Visiting the Farm
What should I bring?
- Containers/bags to take your berries home
- Sunblock and a hat if it’s sunny
- Bug spray
- Some kind of payment
We supply picking baskets (along with belts to strap them to your waist, if you want to pick with both hands). We encourage you to bring your own reusable storage containers to take your berries home, though we can provide Ziploc bags.
Where should I park?
Just pull to one side of the gravel driveway, so that others can get past you if necessary. If you have an appointment, we’ll be home and will come out to meet you in/near the barn. The barn door should be open.
Do you accept credit cards?
Yep, via Square.
Are kids welcome?
Absolutely! Most kids love picking blueberries and eating them straight off the bush.
How about dogs?
No, sorry. Llamas, though otherwise mild, are aggressive toward dogs. (Our neighbor’s 100-pound hunting dog was kicked by one of our llamas and took 3 days to recover.) Llamas are used to guard livestock because they defend against coyotes.
Are there restrooms?
Sort of. We have a little outhouse. The Kum & Go at the Tiffin I-80 exit has restrooms, too, if you’re looking for something a little fancier.
How much can I pick?
Please try to limit yourself to 5 pounds per visit, so that there are plenty of berries for everyone who has scheduled an appointment.
Why do I need to schedule an appointment?
Our property can’t accommodate a ton of cars at once; it’s our home, and there’s no parking lot. Also, most people—especially kids—want to hang out with the llamas and feed them a treat, which means that one of us needs to be present (so says our insurance agent). Because we both have off-farm jobs, appointments let us know when we need to be home. Finally, we think you’ll have a better experience picking berries in (relative) peace and quiet. We’ve been to other u-pick farms that are so busy and loud that it’s no fun to be there.
Do you accommodate large groups?
In general, no. We prefer small groups between 2 and 6 people (not counting children under 4). We truly are a small farm, and we book up fast; we want to be fair to everyone who books an appointment and make sure they have berries to pick. If you work for a nonprofit and want to bring a group of kids to the farm, please e-mail us before the season opens at email@example.com.
Why pick my own when I can buy them at the store?
Freshly picked blueberries are an entirely different fruit from what you find at the grocery store. We promise. We actually weren’t very fond of blueberries until we visited a you-pick blueberry farm, and WOW. They’re juicy and tart and sweet—totally unlike the dry little marbles you pay too much for at the supermarket. You haven’t tasted a blueberry till you’ve eaten one fresh. Plus, we hope you’ll enjoy the experience of picking berries out in the countryside on a historic farm.
Conventionally raised blueberries (i.e., blueberries sprayed with chemicals to control for weeds and insect damage) contain 52 pesticide residues, according to the USDA Pesticide Data Program, several of which are known or probable carcinogens. The toxicity is so high that, in 2010, the U.S. Environmental Working Group placed conventionally raised blueberries on its “Dirty Dozen” list, recommending that people buy organic blueberries whenever possible (as well as many other fruits and vegetables whose skins you eat rather than peel off and discard). Read more here: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/dangers-pesticides-blueberries-87335.html.
What’s that cloudy white coating on blueberries?
It’s called the “bloom,” and it’s a natural, protective wax coating, similar to the coating on plums and apples. (It’s not pesticide residue; we never spray our bushes.) Bloom is completely tasteless and harmless. It protects the berries from certain bacteria and insects and keeps them moist. Read more
Will I have to bend over or kneel to pick blueberries?
You can pick plenty of blueberries without bending over much. Unlike strawberry plants, highbush blueberries grow up to six feet tall. Ours are probably four feet tall right now. If you have a bad back or knee issues, blueberry bushes are your friend.
Why $5 per pound?
We spent a lot of time thinking about pricing. We surveyed the price of organic blueberries in every store we could find them, then considered our own production costs (labor, organic fertilizer, mulch), as well as the costs associated with maintaining the setting for visitors. Though we provide a fruit crop, we also offer visitors a special experience—gathering berries in a quiet rural setting beneath huge, ancient oak trees; touring a historic barn (c. 1875); watching the llamas; walking around our prairie and portion of forest reserve; playing ping-pong or bag toss… We don’t make our living off the berry farm. Honestly, we’re just trying to break even.
