By Susan Redden
JOPLIN, Mo. —
At least some of her harvest will end up in pancakes, Heather Shockley predicted Wednesday as she picked blueberries on a farm near Saginaw.
“I can’t wait to make pancakes, and I’ll freeze some — if I don’t eat them all first,” Shockley said as she and fellow nurse Heather Brannin picked the plump, dark berries off laden bushes at Thompson’s Bees and Berries, 707 Saginaw Road.
Favorable weather, including a wet spring, has produced a bumper crop of blueberries this year. Area farmers are picking the berries to sell and are opening their fields to area residents who want to choose their own berries right off the bush.
The bushes are loaded at Thompson’s, and owner Howard Thompson said he is surprised at this year’s yield. He said his plants had some damage from winds two years ago, then bore the effects of last year’s drought, despite the farm’s irrigation system.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect this year, but it’s been really good,” he said.
Robert Carter, of Neosho, said he’s had a good crop of berries, and an even better crop of customers.
He and his wife, Jill, opened their farm at 1185 Carl Sweeney Road near Neosho on Wednesday and had to close it the same day.
“We got picked out the first day; now it will take about a week for more berries to get ripe,” he said.
The harvest also has been “excellent” at G’s Orchard, on Farm Road 1130 five miles southeast of Monett, according to owner Mark Graves.
“We just started last week, but the rain has really helped,” he said.
Farming is Thompson’s second job; he works as a perinatologist with Freeman Health System. Brannin and Shockley are nurses in the hospital’s labor and delivery department. All three said they appreciate blueberries for their health benefits.
“They’re full of anti-oxidants, and they’re better for diabetics than most fruits because they don’t cause blood sugar to spike,” Thompson said.
“This is so much better for you as a snack than something like a chocolate bar,” Brannin said.
Carter said area residents didn’t know much about blueberries, or their health benefits, when he started planting them 25 years ago.
“The popularity of blueberries has really increased, but it took years for them to become as popular around here as they are now,” he said.
Carter said that during the first 10 years of production, his operation would hire 20 to 25 people to pick the berries, which were marketed wholesale.
“We couldn’t sell them any other way,” he said. “Now, people come and pick everything we’ve got.”
Carter said that after another variety died off, he’s selling a single cultivar of blueberry that will ripen over a period of two to three weeks.
“It’s disappointing when we can’t stay open as much as we want,” he said. “We have people who come back year after their; they’ve become our friends.”
Thompson said he has planted four different varieties so he’ll have blueberries to offer for about six weeks. He planted the newest variety about 2 1/2 years ago. It takes three years before bushes start producing fruit and six years for them to reach full production, he said.
And favorable weather must span the seasons for a good harvest, Carter said.
“They bloom in the fall to produce in the spring,” he said. “One year we had a freeze on Oct. 31, and it killed the whole crop for the next year.”
Thompson also sells his berries at the Webb City Farmers Market, and on Monday he opened his farm to volunteers who picked 100 pounds of blueberries to donate to Crosslines Ministries of Joplin. He also sells peaches and honey. Graves, at Monett, said his operation also produces blackberries, peaches and apples.
BLUEBERRIES ARE ESPECIALLY HIGH in vitamin C, manganese and vitamin K, according to pickyourown.org, a website that has blueberry farm locations, information on canning and freezing, and recipes.