Local blueberry farms prospering in mild summer conditions

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 10:38 pm on Friday, July 25, 2014


At top right, Ethan Bollone, 4, of Saranac, picks blueberries (seen close up at top right) at Bird Berry Farms in Orleans Township Friday afternoon. (Daily News | Cory Smith)

ORLEANS TOWNSHIP — As 7-year-old Adam Lasco of Edmore crawled his way deep into a blueberry bush at Bird Berry Farms, picking away at the plentiful berries, he suddenly faced a dilemma. The number of berries in his bucket somehow appeared to remain the same.

As it turns out, for Adam, the blueberries were a little too irresistible, as he found himself filling his stomach instead of his bucket.

“We love ‘em, maybe too much,” Adam’s grandmother, June McMeekan of Belding, said with a laugh. “This is our first time out here this year and they are fabulous. The blueberries are really big this year.”

According to Bill Bird, who co-owns Bird Berry Farms with his wife, Liz, this year’s crop of blueberries has proven to be a favorable one, with the ideal week for picking blueberries beginning Monday.

Bird said an abnormally cold winter, in which temperatures were well below average in Michigan, initially hurt his crop of blueberries, which he grows on his nine-acre farm along with strawberries. Amild summer with temperatures hovering in the low 70s has turned things around for his farm.

“I’m not disappointed at all,” he said. “We’re down on overall volume, but the size of the berries, it might be the best we’ve ever had.”

Stacey Bollone, of Saranac, visited the farm Friday with her five sons, as she does every year, and said the blueberries look “bigger than ever.”

Blueberries, such as those located at Bird Berry Farms in Orleans Township, are ready for picking throughout Michigan as summer conditions have been ideal for crops throughout the state.

“We come here every year to pick blueberries; it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “We freeze them for the winter. Then when winter comes, we make smoothies, pancakes, muffins and slushies.”

Bird said it’s difficult to grow blueberries in mid Michigan, as most berry farms are located along Lake Michigan, which acts as a natural buffer working to prevent extremely cold and hot temperatures in the winter and summer seasons.

“Blueberries like cooler weather,” he said. “We’ve been sitting at about 72 degrees all summer, which has been ideal. The weather hurt us early in the year, but it’s actually helping out greatly now in the summer months.”

According to Bird, about 10 inches of rainfall that was received in about a three-week span this spring was harmful to his strawberry crop, but appears to have been a greatly appreciated benefit to the blueberry crop.

“Had we not had that much rain, I would have had my best strawberry crop ever,” he said. “But we’re doing just fine. I think the rain actually helped our blueberry crops more than expected.”

Bird said he didn’t have any major issues with freezing temperatures in the spring, compared to the spring 2012 when temperatures soared into the 80s during the month of March, prompting berry bushes to begin producing berries earlier than usual, only to see the temperatures drop below freezing just days later.

Bird said those types of fluctuations in temperatures have been absent this year, which has helped make up for the extra cold winter.

“What we’ve lost, we’ve gained in other ways,” he said. “This should be a good year for us.”

Adam Lasko, 7, of Belding, works his way through a blueberry bush Friday afternoon at Bird Berry Farms in Orleans Township, picking dozens of blueberries to take home for his grandmother to bake into a pie.

Both Bill and Liz are using the weekend to prepare for their most popular blueberry, the “bluecrop,” one of five varieties of blueberries that are grown on the farm, which will be available to pick starting Monday.

“They are all totally different,” Liz Bird said. “They taste different, they look different, a lot of people don’t realize there are so many kinds of blueberries.”

As for Adam and his grandmother, the berries are expected to be put to good use. McMeeken said the two of them will bake a blueberry pie together because Adam has never tasted one.

“He’s spent the night with grandma and we decided to pick berries this morning,” McMeeken said. “He’s also mentioned blueberry pancakes, so we’ve got a lot of baking and cooking to do.”

Bird Berry Farms is located at 5256 Belding Road (M-44). For hours of operation and prices, call (616) 794-5041.

For a complete list of Michigan berry farms, visit www.pickyourown.org.

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