IN his 30 plus years of blueberry farming, Otto Saeck had never experienced anything like the hailstorm that hit his Brooklet orchard, Blueberry Fields, on November 5 last year.

It hit with such ferocity that it destroyed the orchard’s hail nets, completely stripped his blueberry bushes of their foliage and ripped half the bark off the side of many of his plants.

The timing was particularly harsh. It came just after the spring harvest, destroying the new flush of growth that was to carry the next year’s crop.

Eight months later, things are only just starting to get back to normal. The nets are back up and the bushes are starting to produce again, although Otto says it will be closer to three years before the farm is back in full production.

As the recovery has taken place, Otto’s and wife Lynette’s popular farmers market stall, Blueberry Fields – usually at the markets from about May to November – has been sorely missed by their local customers, so there was a warm welcome when they recently returned to  New Brighton Farmers Markets.

Production is still a little slow, but there are small quantities of some excellent fruit at the markets now, and Otto says the season ahead is looking good.

“There’s a lot of flowering happening now and if the weather’s kind we should have a good spring crop.”

He says if customers can be patient, there will be plenty more fruit coming into the markets in six to eight weeks.

Otto says there is a lot more work to be done at the farm, and he is looking at the expensive task of replanting almost a quarter of the orchard.

In the meantime, however, he is grateful for the support of his local customers:

“We really value our market customers and appreciate them standing by us.

“It’s so nice to have a community that supports us.

“It makes it all worthwhile.”