It's berry-picking time at Bernice's Blueberry Farm.
Bernice Richards says the berries were a little later ripening this year. They're normally ready in mid-June, she says, but this year they weren't ready to be picked until the last day of the month.
Richards and her husband, George, who died in 2007, started their pick-your-own blueberry operation in 1984.
"We just put up a donation box" and let people pick the berries they wanted, she said.
When her husband became ill in 1993, she sold all of her bushes.
"A man came in with a backhoe and scooped them up, dirt and all," she said. "I thought they were gone."
But "the bushes volunteered and came back," she said.
"I don't put any pesticides or herbicides on them, and they're watered with spring water," she said.
The spring water comes from Crystal Lake, a former public swimming area, which her house overlooks. After her husband died, she built a pavilion on the lake in his memory because he enjoyed the spot so much.
"In 2007, we had no fruit at all," she said. "We had a real hard freeze around Easter time."
At the time, she was caring for her husband, who died in August of that year.
"The Lord knew what he was doing," she said.
"Since then they have been loaded."
She expects this year's season to last through August, "maybe later," because of the late start.
One recent morning, Bethany Cantrell and her daughters, Adrianna, 5, and Macey, 3, were braving the heat to collect berries at the farm on Salem Road. Cantrell said they come out several times during the picking season.
She freezes the berries.
"They're awesome frozen," she said.
Eric Dowler, 14, was picking berries for Richards to sell. He and Richards both attend Sweetwater Baptist Church.
His brother, Ethan, 17, was also picking. Ethan has a technique of his own. He picks the berries in clusters of five or six.
"You have to be gentle, kind of shuffling your hand as you go," he said, pulling the dark-blue berries away and leaving the unripe, purplish red ones on the bush.
Bernice's Berry Farm is at 1344 Salem Road in Thomson. Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
Richards says most people come to pick early in the day to avoid the heat.
Those who pick their own berries pay $1.35 a pound. Anyone 62 or older can pick for $1 a pound. Picked berries cost $3.10 a pound.
Richards prefers that anyone who wants picked berries call ahead to order them.
For more information, call (706) 595-7251.