Blueberry Picking Techniques
First of all you have to have a bucket. You will soon want to have a few with you as the berries are so good that you never get enough, especially when you start freezing them, cooking them for jams and sauces or, my favorite, putting them in the blender with various things for a morning liquid breakfast and treat. Anyway, even if your first intention is to just get enough for your breakfast cereal, you will likely get carried away and want more and more and more. We all do!
There are all sorts of bucket carry methods. Some have replaced the bail of the pail with a strap and hooks so they can sling it around their neck, over their shoulder or even around their waist. You can get an adjustable luggage strap, with a heavy shoulder pad and non-slip grip, from the luggage store. It already has the end hooks, which can be attached to the pail, and such a strap can be had about twelve bucks. Just take off the bail and figure a way to attach the hooks to the pail. You can experiment with all sorts of carry arrangements.
Some of the old-timers, like my Pop Pop, used to lace their belt through the pail and just let it hang as they walked around each bush and picked until it was full. He had both hands free to pick that way. Who would ever want to pick with only one hand? That's way too slow! When I was younger I hung the bucket around by neck on a big soft rope. Now I use the luggage strap method and change it around all the time for comfort and utility. I think most people just hold and move the pail or slip one arm through it to the elbow, like you would carry a purse while paying the cashier.
Most folks seem to look for those giant blueberries (or any other berry they are picking) and often leave all the small and ordinary ones. I like the ripest fruit the best, by far. I have been known to go to where the bushes have already been picked a few days earlier and get the ready-to-burst ripe berries. Some scientists say that a fruit is not fully nutritious until the moment it is ready to fall to the ground as a seed carrier. I am that way too. I prefer all my fruit when it is so ripe that I just touch it and it falls into my hands. The complex chemical changes in the plant that turn the fruit into a perfect food for the seed occur just before it falls to earth and that is when I want it for my body's use.
I like the fruit plump, juicy and cool! I eat a LOT as I pick, so for me the very best time of the day to pick is the cool of the early morning, as early as I can arrange it. There is no better way to start the day than picking blueberries in the field and having a belly full of fresh berries for breakfast. I just give the cashier more money to pay for all the berries I eat while picking. My favorite picking fantasy, and one I've luckily enjoyed a few times, is picking at sunrise in a heavy cool dew and staying at it 'till the warming sun has burned off the last of the wetness and I'm full as a tick on a hound dog's ear.
The cool of the evening is another good time to pick, when the sun has had the entire day to nourish the leaves and push that good juice into the berry. I love the feel of the cool air and the warmth of the sun burned soil coming up in my face, when I pick berries in the cool, late, afternoon or early evening! Personally, I am not a middle-of-the-hot-sunny-day picker. Some like it hot. I don't. There is something special about having a couple of full pails of blueberries beside me as I travel home in my vehicle at sunset.
Blueberries are a delight to pick, at Ryan's Blueberry Farm, as they are tended in rows with good walking spaces in-between. The thorns are not a problem like they are on other berries, or some of the wild berries at the edge of fields and woods. At Ryan's I can wear a T-shirt, shorts and even sandals if I want. As I am not a heat of the day picker, I don't need the big straw hat. If you pick middle of the day, to do your berry harvesting, bring a big cool hat and sunscreen.
Some of my favorite times have been when I've picked with children or a friend. I have a bad back so blueberries are nowhere near the trouble that strawberries are! What a relief that is! Still, for berry picking, I like to bring my lightweight folding stool or chair. Nearly weightless folding stools and chairs are available at K-Mart, WallMart or outdoors stores like Sunny's Surplus. In the old days, lots of folks around here used to bring the milking stools with them or even a folding card-table chair to move around the bushes with. They weighed a lot more than my folding stool that I got from a hunting store where they sell them to the dove hunters.
As I am only interested in the ripest of the berries, I only seek those that are deep, dark, and blue all over. They aren't ripe till they are deepest blue. It's that deep blue that has all the miracle ingredients that makes blueberries one of the healthiest foods on earth! Let the immature blueberry-children grow -- leave the unripe ones to ripen is my motto.
Like all fruit that I'm aware of, the ripe berries are ready to fall off the bush and the unripe ones need some pulling and tugging. When the kids are with me, I tell them that if the bush is moving much when they pull the berries, the berries are not ripe. Sure, the unripe berries will get more blue if you set them in the sunlight, even after you pick them. But, I doubt that they are getting all the same nutrients from just the sun that they would be getting on the plant if they stayed there until they were done. The bush ripened ones seem to be a lot sweeter to me.
I look forward to being spoiled again this year, with fresh and nutritious berries from the farm. Those ones in the store just don't make it for me, unless that is all I can get.
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