Easy pickin’s at berry farm

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Register/Anne Kazmierczak
Danelle Barnhardt picks blueberries for a customer at the family’s Honey Berry Farm in Westphalia. The Barnhardts began a U-pick operation last year. They sell handcrafts and baked goods in addition to the berries.

WESTPHALIA — Even though they have been open to the public only one year, the Barnhardt family’s U-pick blueberry patch is becoming known.
“I had 35 buckets out this morning for people to use,” said Judy Barnhardt of Honey Berry Farm. “They were all gone.”
Wednesday, there was a steady trickle of customers. Some come to pick, some to peruse the store.
“Last week it was too hot to pick,” Judy said of the squelching heat that sucker punched Kansas. With cooler temperatures, more people are venturing the short country drive northwest of Colony to the family’s farm.
Locals are starting to flock to the patch Wednesdays and Saturdays, the days the farm is open.
Saturday-goers have the option of a blueberry pancake breakfast before they head to the bushes.
“Some people come just to eat pancakes,” Judy said. On Wednesdays, “We always have something they can buy to eat,” be it pie, bread or cookies, all baked by the Barnhardt’s 12-year old daughter Melissa.
The family started their patch with just 30 blueberry plants in 2000. “We just started because we wanted some fruit to eat,” Judy said.
The small patch did so well, they decided to expand.
“It was Dan’s idea,” Judy said of her carpenter husband. “Dan said, we’ve got a pond, we can irrigate.”
So in 2005, they planted 1,200 new bushes — by hand. “It took a long time,” 18-year old Danell Barnhardt said.
That planting gave the family a full acre of blueberries. While not technically organic, the family does not spray the berries.
So far, Judy said, they have been lucky.
“I don’t know if it’s because they’re new or because they’re not native to here, but we haven’t had any pests.”
The biggest challenge has been acidifying Kansas’ limestone-rich soil enough to favor berry growth. Dan adds “peat moss by the gallons” to accomplish the feat.
All the bushes are producing, testament to his labor.
Before beginning their foray into berry farming, “We toured a lot of farms around the country,” Judy said. “They can’t keep up with their customers.”
She is hopeful, once better known, their farm will be the same.
“There’s just not that many (berry farms) around in this area, and it’s something that should do well,” she said.
Though their plants are still small, Danell is philosophic about it.
“Our customer base is growing as the plants are growing,” said Danell.

BLUEBERRY season lasts only four weeks; the family tries to make the most of it by offering other goods for sale.
Danell makes fleece neck pillows. “They’re great for (using in the car for) long distances,” she said. She also makes photo cards with scenes of the farm.
The family also sells honey from their small collection of hives.
Clayton, 16, has one hive specially outfitted to produce comb honey. The round comb is new to the Barnhardts. “We’ve only had that in about a week,” Judy said.
The family extracts fluid honey once a year, in the fall. Once that stock is gone, it’s gone until the bees can make more.
“The average worker bee will only make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its life,” Danell explained. “In the summer time, the workers only live two to four weeks. They work themselves to death.”
Facts about bees and their habits are posted on the walls. One sign proclaims “550 bees must visit 2.5 million flowers and fly 35,584 miles” to produce one pound of honey.
“When they talk about busy bees,” Judy said, “they mean it.”
Danell and Judy are almost as busy. They make beeswax products like lotion and lip balm; mango and pina colada are popular flavors. They also make a medicated balm for skin afflictions like psoriasis.
Danell also makes shea butter soap.
“The cinnamon sells the best,” Judy said. “When she’s making it the shop really smells good.”
The small bars have an odd notch in one end. “It’s supposed to look like Kansas,” the women smile, turning a bar on its side so the notch becomes the northeast corner of the state.
Judy is also putting together a cookbook featuring popular blueberry and honey recipes, including their family ice cream recipe.
“We eat ice cream a lot,” Judy said. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,” the family laughed. “It’s really good.”
The Barnhardt’s final item in their potpourri is a selection of Christian books.
“I wanted to carry books ... (related to) the farm” Judy said. “Then people began to ask for other titles.”

ONE ODD sideline the family deals in is gathering rogue bees.
“We collect a lot of wild swarms,” Judy said. Locals call the Barnhardts when there is a swarm in a building or field they’d like removed, Judy said.
Danell is the swarm removal expert. She’s very matter-of fact in relating her process. “I put a super (bee box) down and wait for some scouts to go in,” she said. If a swarm isn’t willing, “I shake them down.”
“Once the queen goes in, they all will,” she explained. She then closes up the box and carts her living treasure back to the farm.
The Barnhardts charge $2.75 per pound for blueberries, about the same as a 6-ounce supermarket clamshell. They will also pick for those who choose not to, for $4 per pound.