There’s nothing better than a handful of fresh blueberries. And it’s true, the berries are sweeter and tastier in the summer.
Our family typically gets our blueberries from the grocery store, even in the summertime. But that, my friends, just changed! See, I have been searching – a while now – for a way to fuel our family’s blueberry habit without breaking the bank. (We all know how expensive blueberries can get. $4 for a single pint of berries? No way, Jose!)
Then, this past weekend I found a local Gulf Coast family that has a U-Pick Blueberry Farm. This was the blueberry oasis I had been hoping for! For just $10 and little hard work, we could have ourselves a gallon of berries that would far surpass our weekly consumption of those little blueberries.
But aside from the bounty of fresh-picked blueberries, the family time we gained was more than I had imagined. I’ll admit, I was a little leary as to how successful our trip to pick blueberries would be; I have a very rambunctious 4-year-old and an I’m-getting-too-cool 11-year-old. But the girls’ conversions of excitement on the drive there made me hopeful!
When we arrived at Spring Lake Berry Farm, I was beyond excited to see that this was truly a Mom & Pop operation. The farm is a family farm located behind a small home; the property houses the blueberry bushes plus a small garden for family use. At the opposite end of the property were more family homes.
We pulled into the driveway and parked along the side of the yard with the other visiting pickers. A sign lead the way to check-in where we would grab our buckets. Ms. Cindy greeted us at the door and gave us the low-down on how the U-Pick works and answered all our questions. (I’m a question asker, for sure. I don’t like to go into something just willy nilly.)
Turns out Spring Lake Berry Farm is home to 3 varieties of blueberries. (All delicious!) Each variety was marked by a colored ribbon at the beginning of the row. The girls and I weren’t sure what exactly we would want to do with all the berries we would pick that morning. So, we opted for some of each which ranged in flavor from pretty tart to sweet.
Ms. Cindy did tell us the difference in each variety, but, inevitably, I forgot once we walked back to the rows of blueberry bushes. No worries, though, sampling is highly encouraged on the farm! It’s a good thing, too. I think my little one ate more blueberries than she picked to put in her bucket!
We ended up picking 2 buckets worth of blueberries that morning. I had a bucket with a rope shoulder strap and the girls had a bucket with just a handle for easier carrying. We began picking with the girls carrying both buckets but that quickly wore off and I ended up with my bucket draped across my shoulders and the girls taking turns carrying the second bucket.
Despite the warm humid weather, the girls and I had an absolute blast picking blueberries. It was fun to see who could find the biggest berries; or who could pick the most. I felt safe and didn’t worry about where my 4-year-old would run to — which was usually just a few bushes down to the next spot with berries hanging low enough for her to reach. My 11-year-old couldn’t stop talking about all the possibilities for using the blueberries and even enjoyed helping her little sister fill her bucket. (Let’s be real, the little’s bucket was pretty empty with her eating 2 handfuls for everyone one she dropped in the bucket.)
After 2 hours of picking blueberries and lots of eating blueberries, we decided we had enough and headed back to the house to pay Ms. Cindy. Check-out was quick and easy. We informed her that we would most definitely be back to pick again, thanked her for the opportunity, and we were on our way.
Here’s What to Know Before You Go
Where, When & How Much
The Spring Lake Berry Farm is located in Vancleave, MS; not far off of HWY 57. They are open for picking weekly, Tuesday through Saturday from 7 AM – 7 PM. All you need to pick & carry home is provided for you. Each gallon bucket is $10. (Cash please!) Fill your buckets as full as you wish.
If you have younger kids or someone in the family that doesn’t tolerate heat well, I would recommend visiting the berry farm first thing in the morning or late evening in the effort to avoid the sweet Mississippi heat. There’s only a slight shade from a few of the tall oak & pine trees.
Blueberry season is quite short, only about a month, so make sure you go during the month of June. The closer to the end of the month you may have fewer options for picking but you can always find out the status of the crop before you go by visiting them on Facebook or calling. We visited toward the beginning of June and the bushes were loaded with ripe berries. And there were still plenty of berries that had yet to mature; we didn’t even move out of the front few rows of blueberry bushes. So I’m pretty confident you’ll have success picking.
- Spring Lake Berry Farm is well kept. The grass is mowed down but I would still recommend tennis shoes or boots, as the ground could be wet if you go after rain and there are some anthills. But, hey, that’s to be expected.
- Again, this is an outside farm, so come prepared for sun and bugs. Bring your family’s preferred method of bug repellant. Wear a hat and sunscreen to protect from the hot Mississippi sun. Standing in the sun, no matter the time of day, you get hot. Pack a few bottles of water to leave in the car for when you need a break. Or feel free to carry a bottle with you while picking, just be kind and take your trash back out with you when you leave.
- Tasting is encouraged! There are no chemicals or pesticides used on the crops so taste each variety.
- Bring your Smartphone or camera…you’re going to want to take lots of pictures.
You’ve got a bucket of blueberries. Now what?
Okay, you’ve picked a gallon, or two, of blueberries what should you do to ensure that your picking wasn’t all for not? Below are the steps I recommend taking to prepare and preserve your blueberries for maxim eating capabilities.
You’ve brought your berries home in a plastic bag and by now they have begun to sweat. So, as soon as you can, remove them from the plastic bag, even if you cannot clean then right away. The more the blueberries sweat inside the bag, the quicker they will begin to deteriorate.
- Wash and rinse the blueberries. Even though the berries at Spring Lake do not contain pesticides, you will still want to wash/rinse them to remove bugs or any debris that may have made it into your bucket. My favorite method for cleaning berries is a quick water and vinegar bath. A tablespoon of white vinegar to a sink or bucket of water is all you need. 5 minutes and a few good swooshes around the bowl and your good to rinse.
- One bad berry can spoil the bunch. Check for bad or underripe berries and discard. No matter how careful you are, there will be a few not so great blueberries that make it into the bucket.
- Make sure your blueberries are fully dry before storing them. I like to lay a big beach towel on the kitchen table and just spread the berries out in a single layer to dry for a few hours.
- Now you’re ready to freeze, make jam, bake up a treat, or just eat your fresh blueberries by the handful.
Don’t they taste sweeter than those that you’ve been buying at the store? Plus, there’s something so satisfying to know that YOU and your family picked that fruit.
I highly recommend Spring Lake Berry Farm for a fun outing for your family. All ages will enjoy walking the rows and rows of blueberry bushes to pick and taste.