Do you offer pre-picked berries for sale?
No. We want to encourage the experience of picking your own berries rather than retail sale, so we don’t sell pre-picked berries. If you’re looking for bulk, pre-picked blueberries, we’d suggest trying Wilson’s Orchard, which I think gets berries shipped to them from Michigan each year. If you don’t mind picking your own, try the Orchards on Sand Road just south of Iowa City. They have 2 acres of blueberry plants!
Are blueberries native to Iowa?
Almost, but no. They’re native to the upper Midwest (Michigan, in particular). Iowa soil tends to be too alkaline for them. They like acidic soil. We had to replace most of the soil in the rows where we planted because the original soil was too clayey and alkaline.
How do you control weeds?
We pull weeds by hand, believe it or not. The worst offenders in our patch are wild fennel, brome grass, Canada thistle, ragweed, miscellaneous tree seedlings, and palmer amaranth. Also, we use mulch. Lots and lots of mulch.
What about animal and insect pests?
Our #1 pest is birds. Songbirds. We’ve talked to a lot of berry farmers about bird scare devices, and basically there’s no good, long-term solution. The birds learn that plastic owls are fake very quickly. They learn that pie tins and other noisemakers are not real threats (and besides, those annoy everybody). Nets are tangly and awful, especially on a larger scale. Some berry farmers actually hire falconers to scare the birds every month or so. We’re not that desperate. We let the birds eat their fill.
Japanese beetles are another serious threat to blueberry plants. We use beetle traps late in the season, when the bugs get really bad. They’re basically bags of water and bug pheromone hanging from trees. The beetles get trapped and die. I don’t like killing, but these creatures are ruthless. They’ll eat a plant to the ground…not just the berries, but the leaves, too. If you see any while picking, don’t worry, though. They don’t bite. And they’re sort of pretty, all gemstone green.
Do you plan to grow your farm?
We will probably replant the bushes that have died, but we have no plans to expand. We want to preserve as much of the oak savanna as possible and restore the native prairie.
Storage and Baking
How do I store my blueberries?
For short-term (week-long) storage:
- Go through the berries and discard any soft or damaged berries. Remove any stems.
- Don’t wash the berries before storing them (especially important for long-term storage). Washing can toughen the blueberries’ skin.
- Cool the berries to room temperature. This will prevent excessive condensation within the storage container. You can even spread them on paper towels or cookie sheets and place them in front of a fan for more effective drying.
- Select a storage container (Pyrex, Tupperware, or Ziploc bags will do) and put a folded paper towel in the container to absorb any condensation.
- Load the blueberries into the container and place in the refrigerator.
- Rinse before eating.
For long-term storage (up to 1 year):
- Follow steps 1-3 above.
- Spread the blueberries in a single layer on cookie sheets and place in the freezer until they’re frozen (no longer than 24 hours). This prevents them from clumping together in the storage containers.
- Transfer the berries to freezer bags or other freezer containers and seal tightly.
- Place in freezer!
- Rinse before eating.
Adapted from http://www.blueberrywoman.com/research.php
Do you have any good pie recipes?
Sorry, no. You’re welcome to bring or send us recipes that we can share with others—but we don’t cook or bake with blueberries. Every time we try, we regret it because the berries taste so much better all by themselves, fresh.
Originally, we wanted a few animals that would help us control the weeds in the pasture area. Goats would have done that. Sheep would have done that. Llamas, it turns out, don’t do that. They’re choosy; they want grass or alfalfa, and they want it knee-high or shorter. But they’re funny and charming, and we couldn’t resist them. A lot of our neighbors have llamas, too. Some use them to protect sheep from coyotes.
Do you sell their wool?
We give it away. (Interested? It’s dirty…)