Moore's Berry Crops Abundant
Blackberries and blueberries are joining the peach season as almost an extension of that other favorite: strawberries.
"Blueberries are very large and very good this year," said Taylor Williams, horticulture agent with the Moore County Center of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
More than a dozen producers raise blackberries, blueberries -- or both -- in Moore and neighboring counties.
"Blackberries are going down," Williams said. "Blueberries are up."
By that, Taylor means that the blackberry season is nearing an end and the blueberry season is just getting started. Even so, exceptions abound.
Mary McKay Smith said the James A. McKay farm near Cameron will be open to the public for blueberry picking beginning next week. The farm known as Mary's Berries is at 567 Baker Road, reached from Cypress Church Road.
Smith now operates the farm largely on her own because her father, now in his eighties, is unable to do all the work himself.
"They are nice and plump," Smith says of the 2006 crop of blueberries. "They're gonna be sweet this time."
The farm has 125 bushes of a later but unnamed variety, and Smith said the crop is abundant this year, a gift from generous rains in recent weeks.
"The berries are really pretty." she said. "They're larger than they were last year. We've had lots of rain this year."
Berries have been raised on the McKay farm since the turn of the 20th century, but in those early days the berry was the dewberry. Those were the days when Cameron was hailed as the "Dewberry Capital of the World."
Smith said a few volunteer vines of dewberries can be found along the edges of the fields, but otherwise there is little evidence left from the "Dewberry Capital of the World" days.
She said she wouldn't know what to do with dewberries today and said she understands why growers quit raising dewberries and turned to tobacco.
"Dewberry production is labor intensive," Smith said. "Tobacco is labor intensive too, but not like dewberries. Tobacco doesn't have thorns, doesn't have to be staked and you can make more money."
Nevertheless, the blueberry bushes at the McKay-Smith farm are not brand new. Smith said her parents acquired the plants about 27 years ago when she was still in college.
Their history adds a little color. Smith said they were planted from sprouts popping up from a family farm in a nearby county. A cousin called and said he had too many bushes and offered other family members some of his bushes if they would come and get them. She said the bushes she raises today were dug up as sprouts by her father and transplanted to the farm on Baker Road.
This year, Smith will emphasize "pick-your-own" berries at Mary's Berries. Her husband has a full-time job and can help only on weekends, and she is beginning treatments at Duke, a condition that is likely to curtail her own activities during the growing season.
However, with advance notice, Smith said she can arrange to have some berries picked in advance if the customer will call and place an order. She knows local young people interested in picking berries to raise money during the summer.
Smith said the berries are good for eating raw or for pies and other baked goods. In addition, they are especially easy to freeze for later use.
No pesticides or other chemicals are applied to the berry bushes on the McKay farm.
"Nothing is on them but rain," she said.
In fact, she freezes them unwashed straight from the bush, a practice that eliminates the need for rinsing before placing in the freezer. Then, when she is ready to use them, she simply rinses them off.
At the other end of Moore County in Jackson Springs, Karyn Ring has a similar tale of history mixing with modern-day farming practices.
Ring raises both blackberries and blueberries on the Eagle's Nest Farm at 1556 Currie Mill Road in Jackson Springs. Berry production is likewise a part of that family farm's history.
This is not a pick-your-own business. She says the family does its own picking and sells berries directly from the farm in Jackson Springs.
Eagle's Nest Farm has plenty of berries too -- about 1,400 blueberry bushes and 300 blackberry canes. The Rings have been harvesting berries since the first week in June and expect to have both blues and blacks until the second week in August.
Do they taste good?
"Boy, we really have been eating the berries," Ring said. "They're wonderful this year."
Ring said her family's preference is to eat berries in an easy-to-bake cobbler.
Ring adds a tasty idea she picked up from West End peach grower Watts Auman. He likes to mix peaches with berries, in a half-berry, half-peach combination, which also works quite well, she says.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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