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Last published at August 6, 2009 at 12:01 AM

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Blueberries galore ripe for the picking

Seattle-area u-pick blueberry farms say the sunny spring and hot weather made for a bumper crop this year.

Seattle Times Eastside reporter

U-pick tips

When to go: U-pick farms are usually open through Labor Day, although it's easier to pick early in the season, when the berries are abundant. The farms are less busy at midweek and during early-morning hours.

What to expect: If you're fast, you can pick as many as 30 pounds of berries an hour; professional pickers average 40 pounds. Area farms are charging between $1.50 and $2 a pound, roughly half the price of berries at the grocery store, for u-pick berries.

What to do with them: Berries freeze very well. The Washington Blueberry Commission's Web site, www.superblues.net, has recipes for cooking with berries.

Blueberry farms in the Seattle area

The Washington Blueberry Commission lists more than a dozen farms in the state for blueberries; here are some in the Seattle area. Call ahead to check crop availability and u-pick hours. For more farms, go to www.superblues.net.

Bybee-Nims Farms, 42930 S.E. 92nd St., North Bend. Phone: 425-888-0821 or 425-888-5745

Country Store and Garden, 20211 Vashon Hwy S.W., Vashon. Phone: 206-463-3655.

Pat & Debby Donnelly's Riverbank Blueberries, 11827 Reiner Road, Monroe. Phone: 360-793-2114

Henna Blueberry Farm, 1800 Fall City Carnation Road, Fall City. Phone: 425-806-2751 www.hennablueberryfarm.com

Larsen Lake Blueberry Farm, 14812 S.E. Eighth St., Bellevue. Phone: 425-260-2266

Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm, 2380 Bellevue Way S.E., Bellevue. Phone: 425-467-0501

Mountainview Blueberry Farm, 7616 E. Lowell-Larimer Road, Snohomish. Phone: 360-668-3391 www.MountainviewBlueberryFarm.com

Dianne Devine placed her bucket below a stocky blueberry bush and raked her fingers down the clusters of berries. Fat, ripe berries tumbled into her bucket. In a half-hour, she had picked 15 pounds.

"They're like grapes," Devine said, looking down at the pail of gigantic berries from Mountainview Blueberry Farm in Snohomish. "They just fall off" the branches, she said.

Devine, of Bothell, bakes them into muffins and eats frozen berries all winter long. Looking out at the field, Devine said, "There's a bazillion berries out there."

A bazillion berries could be about right. This summer is shaping up to be an especially good blueberry season in Western Washington, thanks to dry spring weather that allowed bees to do a thorough job of pollinating, and a hot summer that makes the berries ripen faster.

But the recent hot spell also kept some customers away from u-pick farms. Who wanted to pick berries in 100-degree weather?

The result: The bushes are loaded.

At Keith and Janet Stocker's Mountainview Farm, some boughs bend almost to the ground with the weight of the berries. The blueberry farm, which the Stockers bought three years ago, dates back to the 1940s. The Stockers, whose 9-acre Snohomish farm primarily serves u-pick consumers, have more berries than they have customers to pick them.

On recent hot afternoons, the Henna Blueberry Farm in Fall City was "almost dead," with very few customers, said owner Nayab Khan. Khan has dropped his prices by 50 cents, to $1.50 a pound, to try to lure more pickers this weekend.

But at Bybee-Nims Farm in North Bend, the pickers are returning now that the weather is cooler, said Steve Bybee. And they're also coming back to Bellevue's Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm, where the temperature at the fruit stand registered as high as 107 degrees last week, said Bill Pace, who runs the produce stand.

It's a far cry from last year, when a wet, chilly spring kept the bees from doing their pollinating work. And then August was plagued by rainstorm after rainstorm. Bybee, Stocker and Khan all said they had to close on and off because they didn't have enough berries to sell last year. "We'd open for a day, then close for three," Stocker said.

This year the opposite is true. Last week, during the heat wave, the Stockers brought in professional pickers to keep up with the crop, and froze many berries. "But we'd rather sell them fresh than pick them and freeze them," he said.

On Wednesday, a dozen families worked the blueberry rows at Mountainview Farm, many with children. Plenty of berries were going straight from bush to mouth, one of the delights of blueberry picking; Stocker jokes that he's thought about weighing his customers before and after they go out to the field to try to figure out how many they've consumed.

Pace, of the Mercer Slough farm, says this will be an excellent year for all crops, not just blueberries, because of the weather. "We're going to have a bumper, bumper crop of everything," predicted Pace, who owns farmland in Yakima and sells his crops at the Bellevue fruit stand.

The Stockers have had to irrigate the crop since May. But they aren't complaining. "It's much easier to produce rain than to produce sunshine," Keith Stocker said.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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