Monday, May 14, 2012

A berry good time

Octogenarian "Danny" Daniels prepares to weigh the blueberries Ralph and Timmy picked at Lake Catherine Blueberries in Groveland

Simply Living
May 14, 2012

Call me a blueberry magician.  Place a bowl of the marble-sized fruit before me and I make them disappear.

In Central Florida, May is prime picking season and I practice my magic skills daily by devouring one handful after another of luscious ripe berries.

My appetite for eating quantities of blueberries is nothing new.  Some people go crazy over bakery items, burgers or beer.  My passion is whatever produce is in season.  It doesn't matter if it grows on a vine, tree or bush. When it's ready to pick, I'll grab my bucket and be right there.

This year I didn't have to go far.

In 2010, a u-pick blueberry farm opened four miles from our house. Lake Catherine Blueberries is located on State Road 19 just north of State Road 50 in Groveland. During their first two seasons, the bushes were small but this year the plants matured. Not only were they taller and fuller than in previous seasons, as the weather warmed, clusters of tasty morsels covered the head-high bushes. The 5-acre u-pick field yielded enough blueberries to fill a one-gallon container in about 30 minutes.

Ralph and I took advantage of the prolific plants by filling our buckets several times a week during the relatively short season. This year, the mild winter and warm spring caused Florida blueberries to ripen early. Picking for the commercial market began during the last week of March while the u-pick field season at Lake Catherine, which only grows two varieties of blueberries (Emerald and Jewel), started mid-April and ended last week.

Blueberry farms with late-season berries have longer u-pick seasons and now that the u-pick season is over at Lake Catherine, we'll be turning our attention to them. One of our favorite spots has always been Mark's Blueberries in Clermont. With 20 different varieties of fruit, Mark's provides u-pick opportunities at two separate u-pick fields three days a week through mid-July.

I've always appreciated people who open their farming operation to the public and while Mark's has been welcoming customers for more than two decades, Lake Catherine Blueberries, run by the Lowe family, is one of several new u-pick blueberry farms in the area. The Lowes may be new to blueberries but they're not new to agriculture. Their family has a long history of growing citrus in Lake County.

"Our children will be the fifth generation to farm the land," said Jamie Godfrey Lowe, who lives on the premises with her husband, Dustin Lowe, and their two children, 6-year-old DJ and 2-year-old Ava Grace.

Dustin Lowe's parents, Clinton and Ann Lowe, live next door and are actively involved in the business as is Jamie Lowe's grandfather, "Danny" Daniels, who often acts as greeter, handing out buckets and explaining u-pick how-to's to new customers.

"Eat as many as you want," Daniels tells a first time visitor. "Don't worry. We won't weigh you when you come back, just the berries."

It's a good thing customers aren't required to stand on a scale before and after spending time in the field because part of the fun of going to a u-pick operation is sampling the fare. Some farms, like Mark's, charge a "grazing" fee of $1 per person but most allow pickers to eat their fill as they gather fruit.

I'm not sure which I enjoy more — munching on berries while I pick or spending time outdoors chatting with my picking partners.
Conversations during berry picking are always special. It might be because we're in the fresh air away from attention-demanding computer screens. Without devices, fingers pluck fruit, leaving minds and mouths free to ease into thought-provoking exchanges. We pick, we talk, we explore topics that might otherwise go without discussion.

Picking fruit is such a positive activity I'm surprised how few people take advantage of it. It's not as if there's a dearth of u-pick operations in the area. The website lists seven u-pick blueberry farms in Lake County in addition to many others in neighboring counties.

Our family has picked fruit all across the country. To us, traveling is not about choosing the fastest route from Point A to Point B. It's about which roads will take us past the most u-pick farms along the way.

Maybe making a bowlful of blueberries disappear doesn't qualify me to be a real magician, but it does prove my passion for these small orbs of goodness. The real trick is making time to take advantage of this fun-for-all-ages activity. Try it and you'll not only wind up with a fruitful outing, you and your picking partners will have a berry good time.

Find a blueberry farm
Lake Catherine Blueberries,  352 551-4110
Green Acres Fernry and Citrus (and Blueberries!) 352 360-5445. Alternate Phone: 352 406-9724


  1. Hi missed listing my good friends, Terry & Marc Godts, owners of Green Isle Gardens, a native plant nursery on SR33 south of Groveland.They have a large field of blueberrie - still many for the picking and Blackberries that are still ripening! I picked a couple of quarts last Saturday - very good. You have to call them to set up a time - 429-3392.

  2. Thanks, Peggy. Marc and Terry's blueberries are also organically grown, one of the few organic blueberry farms in the area. Their number is 352-429-3392.

  3. How fun. After reading an old post of your about red pentas, I perused some of your more recent offerings.

    I planted some "Sunshine Blue" blueberries in our yard 2 years ago, because they have low frost requirements & are a compact 3' at maturity bush. We began reaping its rewards immediately.

    At the end of last summer I bought some more blueberry bushes on clearance at Walmart & this week (yes, it's taken this long...) I dug out the trench that they will be planted in.

    The four different low chill varieties I will plant are Sweet Crisp, Sapphire, and--ta da--Jewel, & Emerald. I have eaten some very large sweet berries while these poor, enduring plants have been in pots but hope for a much bigger harvest next year.

    The reason for the trench? In southern California, the soil is alkaline, but blueberries require acid soil. A specialist at the LA County arboretum recommended the "Sunshine Blue" because they would grow in large planters filled with peat moss. This week I am going to get 2 more 3.8 bales of compressed peat moss for the trench & then these babies will finally be settled in their new home.