Berries, Berries, Berries
Spring is upon us, and along the Gulf Coast that means berries, berries of every sort! First come strawberries, which are already ripe for the picking, and won’t last long. They will be followed by blueberries and blackberries, which have longer picking seasons and should be ready by the end of April. Get ready for purple lips and sticky fingers, because the sweet fruits are irresistible right off the bushes. Berry picking is a family-friendly activity best done in the early part of the day, before sun, bugs, humidity, and afternoon showers make it less of an adventure and more of a challenge. U-Pick farms abound in our area, and Coastal Palate has information on several.
LYRENE’S BLUEBERRY FARM, which has been in operation since the mid-1980s, is located on the east side of Fairhope AL. “We got started almost accidentally,” says Betty Lyrene, who operated the farm with her husband Michael until recently, when their son Thomas took over managing the operation. “My husband’s cousin was a blueberry expert at the University of Florida, and he started an experimental patch here on our family land. He figured out what was best for our soil and weather, and we’ve been at it ever since, adding on again and again.” Mrs. Lyrene notes that the weather plays a huge part in when they open for business but expects it to be around the end of April. “The Southern Highbush blueberries are my favorite,” she notes. “Huge, sweet, and early.” The Lyrenes keep their customers informed through their Facebook page as when picking is going on. They open for business at 7:00 am, six days a week, and recommend that pickers come early in the day. Lyrene’s also sells “you-pick berries” by the pound, and by the pint, quart or flat for people who prefer not to choose their own.
LYRENE’S BLUEBERRY FARM
11911 HWY 104
Fairhope, AL 36532
BEULAH BERRIES LLC U-PICK operates in the Beulah community near Pensacola. “We are expecting a great season this year,” says the owner. “Our usual picking season stretches from late April until mid-July, and we invite pickers to visit our working farm and enjoy a quiet, relaxing morning in the Northwest Florida countryside.” Beulah Berries is open five days a week – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 7;00 am until noon. “It’s just too hot in the afternoon,” the owner says, “and we don’t want anyone getting sunburned or dehydrated!” Beulah Berries offers Southern Highbush and Rabbiteye blueberries – numerous varieties of each type – on their seven acres of irrigated bushes. The farm also has figs, zinnias, sunflowers, and their own honey for sale, and there’s always something new to see in the Berry Barn. Children are welcome, and there is so much for them to see and do and learn, but it is a working farm, with farm machinery, and parents are asked to keep their children supervised. Check their Facebook page for the season opener.
BEULAH BERRIES LLC U-PICK
6658 Suwanee Road
Pensacola, FL 32526
GARDNER’S BERRY FARM About ten years ago, Lawrence Gardner planted about 350 blackberry bushes, thinking of it as a potential retirement project. Every couple of years since then, he has added to his blackberry fields, which now total about 4,000 plants, and has branched out with about 900 blueberry bushes as well. Gardner and his wife Marian got into the U-pick slowly. For many years they focused mainly on selling at farmers markets, particularly in Mobile and Fairhope, but gradually they found that the U-pick format was less costly and provided entertainment value for the customers as well.
This season’s crops seem to be on track for a late April or early May start date, with different varieties ripening at different times. Picking usually winds down around the first or second week of July. Exact dates can be found on their Facebook page. Gardner’s Berry Farm is open seven days a week in season, from dawn to dusk, but pickers are cautioned that it can get sweltering in the afternoon. Berries are sold by the gallon and buckets, and bags are provided.
GARDNER’S BERRY FARM
21909 County Road 68 North
THE STRAWBERRY FARM owner Leonard Evers has been farming strawberries for nearly thirty years. He comes from a farming family, and he and his wife Colleen are focused on their you-pick operation that attracts berry lovers from an area that spans from Mississippi to Gainesville FL. “We have about 100,000 plants here, three super-sweet varieties, on about eight acres,” says Leonard. “It’s entirely you-pick – we don’t harvest and sell any of our berries commercially.”
The Strawberry Farm typically opens around mid-March and continues until early to mid-June. “We’re totally dependent on the weather,” Leonard says. “This year’s crop is very strong, and as long as we don’t have a freeze, we should have a great season.” Once picking is underway, customers can keep track of open days by checking the farm’s Facebook page. After heavy picking, the farm closes for a few days until more berries have ripened.
Hours of operation are 9:00 am until 6:00 pm, weather, and ripeness permitting. The farm provides boxes, and berries are $1.85 per pound.
THE STRAWBERRY FARM
8687 Evers Road
Milton, FL 32570
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This is how we eat!