Picking season is weeks of 'madness'

Blue Willow Blueberries co-owners Noreen and Eric Johnson walk among blueberry plants on their...
Blue Willow Blueberries co-owners Noreen and Eric Johnson walk among blueberry plants on their property in Fairfield on the opening of the season last week. Photo: Shawn McAvinue
A Fairfield family is bracing for a season of blueberry "madness" after opening their farm to pickers.

Down a long driveway in a quiet suburban street in Fairfield, past a flock of Pekin ducks and a rusting vintage tractor, sits Blue Willow Blueberries farm.

Eric and Noreen Johnson bought the 2ha property in Martin Rd from the late Peter Waters about 20 years ago.

The "Fairfield character" planted about 800 blueberry bushes on the property about 40 years ago but when the Johnson family moved in the crop was covered with creepers.

The family slowly liberated the berry plants over the next four years.

The clearing of the invasive bush revealed a bounty of blueberries.

Mr Johnson called a kindergarten to see if its pupils wanted to come the next day and pick themselves a feast.

On the eve of the children's arrival, the berries disappeared.

"The birds had cleaned up the whole lot and that's when we realised we would need a net to cover them."

Mrs Johnson said a desire to increase the productivity of the blueberry farm was always at the back of their minds but life was busy - with family commitments, tending to the large garden on the property and both of them working full-time.

"We are pretty full-on all the time."

Mr Johnson said despite busy lives, they began selling blueberries at the Otago Farmers Market about a decade ago.

The season allowed blueberries to be sold at the market from early January to the end of March.

Demand at the market was strong.

"People queue for them."

In a bid to extend the season, about 1000 of a different variety of blueberry bushes, which bear fruit earlier, were planted about seven years ago.

The new bushes were producing plenty of fruit.

The yield was put down to the farm having wet, peaty and well-drained soil, a natural spring and the hard frosts in winter.

Mrs Johnson said the new bushes would produce more fruit as they matured, so they were investigating adding value to the harvest, possibly by making sauces, chutneys or jams.

"That's our next step."

Mr Johnson said the work on the farm was hard but "satisfying".

"People love coming here and picking their own."

The first public harvest was on January 9 and due to its popularity, the farm had been closed since then to allow time for berries to ripen to cater for the next influx of pickers.

For the first time, they had hired a port-a-loo for customers to use.

"The picking season is six or seven weeks of madness - when you farewell the last people of the season, you're quite pleased it's over."

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