces next year's crop, he said.
Joy said they welcome children at their family-friendly farm. They furnish buckets for picking as well as take-home bags. The price is $6 per pound or about 2 cups of blueberries.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, blueberry farmland in Florida has tripled from 1,360 acres in 1997 to 4,500 acres in 2012. In addition to the numerous blueberry farms in Plant City, Hillsborough County also is home to small blueberry farms such as Stafford Blueberries and Moody Blues Farm, 404 Cloverleaf Drive, Lithia. Matt and Laurie Moody have grown organic blueberries for four years now on their 7-acre farm.
Blueberries aren't just grown for muffins, pies, jellies and cobblers.
Keel and Curley Winery in Plant City hosted their 6th annual Tampa Bay Blueberry Festival April 27-28. The event included u-pick blueberries, entertainment, food and crafts. Their wine list includes dry, semi-dry and sweet blueberry wines.