XENIA, Ohio — The green berry buds on the bushes lining Berryhill Farm get bluer every day as owner Chris Sutton prepares the farm for what might be the busiest season yet.
Come July, he expects his Xenia farm will be flooded with families picking blueberries and blackberries and browsing his selection of jams and produce. He said it will be a welcome return to form after a difficult 2020 season.
The worst thing a berry farm can endure is a late frost followed by a dry spring. Sutton said that stresses the berries and stunts their growth.
“You’ll just see like a brown ring and everything above that dies. It doesn’t necessarily freeze the whole cane,” he said.
It’s harder on the blackberries than the blueberries.
In past years, Sutton said he’s lost his entire crop to bad weather and 2020 proved particularly harsh.
“We lost probably 30% of our crop there,” he said. “And then we had a lot of bird damage. Because of the frost they didn’t have any other food.”
On top of that, Sutton said his farm was seeing a spike in customer demand.
“If we had the product here it would have been really good for us,” he said.
Due to the pandemic, Sutton said people were excited about an outdoor experience they could safely share with the family. Unfortunately, though, his berry bushes couldn’t keep up.
“We turned away a lot of people, unhappy customers,” he said.
This year, though, Sutton said things should be different.
He didn’t have many frost-damaged branches to prune and the rainy spring weather has made his job easier.
“Normally, we’d be irrigating by now so I haven’t had to run the irrigation,” he said.
Sutton expects a plentiful berry crop this year starting its peak right about on time, Fourth of July weekend.
“Usually, that weekend, our opening day is pretty crazy,” he said. “We’ll have several hundred cars parked in our parking lot and people lined up waiting like 30 minutes before we even open to come out here and pick the blueberries.”
Sutton expects the season to last through August, with certain crops of blueberries and blackberries set to peak at different times.
Meanwhile, he’s also experimenting with vegetable farming and growing more in his greenhouse every year.
“We just basically did a big garden at first and since we expanded we put up, we got two greenhouses now,” he said.
As July approaches, Sutton said most of his attention is on planning the U-Pick season.
He’s got the scale ready, he’s getting parking marked and soon he’ll pitch up a tent to handle the crowds, all in the hopes the season will prove just as busy as last year’s but far more fruitful.
“We’re past frost season so we shouldn’t have any problems with that and we have a lot of fruit on,” he said. “So as long as we can keep the birds away I think we’ll have a lot of customers to come out.”