Bernice Richards really doesn't have a choice.
"I've either got to open up or be invaded by them," the blueberry farm owner said last week as she walked between boughs weighed down with large, round pods of berries.
Bernice's Blueberry Patch opens tomorrow morning on Salem Road. Berry lovers can pick their own for $1.25 per pound, or order them already picked for $3 per pound.
She already has orders for almost 100 lbs. of pre-picked berries, and she's been turning away prospective berry pickers for the past few weeks. Ms. Richards said the fruit doesn't ripen after it's picked, and it has to stay on the bush for 10 days after it turns blue before "the sugar comes in" and it tastes sweet.
"They're real blue, now, but I can't make people understand that just â€˜cause they're blue, they're not sweet yet," she said.
It's a good crop, and not only because the berries are plentiful and blue.
"They're a lot bigger this year because of all the rain we had early in the season. That's good, because everybody loves the big ones," she said as she points out a variety that gets large as a grape.
Ms. Richards is no stranger to blueberries. Years ago, when she 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, it would work for cultivated fruit. The pines were cleared for pulp and several varieties of blueberry plants were planted in their place. 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.
A few years ago, Ms. Richards said the plants started coming up voluntarily. Last year when she needed some extra income, the blueberry plants were back in abundance. So she opened her farm back up with great success. This year, she estimates she has between 1,500 and 3,000 plants that are irrigated by a large fishing pond on the property.
"When we sold them, God knew on down the line that I would need the extra income," she said. "I wondered all those years why they were coming back up. I figured the Lord just wanted me to have blueberries, but now, I understand why."
The farm will stay open "until the berries get so scarce that people have to hunt to fill their buckets," Ms. Richards said, or until she gets too tired to continue. If things go like last year, the farm will remain open through August, but could go longer. Ms. Richards' younger neighbor, Mary Chandler Echols, 12, helps weigh and sell the berries.
"She's a wonderful help, I couldn't do it without her," Ms. Richards added.
Pickers won't have to worry about bending over to the ground to get their berries - Ms. Richards' dachshund, Cricket, has been taking care of the low ones.
"Cricket always eats them off the bottom limbs," Ms. Richards said with a laugh as she watches the little dog scamper through the patch. "He's a mess. He loves â€˜em as much as I do."
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Bernice's Pick-Your-Own Blueberry Patch
WHERE: 1344 Salem Road, Thomson
HOW MUCH: $1.25 per pound, you pick; $3 per pound, pre-picked, call ahead to order.
HOURS: 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., Monday through Friday (gates open at 7 a.m.); 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., Saturday (gates open at 7 a.m.); Closed Sunday
MORE INFO: Call 706-595-7251