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Berry bonanza: Blackberry, blueberry growers expecting a bountiful season
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Berry bonanza: Blackberry, blueberry growers expecting a bountiful season

BRIGHTWOOD—As strawberry season winds down, berry lovers still can fill their baskets as Virginia’s blackberries and blueberries ripen.

After a mild winter, blueberry and blackberry growers are welcoming customers to their U-pick fields and farm stands.

“It’s a good crop this year,” said Margaret Hutcheson, who co-owns Sunrise Gardens in Madison County. “We had an earlier spring so we’re open a week ahead of schedule.”

Open mid-June through mid-July for U-pick, the Hutchesons grow 16 types of blueberries on their 2-acre vegetable and berry farm, including BlueRay, BlueJay and Elizabeth—a larger variety that’s “nickel- or quarter-size.”

As one of the few U-pick blueberry growers in her area, Hutcheson said customer demand is strong. When picking blueberries, she recommends looking for the “biggest berry in the clump” as it will be the ripest. Unlike some types of produce, blueberries will not ripen on the counter.

“So you really want to make sure you pick blue ones,” she advised.

In King William County, grower Robbie Barber runs a 2-acre blackberry U-pick operation at Bell Acre Farm. Echoing Hutcheson, he said this year’s blackberries “are looking good,” and he expects a full crop as long as the area continues to receive timely rains and nice weather.

“We usually open somewhere between July 4 and July 10,” said Barber, who also serves as vice president of King William Farm Bureau. “We’ve been getting some phone calls, so interest has picked up.”

Barber grows several blackberry varieties that ripen throughout the season, including Triple Crown, Natchez, Ouachita and Hull—an heirloom variety that does “really well in our soils.”

When picking blackberries, avoid the red and purple berries. A fully ripe blackberry is plump, feels slightly tender and has dull—not shiny—black skin. The ripe berries will pull free from the plant with only a slight tug.

Whether used in jams, pancakes, cobblers or blackberry wines, there are myriad ways to enjoy seasonal berries. Fresh blackberries and blueberries are good sources of nutrients, and both are low in calories and rich in antioxidants, vitamins C and K, and manganese. Research indicates eating berries may help prevent heart disease, support brain health and manage blood sugar levels.

To find blackberry and blueberry growers near you, visit Virginia Grown’s market page at virginiagrown.com.

For more information on Virginia’s blackberries and blueberries, check out this Real Virginia episode at bit.ly/4bYgIIM.

Media: Contact Hutcheson at 540-407-1424 or Barber at 804-240-1041.
 

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