Grab some closed-toe shoes, a floppy sun hat and an oversized belt: it’s blueberry picking time.
July is peak season for this antioxidant superstar with many of the U-Pick orchards opening this week. Lucky for us in western Cuyahoga County, we’re only a short drive from a handful of Lorain County farms that harvest these berry beauties.
If you’ve never hand-picked a bucketful of ripe blueberries, don’t let another glorious growing season pass you by. Blueberries are among the fruits with the highest amounts of antioxidants, which may help fight aging, cancer and heart disease. They have substantial amounts of dietary fiber and vitamins A and C. At only 80 calories per cup, blueberries are also fat-free.
I tugged my first berry off a bush last year and wondered aloud how I had lived 35 plus years in Northeast Ohio – minus years in college and short stint in Indiana and Florida – and had never ventured out on such a berry field trip before.
Yet, admittedly urban to the core, I hadn’t gone out to the country without backup. I had my then 11-year-old daughter as well as close family friends whose brood of children brought us to a formidable picking herd of seven.
Our destination was Poor Peasley Farm, a quiet orchard tucked away in Amherst. We headed out on a bright sunshiny Sunday morning, zigzagging our way along country roads until we finally made it there with help of a GPS.
I should probably insert some pre-picking tips here. Always head out with enough gas in case you get lost. Make sure you have cash in your pocket since every farm accepts cash but credit and checks are hit or miss. Be sure to pack waters and plan ahead for bathroom breaks. Wear sunscreen and bring a hat. And always bring the address and phone number for the farm in case you need to call for directions.
Our blueberry expedition was blissful. Poor Peasley provided belts so we could rig our buckets around our waist and have both hands free for double-duty picking. I loved the feel of the hot sun beating down on me as I carefully plucked the best berries. After an hour or so, my daughter and I had picked 9 pounds of flavorful berries. Our cost? Less than $20. This year, berries picked at Poor Peasley will be $1.65 a pound.
We took our loot of fiber-rich beauties home to freeze what we couldn’t eat right away. I froze the unwashed berries in single layers on a cooking sheet and once frozen, I transferred them to freezer bags so I could use in smoothies, baked goods and sauces throughout the year.
When picking blueberries, look for the bluest of the blueberries, says Chet Bowling, owner of Black River Organics in Wellington. Bowling farms five acres of blueberries and his U-Pick fields, which are located on Peck-Wadsworth Road, open today. His USDA-certified organic berries cost $2.75 a pound.
“Even though they are blue sometimes they are not completely ripe, so you want to make sure to do the feel test on it and make sure it comes off easily,” Bowling says. “You pick a blueberry in a very certain way. You hold your hand underneath it and you rub it with your thumb and if it comes off, it’s ripe.”
Bowling says it’s perfectly fine to sample berries in the field while you pick.
“Oh sure, absolutely! We just try to tell people not to make this their main meal of the day,” he said.
Here are some of the local farms that offer U-Pick blueberries. Be sure to call or email before you head out!
Address: 2200 Baumhart Road, Vermilion
Open: Tuesday to Saturday, closed Sundays and Mondays. Picking ends late August. Berries are $2.50 a pound. Call for more info about hours, ripeness, etc.
Payment: Cash or check only. Farm store and restrooms available.
Black River Organics: Certified Organic blueberries
Address: 18369 State Route 58, Wellington
Email: Bro@ncwcom.com to get the e-newsletter for picking days and times. Its five-acre blueberry patch is not located at the main farm.
Directions: The blueberry patch entrance is located next to 46296 Peck Wadsworth Road, Wellington. Look for our sign on the north (right) side of Peck Wadsworth road. After you turn into the entrance just follow the path until you come to our berries
Payment: Cash only
Address: 19060 West River Road, Columbia Station
Open: July-August, daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Address: 25380 Akins Road at Columbia West River Road, Columbia Station
Open: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon
Directions: South of Route 82 (Royalton Road) and north of Grafton Road on Columbia West River Road.
Payment: Cash only
Address: 9199 Peasley Road, Amherst
Directions: From the intersection of Baumhart Rd and state Route 113, proceed west on 113 about one half miles to Vermilion Rd (flashing light) turn right. Proceed north on Vermilion Rd one mile, cross over Ohio Turnpike and take immediate left onto Portman Road. Go one half mile to right turn on Peasley Road. Follow Peasley to the first blueberry farm. Parking is directly on the right where you'll see blueberry bushes
Payment: Cash only