Mid-Columbia blueberry growers began harvesting the tasty and healthy indigo-colored berries this week.
"I've had people calling for the past week or so," said Shirley Lott of Blue Mountain Farms in Burbank. "We're behind a few days because of the cool weather, but we began picking on Wednesday and will open for u-pick on Monday."
The Lott family own and run Blue Mountain Farms, which includes 225 acres of certified organic blueberries. Bill's Berry Farm in Grandview began pulling off Duke blueberries, the state's earliest variety to mature, on Friday.
"Dukes are large blueberries," said Julie Michener, who owns Bill's Berry Farm with her husband Bill. "You can sit one on a quarter, and it'll cover it. They have a big following."
Bill's Berry Farm grows eight acres of certified organic blueberries, and while the Micheners and Lotts sell berries at their farms and offer a u-pick option, Blue Mountain sell much of its crop to brokers who supply large grocery stores such as Fred Meyer, Safeway and Costco.
"If you're buying organically grown blueberries at the store, there's a good chance they came from us," Shirley Lott said.
Both growers are expecting a good, if not bumper, crop. Mature blueberry bushes grown in Eastern Washington can yield 10 tons per acre. Growers in Western Washington average slightly less per acre.
"We get more tonnage because we have fewer pests, and the weather is drier so our bushes don't get the fungus problems they have," Julie Michener said.
Compared with many other varieties, blueberries also are relatively impervious to rain and wind. But to help keep the blueberries cool, the Lotts use overhead misters when temperatures reach into the 90s.
"But heat will bake them if it gets too hot," Lott said. "You have to remember, these are just a tiny berry. When they get hot all the way through, they cook."
In the kitchen, blueberries are versatile. They're great raw or cooked and work with both sweet and savory dishes.
"They're one of the super foods," Michener said. "Open any magazine and you'll find a blueberry recipe. They go in everything."
They're also full of healthy antioxidants and -- unlike other berries -- come with a shelf life.
"They're sturdy, like grapes, and will last a week or more in the fridge," Michener said. "Strawberries, raspberries -- they'll keep a few days, but after that turn mushy and moldy."
Lott said, "Little kids love them because they're easy to eat and, unlike raspberries, don't mash up in your hand and make a mess."
Places to pick:
* Blueberry season at Bill's Berry Farm runs through July. Their field is open for u-picking from 9 a.m. to noon today. It changes to regular hours from 4-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Take your own containers. Cost is $2.50 per pound.
Contact information: 3674 N. County Line Road, Grandview; 509-882-3200; www.billsberryfarm.com.
* Bushes at Blue Mountain Farms will open for u-picking beginning Monday and conclude in about four weeks. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday. The Lotts supply containers. Cost is $3 per pound.
Contact information: 1024 Lake Road, Burbank; 547-4276.
* Suzanne Sullivan of Berry Blue Farms of Burbank is open from 5:30-8 p.m., Monday-Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Call for directions, 509-619-6740. Take a bucket. Price is $2 per pound.