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Posted: June 23, 2012 4:51 p.m.

Berry, berry good

When Bill and Carolyn Kitchen moved to Social Circle from Tucker 30 years ago, they never would have guessed the few blueberry bushes they planted would turn into a full blueberry farm years later.

"In 1980, I planted a few bushes and in 1983 I had enough for my family and our neighbors," Bill Kitchen said. "By 1984, we had to put up our signs so people could come in and help us pick all the blueberries."

Bill and Carolyn have more than 1,200 bushes of blueberries covering approximately two acres out of their 20-acres of land located at 38 Knox Chapel Road in Social Circle.

The berries are all Rabbiteye developed in Tifton to fit in with Southern climate. They open up at sunrise and close at 5 p.m. Kitchen fertilizes the bushes himself and uses a special invention from the University of Florida to avoid having to use pesticides on his berry bushes.

"The anemologist who invented the device used a large, sticky ball to look like a blueberry to attract insects to the poison located on the ball," Kitchen said. "We were chosen as a test site for the invention several years ago, and have been using it ever since."

Operating a blueberry farm that receives approximately 150 people a day is a tough task for anyone; thankfully Bill and Carolyn have the help of their four children along with their grandchildren.

"The children rotate and come out and help us run the farm," Kitchen said. "We have fun together though, and thoroughly enjoy getting to spend time together on the farm."

They said that their favorite part of being on the farm and having customers come and pick their own berries is getting to meet a variety of people.

"I enjoy days when the farm is full of families enjoying our good crop of berries," Kitchen said. "It always makes our day when we hear customers tell us that they will be back because there is no other place they want to go."

In order to ensure that there is a good crop waiting for customers, Kitchen uses a watering system to help make sure berries do not dry up and shrivel. This also helps the berries ripen and become ready to be picked.

"If a blueberry is ripe and ready to be picked, then it will be loose and will fall into your hand without a problem," Kitchen said. "Blueberries aren't like grapes and bananas that will continue to ripen after being picked or bought from a store. Once it's picked, it will not ripen anymore."

Kitchen said a question he and wife Carolyn are often asked is how to be able to tell which blueberries are the sweetest.

"I tell them that as long as they pick ripe berries then they will all be sweet," he said. "The biggest ones are the ripest and will most likely be the sweetest."

Recent studies have shown eating blueberries have health benefits including protection against free radical damage to the cells in the body that can lead to cancer, heart disease, arthritis and reduce the build-up of bad cholesterol.

"That's why blueberries have become popular," Kitchen said. "When we first started, blackberries were popular. Now it's all about blueberries."

Blueberries are $1.65 per pound. There are six pounds in a gallon. Customers can also purchase individual pints of blue berries that have already been picked, along with jams and other blue berry products.

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