Mark Bowering, co-owner at Walsh’s Farm, won’t be singing the blues this berry season as the crew enjoy the fruits of their labour and celebrate a blueberry bumper crop
Mark Bowering just might have the most perfect working conditions possible and as we stand in his Walsh’s Farm ‘office’ – a brilliantly sun-lit field in Colliers – he takes a moment to appreciate what a great summer it’s been for anyone in the business of growing blueberries.
“The berries, they seem to do really good in the heat. They like it. And we always notice around big rocks that hold heat from the sun, the berries around them are some of the best,” he said.
“It’s easy to be grateful for the heat when cold can cost so much,” he added. “You can lose your whole season in a frost in June. The plants are coming to flower in June and that actually happened here two years ago with a late frost,” he said.
Bowering, as president at Bowering Gardens – a landscaping company – and co-owner of Walsh’s Blueberry Farms, spends a nice bit of time outdoors and he appreciates every minute.
The many berry-pickers Bowering employs seem to be enjoying their day in the great Newfoundland outdoors as well. We meet Vince Wade who has been picking berries for profit since he was eight years-old.
Bren Bartlett, who shows off his berry-stained hands, has been picking for over 35 years. Chris England – famous for being both speedy and efficient – uses a two-handed method. “Been doing this for over 25 years and I loves being out picking berries,” England said.
There’s much to brag about when it comes to Newfoundland berries. The thicker skin – believed to be designed by nature as a way to protect the berry from the elements – is possibly the reason why locally grown blueberries are ‘the berry best’ tasting and the best for us, especially when it comes to their antioxidant value.
No pesticides are used as none are required in this province.
The plants require no watering and they need no other tending besides controlled field burning which is on a rotational schedule and keeps the low-bush blueberry plants healthy and improves yield. We visit the resident bees on site and Bowering explains how their presence has been helpful.
“We’ve been using bees to try and experiment with pollination … to up our yields a bit. They’re just been doing fantastic out there and seem to be loving it,” he said.
One fun bee/berry fact? Bees who thrive around blueberry bushes make a pretty amazing blueberry honey. “The honey that they make from the nectar that they collect at the time of flowering is thicker than regular wildflower only honey,” he said.
We watch the many pickers do their thing as we enjoy the sunshine – and the berries around us. Bowering smiled.
“Some of these berry pickers here on this farm have been here for over 30 or 40 years. Some of the same people return and a lot of them are locals. It’s amazing to watch them work. One picker could pick anywhere around 450 pounds a day depending on how thick the berries are and their experience.”
Who’s their clients? Blueberry pie making nannies? Bowering laughed.
“Wine makers, beer makers, restaurants, supermarkets. We mostly do bulk sales for businesses but we also do online sales to locals. You can have delivery or arrange for pick-up.”
As for how he enjoys his berries best? “In oatmeal,” he answered. Bowering shared that when he was first asked to get into the berry business five years ago, he stood on the same field we were standing in and saw nothing but grass and woods.
“I just saw fields of grass. I’m like, ‘Where’s the berries?’ I didn’t see it because when you look in, it’s just all grass and how can there be berries?”
But he looked down and finally saw the potential. “When you get out on the field and you finally see the sea of blue you’re in, it’s just amazing.”
For more visit walshsfarms.com