OWENSBURG, Ind. (AP) — Sure, there’s the goodness of fresh and locally-grown berries, dusty blue ones and seed-packed black ones. But they aren’t the only reason to venture out to rural Greene County on an overcast and rainy summer afternoon.
“First of all, it’s an adventure,” said Jackie Strobel as she and her 20-year-old daughter, Megan, applied bug repellent in the parking lot at Brays on the afternoon of June 22. The u-pick blueberry and blackberry farm is 27 miles southwest of Bloomington on Ind. 58, past Dry Branch Road, Long’s Elk Farm and Pleasant Kentucky Ridge Baptist Church. Turn at the “Fresh Blueberries” sign.
Strobel, joined by one or two daughters, makes an annual summer trip from Bloomington to pick blueberries. Her family prefers fresh berries to the ones in plastic cartons sold at grocery stores. They didn’t know the farm cultivates rows of blackberry brambles until this year. She and her daughter picked a few pounds of each kind, filling plastic Halloween candy collection buckets as a light rain fell.
This growing season has not been kind to the 3,000 blueberry shrubs on Anne Bray’s 12 acres. Customers who remember the bountiful 2015 season keep asking why there are fewer blueberries this summer. Bray put a laminated, hand-written sign on a table at the outdoor weighing station, listing four reasons.
1. “Heavy rain at blossom time.” Delicate, bell-shaped blueberry blossoms are fragile and fall off the plant in heavy rains.
2. “Bees would not leave hives.” The rain kept bees from pollinating when the time was right.
3. “Three frost days in April.” Blossoms die.
4. “Then, a drought.” Blueberries need lots of water.
There are blueberries on the 6-foot-tall bushes, lots of them, just not as many as regular customers expect. Bray tries to interest them in her blackberry patch, which is thriving. It’s a good blackberry year. Thick stalks laden with giant berries hang to the ground. She prefers them to the smooth and sweet blueberry. She bakes them into pies.
She used to grow strawberries, too, but gave them up years ago.
Bob Hamilton has been picking blueberries at Brays for more than a decade. Martha Keith from Spencer joined him, carrying a blue plastic mop bucket. She was clearly new at this, gingerly harvesting one perfect berry at a time. She picked up speed, then took a break when a rain cloud passed over. Blueberries, she said, are easier to procure at Lucky’s Market.
She put one in her mouth. “Umm, it’s sweet,” she said. “I thought they would be sour.”
— LAURA LANE, The (Bloomington) Herald Times