Alaskans heading to their usual berry patch might be surprised this year: Either it's really good or not great.
That's because Alaska's mild winter and spring has been both a blessing and a curse for berry pickers, at least depending on where you go.
"Painting a broad brush, it's a good year," said Pat Holloway, retired University of Alaska Fairbanks horticulture professor. "But you'll still hear people grumbling."
She said that's because microclimates around the state could mean that a berry patch benefiting from good conditions one year might deal with inclement weather the next. The climates can be so varied that berry picking in one area might be vastly different in a spot just a few miles away.
She said the mild spring helped berries avoid frost and allowed pollinators, like bees, to freely roam. But that same weather could mean some patches missed the moisture or temperatures needed to sustain a lush berry crop.
Carol Ross, retired Anchorage School District home economics teacher and lifelong Alaska berry picker, experienced that firsthand. She said her family's homestead at Mile 104 of the Glenn Highway was bare of blueberries this year, despite usually being a good source of berries. She heard that nearby Hatcher Pass blueberries were bountiful. Steve Brown, UAF Cooperative Extension Palmer office horticulture and agriculture agent, said a trip up to the popular picking spot earlier in the week was the busiest he'd ever seen it.
"I don't think there would be that many people if the picking wasn't very good," he said.
However, Ross' raspberry bushes at her Anchorage Big Bear Bed and Breakfast are bountiful. She and her sister picked four gallons of berries earlier in the week. She said there was still a lot more to go.
Leslie Shallcross, UAF Cooperative Extension health, homes and family development agent, said in the Anchorage area people are overall reporting a lot of big berries in large quantities around the municipality. Some even appear to be a few weeks early.
Holloway said the berries in Fairbanks, especially in low areas, also came early thanks to warm weather in the Interior.
Shallcross noted that Alaska was right in the middle of blueberry season, with raspberries just finishing up and cranberries beginning to ripen in the next few weeks.