Farmers rake in native blueberries

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Sorting belts were running in Ted and Diana Tolman’s garage on Friday as the 25 crates of blueberries raked the day before were processed through the winnowing tunnel onto the grading strings and then to the sorting table.

Sumner Hill Berries have been producing blueberries for more than 10 years in the area beside Route 219. Ted started harvesting on Thursday. Diana says the last week in July and the first two in August are the ripening times for the berries.

Ted refers to his 10-acre enterprise as a small one-man operation. This is compared to those farms that have 100 or more acres. His fields are surrounded by an electric fence to keep out the deer, and “evil eye” balloons festoon the fields to keep the birds at bay.

The Tolmans are always nervous about the weather because they cannot rake when the berries are wet. Raking is done by local kids from the high school and the sorting process employs local friends and relatives, according to Diana.

The sorting stops after about two and a half weeks as the berries become soft and clog up the machinery. Diana says it takes too much time to clean the sticky berries off the belts.

The fields were burned about 10 years ago, but not since, according to Diana. Now Ted mows one area to the bare ground. Those fields mowed will not bear until the following year. The is the way he rotates his crops and always has five acres in production.

Diana says orders come in around April for boxes of 6.6 quarts each. She now has more orders than she can fill. They fill about 325 boxes per season and also sell quarts on site. The berries that don’t make the final grading are sold to the factories where the Tolmans sell about 12,000 pounds a year, according to Ted.

For advance orders, the Tolmans suggest that you call 388-2969 on April 1.

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