Blueberry season ripe with alternative picking options



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A blueberry hike participant picks her share. Photo courtesy of Sharon Palisi. (click for larger version)
August 05, 2009
From the Belknap Mountain tops to resident's backyards, blueberry bushes are popping up everywhere in this late July and early August season. Pick-your-own berry farms are open and ready for business, yet berry lovers might just find what they've been looking for all along out in nature, the wildest, bluest berry's primary retreat.

Sharon Palisi, creator of Getalifenh.com and the Gilford fitness program Outdoor Adventures, offers blueberry hikes to interested clients, tourists, families, and companies on outings. Hikers venture out to find the blueberry's "secret" hideaway on Belknap Mountain, overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee and the top of Gunstock Mountain. On a clear day Mt. Washington is also in view, said Palisi.

Hikers start at 8 a.m., when it is still cool out, and walk about 30-45 minutes up the mountain. After enjoying a picnic at the summit and the view of Winnipesauke's islands, hikers walk back down the mountain with a pint full of fresh blueberries.

As the leader of the pack, Palisi, finds that exercise and berry picking combined on a mountain, creates a serene ambiance.

"We hiked up the mountain the other day and there was an amazing field of blueberries. They are big, small, and yummy. You want to get to the blueberries before the bears get there. I know some secret destinations; the berries like to come out where the sun is. There are smaller Gilford trails many people may not know about," said Palisi.

Palisi describes the blueberry patches as low-blueberry bushes that hikers must squat down to pick, in order to squeeze in more exercise.

"The hike is moderate, you can do it at any level, it depends on the length of the hike. It's supposed to be leisure and enjoyable, and they get a fitness benefit. I can make it intense but is meant to be enjoyable. The workout is the hike. The reward is the berries," said Palisi.

Palisi said she chose blueberries as an activity because she grew up picking wild blueberries with her family. She said she once owned a pick-your-own berry farm as well, with over 1,500 berry bushes, and three different types of blueberries.

"I grew up picking berries on a lake house. We always had kids pick berries before leaving the house. The hike is the most fun for kids. My daughter, Jillian is 7 and she loves going blueberry picking. We filled up an empty bottle of blueberries, went home and made pancakes with them," said Palisi.

Homeowners with wild blueberries growing nearby their woods can enjoy the same. Jane Farrell from Triple Trouble Farm in Gilford explained the difference in care between wild blueberries and berries harvested and maintained on a farm.

"The important thing for blueberries (on a farm) is good drainage. They need acidic soil. As long as you have an area avaliable, you prune them, and make sure they have water and sunlight," said Farrell.

As far as homegrown or wild blueberry bushes go, Farrell said they wouldn't necessarily yield as much as farm bushes, and they're not protected from wild animals, like deer.

Still, "It's feasible and possible to grow your own blueberry bushes," said Farrell. "You can actually buy bushes from some places, with care instructions. It just depends on the variety and amount of blueberries (you want)."

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