Bow Hill Blueberries
Summertime means warm breezes, crab boils, and berry picking. If you haven’t already visited Bow Hill Blueberries in Bow, then you’re missing out on some of Washington’s best berries.
The farm has been selling blueberries since 1947, owned by the Anderson family until Susan and Harley Soltes bought it in 2011. The Solteses wanted a farm with the whole package: an infrastructure, WSDA license, and the crops ready to go. The six-acre farm came with more than 4,500 bushes of heirloom blueberries: Rubels, Stanleys, and Jerseys. The Solteses wanted to maintain the integrity of the fields and cause little disturbance to the environment so they pursued organic farming. They quickly became recognized as an organic business, but had to wait another three years for the designation of organic field.
Organic farming requires coming up with creative solutions instead of defaulting to synthetic products. Harley explained, “You have to be relentless…You don’t get to have a chemical option, you’re doing a lot more preventatives.” This includes constantly monitoring the bushes and pruning to increase airflow. The Solteses rely on mulching, composting, setting traps for fruit flies to catch the eggs before they hatch, and other natural solutions like thyme oil. Thyme oil serves as a fungicide and pest control, and Harley joked it “makes the field smell like pizza.”
People often don’t realize between organic farming and product production the staff of six is busy year-round, and grows to 25 during harvest season in July and August. Harley added “08” The hard work has paid off: No bushes have died since the Solteses took over and they’ve steadily been increasing their yearly output despite unpredictable weather like high winds and finicky temperatures.
About 15 to 20 percent of the crop gets picked from U-Pick. The rest is harvested and either sold to local markets or frozen for the farm’s many blueberry products. Susan is the product developer and marketer, Harley produces, and their daughter, Amelia, designs the product labels. Unlike many other blueberry producers who seasonally replace bushes per market demand, the 70-year-old heirloom blueberry bushes at Bow Hill Blueberries won’t be replaced anytime soon. The family understands their gold mine of heirloom varieties each have different characteristics that work better for various products. For example, for ice cream and smoothies, blueberries that hold their color well are ideal for achieving a lovely blue-purple color. Modern blueberries are bigger, meaning they have more water and thinner skin, making the ice cream and smoothies a grey color. Having knowledge of each berry’s characteristics helps develop the best products.
On the farm store’s shelves you’ll find chocolate-covered blueberries; dried blueberries; blueberry jam; blueberry powder that’s high in fiber, manganese, and vitamin C and works well sprinkled into a smoothie, baked goods, and over oatmeal. Their blueberry juice is just blueberries: 1,094 cold-pressed blueberries in their 32-oz. bottle. Finally, Bow Hill Blueberries Organic Heirloom Pickled Blueberries won in the Pickles category for this year’s Good Food Award, a nation-wide designation. Made with either Rubles or Stanleys, it’s a satisfying combination of sweet and savory that makes a great topping for grilled fish, on a cheese plate, and in salads.
Even with so many delicious blueberry products, Susan’s favorite way to eat blueberries is dew-specked, fresh off the vine in the morning or frozen in a cup. However, Harley likes them thawed over cereal, and in blueberry pies, and in powder form over steel cut oats… and in blueberry sauce over Lopez Island Creamery Bow Hill Blueberry Ice Cream. After all, when the blueberries are this good, you can’t really have too many.