As the strawberry season winds down, another crop takes center stage this month. Blueberries are coming in for a short six-to-eight week season.
And with that sweet little fruit comes blueberry festivals, blueberry pies, blueberry wine, blueberry honey, blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, blueberry shortcake, blueberry jam and an abundance of U-pick blueberry opportunities.
The 2013 harvest topped 20 million pounds, according to the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, and this year’s crop is expected to top 25 million.
The “Official” 2014 Florida Blueberry Festival gets underway Saturday in Brooksville and two more are set for the end of the month: the 7th annual Tampa Bay Blueberry Festival at the Keel & Curley Winery in Plant City, and the 4th annual Blueberry Jerry Jamboree in Hudson.
A cooler-than-usual spring has delayed the crop which usually starts coming in during late March. The commercial harvest has started at that bigger farms while some of the smaller U-pick operations are still waiting.
“We hope to open on Wednesday; the little berries are like teenagers, easily confused by the weather,” jokes Debbie Deanna, who with her partner Ken Stafford, runs DK Blueberries on U.S. 92 in Seffner.
“The bigger growers don’t open their fields for picking until after the market price drops, which is usually in mid-May,” says Deanna. “We are exclusively a U-pick place with 13 varieties of blueberries and we cater to seniors and the military.” DK also offers blueberry honey made on the farm. They have no website but they are listed on Craigslist and www.pick yourown.com.
Many U-pick farms, such as Proctor Family Farms in Plant City and Church Lake Farms in Odessa, cater to families.
Steve Linton of Church Lake Farms plans to open the 3-acre blueberry patch by Easter weekend. “We get a lot of repeat business from families and groups because it’s good outing where you get a good product at a good price and leave with a full belly,” he says. See more on http://churchlakefarms .com.
The Florida Blueberry Growers Association offers tips for U-pickers: Start early in the day when it is cooler; always call ahead or get on a farm’s e-mail list; bring cash; bring your own containers; keep blueberries on ice; pick only the ripe berries; do not remove tops of berries; and make an effort to pick every ripe berry on each plant rather than jumping from plant to plant and row to row.
More than 50 blueberry farms in Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk and Hernando counties will be opening up to the public. You can find many of them on pickyour own.org.
Area festivals focusing on the fruit include:
♦ The Florida Blueberry Festival: This weekend a 10-block area in historic downtown Brooksville will have food trucks, vendors, clowns, a car show, craft booths, a blueberry art exhibit, live music and street entertainment as well as all kinds of blueberry treats.
Among the entertainers are Aerosmith, Eagles and Elton John tribute bands. The event runs 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5 adults, $3 children and free for kids age 5 and younger. Check www .floridablueberryfestival .org for details.
♦ The 7th annual Tampa Bay Blueberry Festival takes place April 25-26 at the Keel & Curley Winer, 5210 W. Thonotosassa Road in Plant City.
It will have wine and beer tastings as well as blueberry shortcakes and blueberry smoothies. Admission is free and the winery will open its of U-pick fields during the festival, says spokeswoman Megan Maguire. Maguire says there will be 90 vendors, a kid’s zone and live music all three days. New this year is craft beer tasting featuring selections from Keel & Curley’s spinoff brewery, the Two Henrys. For information go to tampabay blueberryfestival.com.
♦ The 4th annual Blueberry Jerry Jamboree in Hudson on April 25-27 also is free. The event, sponsored by Short’s Berry Barn and Faith United Methodist Church, honors the memory of grower Jerry Short, who died in 2010 at age 60, and his son, Justin, who was killed at age 22 in a motorcycle accident in 2010.
The festival features various blueberry treats, a pulled-pork dinner, puppet shows, country, bluegrass and gospel music, clog dancers, a blueberry pancake breakfast and a horseshoe tournament. The event is at the Rotary Pavilion on State Road 54. For information go to www.pascoblueberryfestival.com.