Blueberry harvest shares stage with wildlife, natural wonders
As Florida’s strawberry harvest winds down, the packing houses turn their attention to home-grown blueberries.
And like the strawberry harvest, the berry growers of Central Florida hate to miss an opportunity for a party as the harvest celebrations shift from Plant City to nearby Brooksville, where the Brooksville Blueberry Festival occurs annually at the end of April.
You may not think of Florida as blueberry country, but the state is now eighth in the nation in blueberry production. (Twenty years ago, there was no blueberry production, but University of Florida developed the ‘Southern Highbush’ varieties that requires very few hours of chill for growth.)
Brooksville is the center of 15 Florida counties that grow blueberries.
The Brooksville Blueberry Festival is the blue cousin to Plant City’s very large Florida Strawberry festival, although much smaller.
The Brooksville Blueberry Festival takes place under the shade of the gnarly oak trees on the courthouse lawn in Brooksville’s downtown square.
Events at Brooksville Blueberry Festival
The Brooksville Blueberry Festival will have a range of activities to appeal to all members of the family including many food concessaires. Other highlights include:
- A “Craft Beer Experience” in conjunction with Marker 48 Brewing, a brewery based in nearby Weeki Wachee.
- Free live music with a lineup including Wendy Rich, The Gaturze, Lost and Found, Borderline, Nuthin Fancy, Local Harmony, Trinity, Leesburg Blues Brothers and Peyton Monarch Band.
- Blueberry Lane, where you’ll find everything blueberry, including blueberry pies, blueberry cheesecake, blueberry shortcake, blueberry jam , blueberry honey, blueberry plants as well as fresh picked blueberries.
- You can pick your own blueberries nearby at Upicktopia, 19125 Phillips Road, Masaryktown, 352- 308-0110.
Here’s the The Brooksville Blueberry Festival official website.
Brooksville area’s natural beauty
Even without the blueberry, Brooksville/Hernando County is the center of one of Florida’s greatest unspoiled natural regions.
Nearby is the Withlacoochee State Forest, named by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the “10 Coolest Places in North America You’ve Never Seen.”
Also nearby are great mountain bike trails, Weeki Wachee Springs with great kayaking on the spring-fed Weeki Wachee River.
- Paddle the Withlacoochee River
- Bike the Withlacoochee Bike Trail, one of the best rail trails in the state.
- Visit Weeki Wachee Springs for the mermaid show and/or to paddle the beautiful river.
- Hike in the Withlacoochee State Forest. There are more than 100 miles of trails through these beautiful woods.
- Visit the lovely, evocative Dade Battlefield Historic State Park.
- Dine at the Florida Cracker Kitchen, 966 E. Jefferson St. in Brooksville. It is well worth a stop, even if all you get is the Smoked Mullet Dip. It’s open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday and serves outstanding dinners Friday and Saturday night. The menu is themed around Old Florida, from the Bokeelia Shrimp Omelette to the Apalachicola Po’ Boys (choice of oysters, shrimip, gator tail or fresh fish.) The 10,000 Island Shrimp and Grits is excellent, packed with flavor.
Places to stay near Brooksville
Hotels.com: Hotels in Brooksville
There are a few inexpensive mom-and-pop motels in Brooksville, but there are several modern moderate-priced hotels are at the I-75 intersection about five miles away.
Campsites are available in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The forest’s 131 campsites are available on a first-come, first-served bases. See posted information about camping fees. The rate is $20 per night from April through October for sites with electric hookups. Sites in Crooked River, with water only, are $15. Fees are collected on the honor system at the campground entrances.
- Buttgenbach Mine Campground in the Croom Motorcycle Area: 51 sites with electricity, water, picnic tables and fire rings. Dump station in campground. Warning: It can get noisy here, especially on weekends, because of the motorcycles and off-road vehicles.
- Silver Lake Campground in the Silver Lake Recreation Area: 23 sites with electric, water, picnic tables and fire ring. Dump station in campground.
- Cypress Glen Campground in the Silver Lake Recreation Area: 34 campsites with electric, water, picnic table and fire ring. Also features kayak launch, nature trail and boardwalk.
- Crooked River Campground in the Silver Lake Recreation Area: 26 primitive sites (tents only) with water, picnic table and fire ring. restrooms and showers.
- For more information on Withlacoochee State Forest Camping, contact the Florida Forest Service office in Brooksville at 352-754-6896.
These campgrounds are in the forest, accessible only on dirt roads, and most are shaded well by the forest canopy. If it weren’t for the electric and water hookups, you would think they were primitive. Well worth camping here for an authentic Florida experience, especially if you are in a tent.
Odds and Ends
The Florida National Cemetery, the state’s newest resting ground for American soldiers, is located in nearby Bushnell. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs web site.
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.
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Veteran journalists who worked together at Fort Lauderdale’s SunSentinel newspaper, Bonnie and Bob founded FloridaRambler.com in 2010 to explore the natural, authentic Florida, writing about their natural interests in hiking, biking, paddling, RV and tent camping, wildlife, unique lodging, dining and historic places.