Judging by the crowds on a recent visit, this year indeed appears to be going well.
The farm's blueberries sells for $1.75 a pound and the picking will go on through the first week of August. Then, a picking season for the farm's smaller field of red raspberries runs into October with those berries going for $3 a pound.
The entire hillside is covered with overhead netting to protect the berries from serving as breakfast, lunch and dinner for birds. This allows them to grow to a large size, sometimes almost as big as marbles, although customers have their berry-picking druthers.
"Some people like enormous berries because they can fill their buckets fast," Robinson said. "Some people like little berries because when you put 'em into a batter they don't sink to the bottom -- if you put them in muffins they'll stay in the muffins. And sort of like wild berries, a lot of people think that the smaller berries have a more intense flavor."
The farm features about 17 varieties and 2,600 blueberry plants overall. The place yields "30,000-some pounds" of berries each successful season, Robinson guestimates.
Many people associate blueberries with the low-bush berries found in Maine, but higher bushes like his come from New Jersey, which grow in bogland conditions.
"Blueberries are like rhododendrons -- they like acid soil," said Robinson. "So, we had to make the soil acid, and we have to continually work to keep the organic material real high and the soil acid and moist. They like a lot of water."
There are actually a lot of wild blueberries in West Virginia, he pointed out. "There are some species in West Virginia that grow up on ridges like Dolly Sods. They would be much smaller and probably have a more intense flavor -- makes it harder to pick. That's what we see here, people can pick a bucket in a short amount of time, and they like that. It makes it worth it coming out, because people are in a hurry now."
'I could do this'
Robinson is grateful for the advice he got in the early '90s from another West Virginia blueberry farmer
"At that time, the only blueberry farm I could find in the state was Bob McConnell, who is in Grafton. He was gracious enough to answer my questions. We've been friends ever since. After looking at his and talking to him, I thought, 'I could do this.' And you need that."
He, too, is now passing it forward, if you will.
"I understand that there have been four or five more people in the state who planted at least a small patch after they came here and asked me questions -- and went home and decided to do it."
He wonders why there are not more commercial blueberry patches springing up around the state -- with one important caveat.
"I wouldn't want to see three more farms within a half-hour's drive of here. We don't have the market. [But] I am surprised that there aren't six blueberry farms like this within a half hour of Charleston. Or Parkersburg. Or Clarksburg. I think they could take off and do it."
But it does take some money to get a blueberry business started -- and the plants take a decade to fully mature, he said. "There's no payoff for, basically, 10 years."
On the other hand, once the pieces are in place and the bushes are pushing out berries and the caravans start arriving at 8 a.m. to grab their blueberry buckets, he couldn't be happier.
"It's a tremendous joy. I love to do it. Not that I don't get frustrated or aggravated sometimes. But I love to do it. I'd recommend it to anybody who doesn't live within an hour or two of me."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.