Summer heat jumpstarts Tennessee’s produce season

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

TN Dept. of Ag

Tennessee’s wet and muddy spring quickly gave way to a hot and sunny summer. For the state’s farmers and for the customers who wait anxiously for seasonal you-pick farms and farmers markets to open, the race is on to fill buckets, market booths, pantries and home freezers with local produce.

Fruits in particular have relatively brief growing seasons, and the recent turn in the weather caused blueberry and blackberry crops to ripen rapidly. Early peaches are available at some Tennessee orchards. Warm temperatures and sunshine are necessary for fruits to develop sweetness and finish maturation, so farm and farmers market visitors are experiencing an unexpected abundance of berries. A regular sprinkling of pop-up storms kept plants plump, even in the sweltering heat.

Lewisburg’s Jacqueline Langston works to fill her berry-picking pail with fresh blackberries at Bee Sweet Berry Farm recently. Bee Sweet had to close the last week of June through July 3 to let more berries ripen after heavy picking June 24. Blackberries and blueberries should be back at peak production during the first full week in July.
Photo by Jay Langston

Depending on varieties and location, blueberry harvests stretch from June through most of the month of August. Peach season extends from mid-June through August and blackberry harvest will be in full swing from the latter part of June through July.

A number of Tennessee berry farms raise both domestic and wild blackberries. Domestic blackberries are typically larger than wild blackberries, and their canes have no thorns, making them easier to pick. Indigenous blackberries are more tart than domestic varieties, and their briars are famously thorny.

Pre-picked berries will be available at most farmers markets and berry farms, but berry picking at a nearby farm can be a fun summertime activity, with a delicious reward for the effort, if pickers are properly prepared.

First, always call or check a farm’s social media updates to verify hours, picking conditions and availability before making a trip to a farm. Find out whether you need to bring your own containers. Be sure to wear a hat, use sunscreen, wear bug spray and bring water to drink.

Pick only berries that are fully ripe, plump and pull free easily from the plant, because berries do not ripen at all after picking. Get your picked berries out of the sun as soon as possible. Put picked berries in a shaded area other than inside a car then cool them as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to bring coolers and icepacks along to keep berries at their best until you can store them at home. Berries can remain fresh for a few days before immediate use, but are easy to freeze and use later.

Michael DuVall at Bee Sweet Berry Farm told the Tribune that so many pickers showed up June 24 that he had to close his operation for a week to let more berries ripen. He plans to reopen July 4.

Garden produce has also picked up speed, and early summer favorites like summer squash, zucchinis, green beans and cucumbers have abruptly hit farmers markets with color and variety.

To make the most of this summer sweetness, consumers can use the Pick Tennessee mobile app, or visit the Pick Tennessee website at www.PickTnProducts.org to find farms and markets nearby.

Pick Tennessee Products is the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s program to connect farmers to consumers, listing directories of farms, farmers markets and seasonal recipes. To learn more about Tennessee’s farm related activities, artisan and farm direct products, follow Pick Tennessee on social media.