Bill Evans has been growing blueberries at his Berry Hill Farm near White Knoll in Lexington for 40 years.
Needless to say, Evans has seen it all, including a major freeze last March that overnight destroyed nearly all of what was shaping up to be a bountiful crop.
This year, however, Evans is seeing something he hasn't seen before.
"There's something going on in the field that I can't quite put my finger on," Evans said. "Early varieties like Climax and Premier are beginning to ripen, but some of the other varieties are way behind. It's just going to be a crazy year."
The reason for the uneven ripening?
"I don't really know," he said. "It could have something to do with pollination or the wild swings in temperature we've had this year."
The decline in pollination is a leftover result of last year's freeze, said Evans, a retired civil engineer. He explained that many of the area's native bees died when last year's blueberry crop died because there simply wasn't enough for them to eat. The bee population still hasn't fully rebounded, he said.
Erratic daily changes in temperature also effect pollination, Evans said, because bees like warm, calm days to get out and forage. Frosts this winter caused Evans to use his overhead sprinkler system 12 times, he said, and resulted in a 30 percent loss of crop overall.
"The bottom line is I have a crop, but it's going to be challenging getting people on the ripe berries at the right time for picking," Evans said.
Evans predicts he will open for picking mid- to late June. But he could open the fields to a surprise preseason pick as he has done in the past.
"In seasons past, we've had some preseason picking dates where we let folks in and pick what's ready and then close until something else ripens up," he said. "We may be looking at doing something like that again this year."
Berry Hill Farm is one of three area blueberry-picking fields that will be open in the Midlands this summer. Here's when and where you can expect to pick:
219 Bluefield Road, Lexington
Picking times (once open): 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. until dark Monday through Saturday (closed Sunday)
5412 Bluff Road, Columbia
Picking at Double A Farms starts Friday, but owner Kenny Aiken makes no predictions about when the season will end because the farm also lost half its usual crop because of frost. Check out the farm's Facebook page for updates.
Picking times: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday
216 E Boundary St., Chapin
Picking at Southern Blues (aka the Chapin Blueberry Patch) is expected to begin mid-June. Picking times, days and costs have not been announced but are expected to remain the same as last year.
Picking times: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Cost: U-pick is $1.25 per pound/prepicked is $7 per container