"You can't stop on a sour berry, you have to get a sweet one," is the saying while you eat and pick at Blackbirds and Blueberries.

Yes, that's right. It's OK to taste a few blueberries while you're picking.

"We don't weigh people before and after picking," said co-owner Lori Eaton with a laugh, "So we suggest you try them as you pick them."

Lori and Tim Eaton opened the blueberry farm for picking Saturday, July 29, for their second season but what they say is their first year. The Eatons purchased the farm from previous owners Tim and Gail Larson.

"We fell in love with the house and property; the blueberry farm was just an added bonus," said Lori. "We were kinda thrown into it. We closed on this property and the next day was the first day of picking."

Last year the Larsons helped the Eatons learn the ropes of owning a berry farm during picking time, but this year they are on their own. They estimated about 400 people came Saturday and the two fields that were ready were picked out in about three hours.

People who want to go pick should call first or check the website to see what's ready now.

"That why we don't have set hours," said Lori. "We have a website, Facebook and message on the landline."

Despite Lori's claim to have a brown thumb, the bushes are ready for picking with big berries this year.

"We have so many berries; it should be a great season," said Lori. "The berries are huge this year, even the ones that typically aren't big are at least a quarter to nickel size."

It's been a tiring but exciting year for the Eatons as their knowledge of blueberries has expanded, thanks to the help of Thaddeus McCamant from Central Lakes College in Staples, Minn. McCamant assisted the Eatons with soil testing, pruning tips, plant issues and some business ideas.

Although not certified organic, the Eatons don't use any chemicals on the berries.The farm also has different varieties of blueberries ranging from sour to sweet or small to big.

Berries are priced by the pound, and each bucket holds 5 to 7 pounds. The farm has buckets to use and can deduct the weight of the bucket if customers use theirs.

Blackbirds and Blueberries is a you-pick-'em farm but they are trying to offer pre-picked berries this year as well.

"I'm picking them," said Lori "We are hopefully having some other people to help pick them as well."

College and high school students volunteer at the farm during the picking time, helping out the Eatons. A few students came out in the fall and spring to help weed and prune the bushes.

Lori advised blueberry lovers against procrastinating a trip to their farm or another local spot as the berry season can fluctuate based on weather conditions and plants.



Breakout: IF YOU GO

The blueberries are ripe for picking now, and there are at least two local farms where people can pick their own:

• Blackbirds and Blueberries, 3601 Crosby Road, Cloquet. For more more information about picking times and availability, go to blackbirdsandblueberries.com or call 218-879-8193.

• Chub Lake Blueberries, 2001 Kiehl Road, Carlton. Call 218-384-4577 for appointment, picking should go through August.