Thursday, July 11, 2013


I get a little anxious around blueberry time.  Blueberry delirium would be an apt diagnosis.  Once July hits, I start preparing for blueberry season mentally, which is a nice way of saying my salivary glands hit overdrive.  Several years back, on a particularly anxious July morning, I invited two friends and headed toward the nearest blueberry oasis, seven kids in tow.  Bruce Tammen, the owner, greeted us as we pulled in and delivered the news: I was a week early.   The regret I felt for dragging my friends out of town needlessly was nothing compared to the blueberry angst throbbing in my cerebellum.

If you’ve ever visited Tammen’s Treeberry Farm in Essex, you’ll be well aware that I’m not the only blueberry addict around.  Long after all the shaded parking lots are full, cars keep rolling through Tammen’s gates.  They line the dirt lane leading back out to Essex road, a quarter-mile hike for the last troopers in.  Pickers slather on sunscreen and bug spray, load up bags with blankets, hats and picnic lunches for a day amongst the blueberry bushes.  The hayrack ride out to the field affords plenty of opportunity to strike up conversations with fellow pickers.  It’s a diverse crew.  I’ve sat beside octogenarians, teenagers and newborns on their mama’s backs.  Most that I’ve met have driven two to three hours to pick there. 

Bruce and Becky Tammen have been up to their eyeballs in the berry business throughout their marriage.  Bruce’s father planted the first bushes when Bruce was just 13 years old.  A ‘few’ years later, the bushes stretch out for 40 miles of row.  That might be enough even for me.  They currently grow four varieties: Spartan, Blue Crop, Blue Ray and Nelson, each averaging 15-20 pounds of indigo deliciousness per plant. 

But growing blueberries isn’t all fun and games.  Bruce and Becky work hard to protect the plants from pests such as Blueberry Maggot flies and Japanese Beetles.  Beyond bugs, wild brush threatens to overwhelm their fields each year.  Keeping their crop pest free requires a lot of hands-on attention.  And then there’s the Illinois weather…

Last year’s broken climate threw most fruit crops into a tailspin.  Blueberries were no exception.  The Tammens watched helplessly as thousands of bushes flowered much too early, only to shrivel beneath the predictable frost, taking most of their crop with it. 

The blueberry fast of 2012 drove me to consider planting my own stock of bushes.  While acres and acres of plants are too much to protect from Mother Nature, three to five would be manageable.  Cloaked in old sheets, blueberry promises would have a fighting chance against unseasonable cold.  I duly added them to my garden wish list.  Knowing blueberries have some special requirements, I asked Bruce for some advice before I made any purchases.  He assured me that blueberries will grow in many different soil textures, as long as they’re acidic.  The Tammens fertilize with ammonium sulfate, a nitrogen source that also acidifies soil, and keep malathion on hand to control the blueberry maggot flies and Japanese beetles.  When asked if he had a favorite variety, he replied, “I wish I had more Nelsons.” 

This year’s crop is running late, so don’t make my mistake and show up too early.  It looks like picking will begin the third week of July, but check before you make the drive.  You can reach them by phone at (815) 458-6264.   The Tammens also keep their fan base informed and up-to-date on their Tammen Treeberry Farm Facebook page and their website,  

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