BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
PUNGO — Blueberries and blackberries, those sweet harbingers of full summer, are ripening in the orchards at Pungo Blueberries, Etc.
This year promises to be a good one, according to owner Juanita Burns. The winter was just cold enough for the blueberry bushes to go dormant, as they need to do, and the spring weather has been favorable for the crop.
“Blueberries have to have a certain number of chilling hours,” Burns said, “and these obviously got that this winter.”
Burns and her husband, Robert Burns, grow four types of Rabbiteye blueberries as well as thornless blackberries on their Muddy Creek Road farm. The crops typically ripen in July and early August.
The blueberries include Premier, Powder Blue, Tif Blue and Woodard. The berries vary slightly in color, but all of them are plump and sweet, and customers can pick their own or buy them already-picked.
Burns also makes and sells jams from the berries as well as from other local fruits, including strawberries, and they grow and sell elephant garlic.
Blueberries have become a summertime staple for locals, but they were not raised commercially here until Juanita and Robert Burns, with the help of their two sons Perry and Rod, established Pungo Blueberries, Etc. in 1980.
As kids, Juanita and Robert Burns both lived on farms in Arkansas, and they decided to return to country life when Robert Burns retired from his Marine Corps career.
“We bought this farm, and there was nothing here but a cornfield,” said Juanita Burns. “We weren’t sure what we wanted to do with the land, but we knew that there were already so many people here growing strawberries.”
So the Burns decided to go after what was at that time a niche market, including blueberries, elephant garlic, jams, and, for a while, kiwi. At first, it was a learning experience.
“We planted five acres of blueberries, and most of those first plants died,” Juanita Burns said. The problem, she added, was that they mulched with wood shavings without noticing that some of the wood was green.
That green wood took the nitrogen out of the soil, essentially starving the young bushes, Juanita Burns said.
The next planting was more successful. Still, it takes blueberry bushes a few years and the right growing conditions to become productive, and Pungo Blueberries, Etc. didn’t open to the public until 1984.
Juanita Burns has also compiled and published two cookbooks over the years. The most recent, Red, White and Blueberry: Second Time Around, was published in 2015 and contains a variety of recipes for skilled and novice cooks.
Juanita Burns credits her daughter-in-law, Teresa Burns, with helping her with the design and with coming up with the book’s title.
In addition to sharing recipes, the Burns will also advise customers who want to grow their own blueberries.
“We wanted this to be customer friendly, kid friendly, and friendly for the disabled,” said Juanita Burns. “And you could just ride a wheelchair right up to the bushes and pick them.”
Unlike strawberries, blueberries can be picked without bending down.
Pungo Blueberries, Etc., is at 3477 Muddy Creek Road. Normal picking hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Customers are advised to call (757) 721-7434 before they come.
© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC