It’s blueberry season!

Blueberry season kicks off today at Wilmot Blueberries and Orchards, one of only three commercial you-pick blueberry farms in Ontario.

Located just off Hwy 35/115 on the road to cottage country near Newcastle, the farm of Charles and Judi Stevens boasts 20 acres of blueberry bushes of different varieties – strategically selected to extend the picking season as long as five to seven weeks.

Flavour is the big advantage of buying local, says Judi Stevens, explaining that the ripening process stops at the point of picking. This means that blueberries from California may continue to change colour during their long road trip to Ontario markets, but they retain the flavour they had when they were first plucked off the bushes. And their berries are never sprayed, she says, adding that this is the number one question they get asked by customers.

Wilmot Blueberries, besides being in one of the most picturesque corners of our province, is also home to a host of unusual innovations and practices that really set the farm apart from the rest. Birds, for example, are a continual threat to berry farmers of all sorts, and most growers protect their bushes with netting. But netting, says Charles Stevens, is expensive and labour-intensive to put up, so he and his wife rely on a falconer to help control the predatory birds.

The falconer brings his birds to the blueberry fields on ten random days throughout the growing season as a way of “training” the hungry local bird population to stay away. It’s environmentally friendly and perfectly natural, says Charles, and it makes for a better picking experience for visitors as they don’t have to fight through the netting to reach the berries.

Damaging weather can mean the difference between a good year and a bad one on the farm, especially for fruit growers. This year has been a struggle with hail and most orchards in the area are showing signs of damage. Not Wilmot Orchards, however. Here the blueberry and apple crop remains unblemished despite Mother Nature’s fury – due to a hail cannon the Stevens’ have installed on their property. It’s still somewhat controversial says Charles, especially since you can’t prove the science in a laboratory because the actual conditions can’t be simulated.

Hailstone is made up of a positive and a negative ion, a dust particle and the right atmospheric conditions. The way the cannon works is that it shoots sound waves into air, which pick up positive ions, breaking up the hailstones. The cannon can be activated by pager whenever the threat of hail approaches, and timing is everything. If you wait too long, says Charles, it’s too late to ward off the hail. And while its benefits are great for consumers and the Stevens’ bottom line, the downside is the noise it creates. When it’s working, it sounds every six seconds, which took the neighbours some getting used to. The hail cannon is one of only three in all of Ontario, and the Stevens’ were the first farmers in Ontario to use the technology.

In addition to the blueberries, Charles and Judi also have an apple orchard where they grow 11 varieties of apples for the fresh market.

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