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Local farm readies for blueberry season

Bernice Richards knows her berries, but it's nothing to sing the blues over. In fact, when it comes to her berries, Ms. Richards has a lot to croak about. Last week, she walked through her blueberry patch and admired the boughs weighed down with large, round pods.

"All the pods are just beautiful to me. But of course, each frog praises his own pond, I guess," she said as she popped a plump blueberry into her mouth. "Mmm, that's good. I'll be grazing after a while."

She talks of each variety as if it were a member of her family.

"The rabbit eye is called the pride of the South," she said as she pointed out the eye on the berry. "And the Woodard is over here. ... and my favorite taste, personally, is the tift blue."

She proudly shows off a variety that gets as big around as a quarter. A blueberry doesn't ripen after it's picked, according to Ms. Richards. And the fruit has to stay on the bush for 10 days after it turns blue before "the sugar comes in" and it tastes sweet.

And she should know. Years ago when Ms. Richards and her husband, George, purchased property on Salem Road, the land was covered in pine trees. But Ms. Richards found some blueberries growing wild. She decided if the land was good for wild berries, then it would work for cultivated fruit. The pines were cleared for pulp and several varieties of blueberry plants were planted. The Richards ran a pick-your-own farm for 26 years. When Mr. Richards' health declined in 1993, they sold all their plants to a neighbor down the road, who brought in a back hoe and dug all the bushes up.

"And recently, the plants just volunteered and came back up just where I had them before," Ms. Richards said.

So Ms. Richards decided to answer Mother Nature's call and re-open her pick-your-own berry farm. She has many varieties of berries that ripen at different intervals, which she said was her plan, "so I won't have three acres of berries that I have to suddenly get rid of all at one time."

Ms. Richards said friends help her keep the grass cut close to the ground "because no one wants to see any creepy crawlies." The berries are ripe and the farm opens today for the first day of the season. Ms. Richards said the crop should last four to six weeks, depending on the weather.

"When the berries get so scant that people have to hunt them to fill their buckets, then I close it up. It's not fair to them then," the veteran berry farmer said.

Ms. Richards enjoys the fruits of her labors herself each day. She describes the farm as "a tranquil place." There is a large fishing pond which is used to irrigate her blueberry patch. There is also a large, wild blueberry bush which Ms. Richards brought from Oconee River Swamp where she used to go pick berries as a child. Right beside the wild bush is a yellow plum tree.

"The yellow plums are so good," she said. "I come by here and eat a few plums, then go to the blueberry patch and finish my breakfast."

Berry pickers may come from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The farm will be closed on Sunday. The cost is $1.25 per pound. Already picked berries are available for $2.50 per pound, but must be ordered in advance by telephone. Cold drinks are sold for reasonable prices and there are no public restrooms. The farm is located at 1344 Salem Road in Thomson. Call 706-595-7251 for more information.

Web posted on Thursday, June 26, 2008

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