Although blueberry season typically runs from late June through early September in north central Ohio, frozen berries — as well as jams, jellies, syrups, and pies — can still be found at the Blueberry Patch Gift Shop in Mansfield.
Located on Ohio’s largest blueberry farm, it not only grows 27 varieties of the fruit, but there’s a coffee shop as well, where one can enjoy daily lunch features, year-round.
“The building has been painted blue, and the floors are brick on purpose, for character,” explained owner Lisa Beilstein. “Customers love the look. It gives it a different flavor” — no pun intended.
In 1981, her husband, Steve, came up with the idea of starting an apple orchard on the property, but he changed the plan after the soil was tested by the Ohio State University Extension office.
“They discovered that the land was not productive with apples,” she continued. “Instead, ours was a naturally standing acid type of soil, which was unusual for the area. Ohio soils usually range from hard clay to loam. Not every place is suitable for blueberries, but ours definitely was.”
Upon learning that berries are machine-harvestable, Steve began planting.
Although — as is the case with many first-time ventures — “we didn’t do so well that year.”
He kept at it, however, and aside from 27 acres of blueberries (at 1,000 plants per acre), the couple also maintains one acre of red raspberries and about a half acre of blackberries.
Along the way, they decided to build a greenhouse for flowers, which allowed them to get started on their growing season as early as April.
“Our fields are dormant from winter to March, and that’s when we prune them,” said Lisa. “It takes a team of four guys to do it. We also apply a 10-10-10 or a 12-12-12 ratio fertilizer.”
Steve explained, “In all fertilizer, the first number refers to nitrogen, the second is for phosphate, and the third is for potash. All are percentages, and the balance of the mix is sand or granular limestone. It is best to use an ammonium-based nitrogen fertilizer, as it lowers the soil ph over time.”
Adds Lisa, “We aren’t organic, but we try to keep the pesticides at a minimum, using them only if we have to. We have to use herbicides, though, so the weeds don’t take over and use up the soil nutrients.”
Water is extremely important, as well, since blueberry bushes “bloom during the dry months. We use a drip-system that distributes about one inch a week, at least. We water before and after they bear their fruit, as well.”
Half of the couple’s business is “you pick”, where customers are given buckets, directed to the area that is ripe, and turned loose amidst bushes that often grow 8-10 feet tall.
The filled buckets are then weighed, and the fresh berries are paid for by the pound.
“It’s really fun. We have grandparents who bring their grandchildren here for the experience.”
And when they’re finished, and hungry (unless customers have stuffed themselves during picking), there’s no need to go any further than the Blossoms Café, which is located inside the greenhouse.
While waiting for your meal, wander around the gift shop which features herbs, hanging plants, garden decorations, candles (including blueberry-scented), jewelry, mugs, teapots and designer handbags. There’s even a beanery, where one can buy bulk tea and hand-roasted coffees in a variety of flavors. So what’s so special about blueberries?
Aside from being low in calories (42 per half cup), they are loaded with vitamin C, manganese, vitamins, antioxidants and fiber, with very little fat or sodium.
When blooming, the bushes have white flowers and after harvest in the fall, the foliage turns red.
It’s a pretty sight for Lisa and Steve, both Mansfield natives, as well as their four boys. (The couple, who will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in January, also has a 7-year-old grandson.)
Asked if any of their kids want to join in the business, Lisa responds, “We’re at the point where we’re waiting to see if one wants to continue. They’re not being pushed, but there is some interest.”
It might be a good thing to think hard on. After all, doesn’t everyone love blueberries, the only natural food that is truly, and uniquely, blue? ❖
The Blueberry Patch is located at 1285 W. Hanley Road in Mansfield, Ohio, about an hour drive north of Columbus.
For more information, call (419) 884-1797, or visit the website at.