When Ellen Parlee opened her farm at 8 a.m. on Thursday, a line of 30 cars were already waiting to get in.
“We’re so fortunate people love blueberries,” she said with a laugh.
Blueberry season has begun, with many local farms — including Parlee Farms in Tyngsboro — allowing customers to pick their own blueberries while they are ripe.
Parlee Farms’ pick-your-own blueberry season started last week, but the business had to let the field rest for a few days before welcoming people back into its 10 acres of highbush blueberries on Thursday.
Parlee said the farm will stay open for picking through the weekend, and she anticipates there will be superb picking conditions in the coming days. The variety of blueberry changes over the course of the summer, she added.
“The early berries tend to be more medium- to large-sized, but then we hit mid-season and they tend to be large, which is awesome,” Parlee said. “The longer they’re on the bush, they tend to be sweeter, too.”
This is Parlee Farms’ 35th growing season, but they’ve been picking blueberries — the second crop they ever planted, after strawberries — since 1994. Until about mid-August, the farm lets berry-collectors enter the fields with one of three different-sized containers, the largest holding close to 6 pounds.
For those uninterested in making the five-minute trek to the blueberry fields, Parlee Farms sells a number of baked goods at its farm stand. The big seller, Parlee said, is the farm’s apple cider doughnuts, which are available through October, but it also has blueberry scones with lemon icing, blueberry twists and blueberry muffins, all made from scratch. It will also offer blueberry crisp, either frozen at the farm stand or served warm with cream out of the onsite Mary’s Country Kitchen.
While the strawberry fields are no longer open for picking, Parlee said the farm is still selling fresh strawberries, as well as strawberry muffins and strawberry shortcake. The cherry picking season began about two and a half weeks ago, but Parlee said it will be over after this weekend.
Parlee is especially excited about this year’s blueberry harvest, because the farm survived the winter with little injury to the crop and after “pruning worked perfectly,” she said.
“It’s one of our most popular crops because they’re so healthy, they’re so good for you,” Parlee said. “It’s a great outing for families, and if you’re staying close for the summer and the fall, we have options for you to come and spend a nice day out with us.”
Its next pick-your-own crops will be cut flowers, followed by peaches in August and apples and pumpkins in September.
Conditions and hours for picking vary, so Parlee advises customers to check the farm’s website for daily updates.
This is the earliest that Farmer Dave’s in Dracut has seen its blueberries ripen, said owner Dave Dumaresq. Its picking season just began on Friday morning, but Dumaresq said the farm probably should have opened over the July 4 weekend, since crews collected more than 500 pints of blueberries on Thursday morning.
Dumaresq’s wife, Jane, runs the farm’s kitchen, where the blueberry scones, made daily, “fly off the shelves,” he said. Blueberry zucchini muffins, blueberry pies, apple blueberry crisps, blueberry jam and the popular “black and blue bars” made of blackberries and blueberries are all on sale at Farmer Dave’s farm stand.
But Dumaresq said he likes the blueberries best when they’re “raw, unadulterated.”
“I go out there and I probably eat a pint every morning for breakfast,” he said. “It’s so good, why do you have to add something to it?”
Parlee’s Farm in Chelmsford kicked off its blueberry picking season Thursday and already had “a bunch of people” walk through its 800 bushes that morning, owner Caroline Parlee said. There, it’s $5.25 per pound, and customers are able to pick as many blueberries as they can carry.
The farm also has prepicked blueberries, corn, eggplant, peppers and eggs for sale, with the pick-your-own tomatoes season right around the corner.
“It’s the only time of year I make money,” Caroline Parlee said, laughing. “It’s also just wonderful to be outside this time of year, not cooped up in an office.”
Fitchburg’s Hollis Hills Farm, owned by Jim Lattanzi, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Monday for people to pick their own fresh blueberries, raspberries and blackberries by the pint. The farm’s restaurant also incorporates those fresh berries in a number of special dishes, including strawberry margaritas, sangrias and different salads.
“We’re actually in the middle of berry mania,” Lattanzi said. “We’ve got a nice crop, certainly plenty of blueberries for picking.”
Other local farms, such as Phalla’s Produce, Chelmsford’s Bitz N Peace Farm and Lowell’s Mill City Grows, will sell their produce at the Lowell Farmers’ Market, which opened for the season on Friday.
Jessica MacDonald, who coordinates the market through Community Teamwork’s Entrepreneurship Center, said the organization will add more vendors as the summer continues. The farmers’ market changed locations and will now be held at Mack Plaza at 29 Shattuck St. every Friday until Oct. 28 in the hopes that it will “activate our downtown area,” MacDonald said.
Food insecurity is also a concern, she added, so vendors accept Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program coupons, SNAP/EBT and senior coupons.
“We have a lot of small businesses in that area, so we really just want to bring joy and community back to our lives, back to the city,” MacDonald said. “Just trying to create a really fun environment where families and neighbors can come and reconnect.”