The bushes at Blueberry Haven in Bear Creek grow berries big enough to cover a quarter coin, but pickers on Sunday morning were happy to fill their buckets with sweet, ripe berries of all sizes.
“I just love this time of year,” said Marlene Falstad, of Eland.
She and her husband, Bert Falstad, had driven 35 miles to pick berries. They would make more trips, Marlene said, perhaps with teenage grandchildren to help.
In the first picking, pickers had to cover more ground – a berry or two or three might be ripe for picking in a clump of more than a dozen.
Farm owner Moni Jarvais said this year’s harvest would run through late August and maybe into September.
Blueberry Haven is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. for you-pick customers. Pre-picked berries are available as well.
Like the Falstads, other pickers said Sunday, July 21, was their first of several visits to the farm.
Jan Loewenhagen, of Greenville, said she picks three buckets of berries each time she comes out to the farm, and usually makes five trips.
“They’re just excellent,” said Loewenhagen, her bucket tied to her waist with nylon rope to free her hands for picking.
A Bear Creek neighbor, Gary Paul, who lives a few miles up the road from the farm, said he loved to pick berries.
“I come out about every day,” he said. He, too, looped his bucket handle over his belt.
Most said their harvest was headed for the freezer.
Loewenhagen offered tips: Don’t wash the berries; the faint white coating protects them. She freezes berries on a cookie sheet, then bags them when they’re frozen.
Marlene Falstad freezes berries for pancakes and parfaits – layers of blueberries, strawberries and vanilla yogurt with granola on top.
“I love that,” she said.
“Don’t forget blueberry pie,” Bert Falstad reminded his wife.
The Falstads picked strawberries earlier this summer at nearby Glendale Farms, and they pick wild blackberries.
“It’s more work, and you have to watch out for wildlife,” Marlene said.
Three generations worked another row of berries – two of them picking.
Karen Paul, of Greenville, said she freezes berries and eats them all winter, in baked goods or on ice cream.
Paul was picking berries with her daughter, Georgia Paul-Ogden. Georgia’s son, Gabe Ogden, 5, flew a toy airplane along the paths between the rows of berry bushes.
Berry picking was a family activity for the Scharenbrocks of Appleton as well.
Amanda and Zach helped their parents Pam and Dan pick along both sides of a row of tall berry bushes. Pam Scharenbrock said they’ve picked berries once a year for about five years.
She, too, freezes berries for muffins, desserts, fruit smoothies and spreads.
Blueberry Haven opened for public picking in 2007. Jarvais and her husband, Duke Olson, planted the first berry bushes in 2002.
Duke died in a tractor accident.
“I stuck around,” said Jarvais, a self-described “city slicker” from Rhinelander.
Today, she is married to Duane Jarvais, and they run the farm together.
The perimeter is fenced to keep deer out. The farm is irrigated, more for frost protection than to water plants, Jarvais said.
It takes three years for blueberry plants to get established and bear fruit.
In 2005, she said, they picked the first berries, a small harvest sold from their garage.
Now, in addition to you-pick and pre-picked berries sold at the farm, Jarvais’ berries are sold at the weekly farmers’ market in Waupaca and a few retail outlets.
She’d like to supply more berries to area grocery stores, but said price competition from Michigan blueberries – mechanically picked and delivered boxed – is stiff.
The first bushes planted at Blueberry Haven now stand more than five feet tall. Unlike strawberry plants, which bear fruit for only a few years, Jarvais said blueberry plants can produce for 50 years.
Blueberry Haven isn’t an organic farm, but Jarvais said she uses all-natural herbicide for weeds and fungicide before and after the harvest. During the harvest, nothing is applied to the plants.
Pickers did not hesitate to sample as they picked, knowing only the berries in their buckets would be weighed – not those in their bellies.
For more information, visit blueberryhaven.net.