Eyes were on the berries, but we and our fellow pickers also enjoyed plenty of laughter and positive chatter.
The place was Blueberry Ridge Farm and the time was a late-Tuesday morning during one of the farm’s designated U-pick days of the season.
Nestled inside a secluded farm atop Bunner Ridge in Fairmont, Blueberry Ridge was quite busy by 9:30 a.m. As vehicles poured in, occupants poured out of them, eager to begin their picking expeditions. A most friendly parking attendant directed everyone to a hand washing station, then a pavilion, where we were given plastic-lined buckets and harnesses to hold them – if desired. We were then directed to 12 acres – that’s 3,000 organic blueberry bushes – to pick what our hearts desired.
I asked Owner John Connoly if he ever imagined the blueberry operation would turn into such a big one. His answer was “We hoped it would.”
It was 20 years ago when he and a group of friends purchased the property for the very purpose for which it has been used. It was a vision inspired by a berry farm of earlier times.
“There was a neighbor down the road – an elderly gentleman, Mr. McConnell – and I used to pick at his farm,” Connoly said. “He had a wealth of information about blueberries and told me one can’t grow enough; that people love them so much.”
When Connoly – who lives in the area – received the opportunity to purchase the Bunner Ridge property, he knew it was the right place.
“We found wild blueberries here and that means it was good, acidic soil,” he said. “If you see wild berries, you know it’s a good place to grow.”
Starting in late-June or early-July – when berries are perfect for picking – the farm is open one or two days per week. On those designated U-Pick days, the farm is peppered with people and by the end of the day, most of the ripe berries are gone. They allow a few days for berries to ripen, then they announce via the farm’s Facebook page when the next U-Pick day will be.
Though the picking season only lasts weeks, growing organic berries is a process that spans several months.
“The year starts in February/early March with pruning the bushes. Then we fertilize, then every row of bushes gets a layer of sawdust to keep the weeds down and the moisture in,” Connoly said. “We then spread a compost tea – a special blend we have for blueberries – at the end of May/beginning of June.”
The next major project is mowing enough property for parking and lining up a crew to facilitate U-pick days, which run 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. After picking a bucket full – or whatever quantity you want – you check out. The berries are weighed ($4.75 per pound) and you pay cash or check (no debit/credit). You can then pour your berries into your own container, take them home in a plastic bag or pay $2 to take the bucket home. Throughout the harvest season, the berry bushes require plenty of irrigation.
“When it’s hot and dry, we try to keep as much water on them as possible,” Connoly said.
By the time August rolls around, the bushes are pretty much done for the year. Another round of fertilization follows, then the berry business is finished for the year. It’s a rewarding enterprise and it’s obvious that Connoly and his crew enjoy the visitors. We sure enjoyed talking with them also. Parking cars and enthusiastically greeting visitors was Jim Heidenreich, who painted the on-site water tower with an Almost Heaven, WV motif. His handiwork can be seen across the region.
Julie Perine can be reached at 304-848-7200 ext. 2 or via email at email@example.com.