By Mary Heyl

Blueberry picking season is here! Now is the time to fill buckets and pails with these tasty, nutrient-rich morsels that are perfect for snacking, baking, and preserving. For many, summer doesn’t officially begin until the first pail is picked; fortunately, there are many opportunities to get started!

Before heading out to one of these great locations, make sure you are prepared for a fruitful afternoon. Remember to bring your own bucket or container; although many locations give you a bucket to use, you’ll need something to empty that bucket into and a good way to transport the blueberries back home. Be sure to wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen, too!

When it comes to the actual picking process, don’t just focus on the berries at the very front of the bush. Usually, the best clusters of ripe berries are on the undersides of branches a bit farther into the bush. While you may be in a hurry or trying to out-pick the person nearest you, do be gentle! The best way to pick blueberries (especially those at the peak of ripeness) is to roll the berry between your thumb and the palm of your hand—the ripe ones should easily fall off. How do you know if a blueberry is ripe? Ripe blueberries have a light gray/blue color, and a berry with any hint of red hasn’t fully ripened (but will usually ripen after being picked). White and green colored blueberries typically will not ripen after being picked.

Why not get started at Blueberry Meadows, which is located at 1414 Rowe Avenue in Westons Mills near Olean! This beautiful farm follows organic farming practices, and is a great place to bring the whole family. Blueberry Meadows is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and their season just began on July 16.

Great Valley Berry Patch is another great place to find all of your summer favorites! Located at 5608 Humphrey Road in Great Valley, this farm has blueberries, peas, red raspberries, and strawberries every year. They are open daily for picking from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and visitors can also find red potatoes, lettuce, beet greens, peas, summer squash, zucchini and Swish chard now.

Burdick Blueberries, located at 8267 Thompson Road in Cattaraugus just opened for the season on July 18. This family-owned farm is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and they now accept all credit cards. Visitors are driven out to the field to the day’s ripest, best berries and Burdick’s guides show you where to pick. The scenic journey only takes a few minutes, and it’s well worth the ride!

Travel north to Erie County to find even more great locations for blueberry picking. Awald Farms has been in the growing business for over 100 years, and they invite you to stock up on your berries this summer! Awald Farms is located on 10692 Walnut Avenue in North Collins, and their U-pick season is happening right now for blueberries, purple raspberries, black raspberries and red raspberries. Awald Farms is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and you can even get a tasty lunch and ice cream there, too!

Blueberry Ridge Farm uses absolutely no pesticides, and U-pick and ready-picked blueberries are available now! The farm is located at 12201 Gowanda State Road in Lawtons, and they’re open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Picking season is typically through mid-August, and the farm welcomes children, as long as they’re accompanied by an adult.

Of course, the blueberry harvesting process isn’t really complete until the berries have been properly stored. To maintain fresh blueberries for immediate eating, avoid putting the berries (which are still warm from the sun) in a closed bag or container to prevent moisture from forming. To keep berries from becoming mushy, don’t wash them until just before using.

It’s best to chill berries soon after returning home, without washing them, in a loosely covered bowl or container. Typically, fresh picked blueberries will keep in the refrigerator for ten days or up to two weeks. You can also freeze berries to enjoy them all fall and winter long. For the best results, place the unwashed berries on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Once frozen, transfer them to a storage container, which will allow them to keep in the freezer without clumping together. Then, simply thaw and enjoy whenever you wish!