Fresh blueberries available in Littleport

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Blueberry Hill proprietor Keith Ashline is surrounded by his chemical-free blueberry bushes. The bushes are loaded with berries and ready to be picked. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

July is National Blueberry Month. Blueberries, often marketed as a super food, are an excellent source of vitamins, beneficial plant compounds and antioxidants. They are naturally low in calories and thought to regulate blood sugar levels and aid in heart and brain health. The berries' pleasant, sweet taste makes them perfect for snacking, baking, and preserve making.  

The tasty treats are native to North America but are also grown commercially across America and Europe. 

Blueberry Hill 

Blueberry Hill, located at 32407 Dinan Road, Littleport, is a pick-your-own, fresh off the bush, chemical-free blueberry farm. 

Proprietors Keith and Sandy Ashline have been in the blueberry business since 2012. 

Keith told The Press, "I always complained to my brother, 'I have all this land and all I ever do is mow.' He suggested I try to grow blueberries." 

Keith's brother, who is a grape grower, found a website online that shared information about growing blueberries in sandy soil. 

The first year the fruit farmers purchased 400 blueberry bushes of various species. Keith said, "In the early years I didn't know what the heck I was doing. The first year we planted the bushes was the year of the drought. I was pretty naive. I thought I would keep the bushes watered using rainwater from the eave spouts!" 

The Ashlines lost 50 percent of their crop that year to lack of rain, mice, rabbits, birds and moles. 

With a year of experience under their belts, the growers were better equipped to handle the challenges brought on by Mother Nature. 

Ashline explained, "The second year of operation I installed an irrigation system. I learned from experience to double line the irrigation tubes to keep the mice from chewing holes in the main line. An extensive net is now placed over the berries to keep the birds away." He went on to say, "The robins are the worst. They don't eat that many berries, but they sure like to knock them off the bush and scatter them on the ground." 

A large portion of the Blueberry Hill's nursery stock was ordered through Beth Murray, owner of Murray's Country Garden and Outdoor Store in Guttenberg.  Keith commented, "Blueberries are native to New Jersey, Maine, and Michigan but nursery growers have cultivated a variety that will survive in Iowa." 

The Ashlines have approximately 650 bushes comprised of 12 different varieties. "Everyone likes to pick the big ones because you can fill up the bucket faster, but the smaller berries are actually sweeter," commented Keith. 

The blueberry growers supply buckets for eager berry pickers. The farm has added picking belts to hold the bucket for a hands-free picking experience. The picking belts can be rented for a dollar apiece. 

Sandy commented, "Blueberries are very easy to freeze. We have a repeat customer who picks 12 buckets a year and freezes them." 

A group of regular pickers are grateful for the Northeast Iowa location. "We have a group of ladies who come every year who used to drive to an island in Minnesota to pick them," said Sandy. 

Blueberry Hill is now open for business. "The berries are ripe and ready to be picked," said the couple.

Blueberry Hill is open on Saturdays from 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sundays from 12-4 p.m. For additional information you may contact the owners at 563-245-1575.

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