Monday was perfect for picking.
It was cloudy, temperatures were in the 70s and there was a slight breeze. And, best of all, there were some ripe blueberries ready to be picked.
By now Rhonda Shumaker and Joe Gouveia know pretty much what to expect in running the Rocky Point Farm they bought nine years ago from Mark and Betty Garrison. Granted, there are the surprises, like the hailstorm of a couple of weeks ago that damaged some of the crop. That goes along with farming. But at this point everything looks like a good season, although Shumaker is hesitant to predict a bumper crop.
Bushes are laden with berries – many of them green – so it takes some hunting to fill a bucket. That didn’t stop people from turning out at 7 a.m. Monday to be the first pickers of the 2019 season.
Karen Maguire and her daughter, Cecilia Palmari, weren’t up that early. They arrived at a more comfortable 10:15. This was a first visit for them, and soon enough Cecilia was reaching deep within the bushes to snag an especially large berry begging to be picked. It plopped into her empty bucket.
Have you tried one yet, she was asked?
Cecilia looked startled. Apparently, she hadn’t thought of sampling her harvest. Looking to her mother for approval, she picked another berry and opened her mouth. A smile crossed her lips.
“Is it good?” Karen asked.
Cecilia nodded approval.
Karen plans to make smoothies with their take.
But not all pickers had plans other than the experience of picking and being outside. There are plenty of bushes to choose from – 2,800 to be as close to exact as possible, according to Gouveia.
Shumaker said the “peak” picking period is from mid- to late July. The season is anticipated to extend into mid- or late August depending on how hot it gets. The warmer it is the faster the berries ripen and the shorter the season.
Picking times are the same as they have been for years. The farm is open for picking from 7 a.m. to noon every day of the week including weekends and from 4 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Berries are $2.85 a pound for self-picked and $4.85 a pound for picked. The farm hires two pickers in addition to staff that helps man the stand and mulch the bushes.
As the bushes flowered, the farm also got the assist from eight hives of bumblebees for pollination. The hives, each with about 250 bees, is shipped in and remains on site. By this time, with their work done, not a single bee was spotted.
The farm offers a special frequent pickers discount to those picking 10 pounds or more. The website offers recipes as well as tips on picking and other information.
Blueberries are not the only produce grown on the farm. It also produces paw-paws, a fruit about the shape and size of a champagne mango, although greenish. Shumaker said it’s difficult to forecast the paw-paw harvest as the tree-grown fruit not commonly found in these parts is now about the size of a grape.
When paw-paws ripen in late September they fall from the tree and should be quickly gathered as they don’t last long. When in season they don’t last long at the stand either.
“There’s a huge demand,” said Shumaker. “We sell out in 25 minutes.”
Blueberries, on the other hand, will be here for at least another month and a half if not longer.
Last year, 18,000 pounds – that’s nine tons – of blueberries were picked at the Rocky Point Farm.