Kansas weather isn’t always friendly to blackberry farmers. Last year certainly wasn’t.
But George Elder, who first opened his you-pick bramble at Elderslie Farm near Wichita in 2012, knew months ago that he was in for a crazy July.
The weather this year was almost exactly the kind of weather blackberries love. Unlike last year, when a mid-April freeze wiped out half the crop at Elderslie, this winter had a record number of days below 60 degrees, meaning that the plants’ buds didn’t come out of dormancy too early. And there was no brutal spring freeze.
So when the temperatures started warming up late last month and the berries started to ripen, Elder found himself with an unprecedented crop. The berries are dripping from the vines — and they’re big, juicy and sweet. There are so many, a picker could stand in one place without moving and fill several pails.
Elder hasn’t seen anything like it since he first opened the business.
“We’re probably carrying five times the fruit we did last year,” said Elder, who along with his wife, Katharine, also has an outdoor cafe, a reservation-only formal restaurant and a full-fledged goat cheese creamery on the property.
This week will be the peak time for blackberries, Elder said, though there should be plenty available for the next two weeks as well — something he hasn’t been able to say in early July for quite some time.
To pick berries at the farm, people must first make an online reservation at eldersliefarm.com/blackberries and designate how many pails they want to pick at what time on which day. (Two-quart pails range from $15.50 to $18, depending on the day.) At the moment, the slots are all filled through July 4, though it’s possible, Elder said, that after he inspects the bramble every afternoon, he may add some slots. People should re-check the website after noon.
Otherwise, the farm will open up reservations for next week at 9 a.m. on Thursday morning. Picking happens Tuesdays through Saturdays only.
Berry picking is an event at Elderslie Farm, where the family has two constantly running “berry ferries” — tractor-hauled flat bed trailers fitted with benches and a spigot that sprays down hot passengers whenever the ferry stops. It picks up loads of people at the farm’s creamery every 15 minutes or so and takes them the half-mile to the bramble.
After a quick speech from Elder, who cleverly requests that his guests pop no more than three berries in their mouths and put the rest in their pails, pickers are directed to the fullest, ripest rows. Filling a pail is sweaty but sweet work, and it doesn’t take long this year since the vines are so full of fruit.
Those who just want the berries and don’t mind who picks them also can get pre-picked flats at the cafe when it’s open. (Cafe hours are 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.)
And before they go, people can get a taste of sweet treats made with the farm’s berries. The cafe serves blackberry lemon scones, blackberry lavender muffins, and blackberry lemonade, and the gelato counter inside the new creamery offers scoops of blackberry lime sorbet, blackberry gelato and blackberry chocolate gelato.
Elderslie Farm you-pick blackberries
When: Berry picking is available by reservation Tuesdays through Saturdays for the next couple of weeks. Visit eldersliefarm.com for availability. A new batch of reservations will be available at 9 a.m. on Thursday.
How much: Two-quart pails range from $15.50 to $18, depending on the day.
Other places to pick
Sweet Berries & Brambles, 309 NE 120 Road, Harper: This family farm also is offering you-pick blackberries though its slots are all filled through next week. Picking is done by appointment only by texting 620-955-7373
Blackberry Heaven, 1870 SW Santa Fe Lake Road, Towanda: Despite its name, this farm is offering you-pick blueberries, not blackberries. They should be ready to pick mid-July. Call 316-250-1778 for availability.