Blueberry fields are ripe for the picking: Farmer sees dreams come to fruition bushes planted three years ago are full of ripening berries for pickers.
Publication: Charleston Daily Mail Published: Monday, July 04, 2011Page: 1AByline: Ashley B. Craig, Daily Mail Staff
KENNA – After three years of watching and waiting, berry farmer Walter Moore finally has the fields of blue he had hoped for. Moore, 61, a pharmacist, planted thousands of blueberry bushes three years ago on his Jackson County farm. Now, the bushes are starting to bear fruit by the bucket.
The plants still have a few years to go until they’re mature but are ready now for the picking. He opened the farm this year for the first time to berry lovers eager to pick their own.
The fields at Herot Hall, named for the Hall of Hart Herot from the epic poem “Beowulf,” previously had been open to Moore’s friends and family, but the yield has grown to the point that a gallon bucket could be filled from each bush, he said.
“The farm is still young, but we’ve opened it up this year because we thought it was maybe time to start making a little money from the fruits of our labor,” Moore said. “We’ve got more than enough here.”
Pickers are welcome to come to the farm and fill gallon buckets. Moore said he didn’t want to charge by weight, so instead he has been going by the estimated number of berries picked.
Some of the blueberries were ripe and ready to be picked two weeks ago, but some still are ripening. Moore said the farm was “about picked out” of ripe ones Sunday afternoon, but he expected more to sweeten by midweek.
“We started picking (blueberries) a couple of weeks ago, and the blackberries, I expect, will start coming on in a few weeks,” Moore said.
Running parallel to the 3,000 blueberry bushes are about 500 blackberry bushes bordered by slanted, electrified fencing to keep deer at bay. Deer nearly destroyed the blackberries last year, Moore said, but he was able to save a few of the canes.
Blackberries will be ripe in mid- to late July, toward the end of picking season at Herot Hall. Pickers are welcome at the Kenna area farm from June 19 to Aug. 15.
About 40 to 45 acres of the sprawling 225-acre property are pasture where berries could be grown. The rest of the land is covered in dense woods. Although growing grass on the land for hay was difficult because of the acidic soil, Moore had been told berries would grow easily.
“It’s been a steep learning curve for me,” he said. “I’ve killed more than 100 bushes over here (in his experimentation field), but a lot of it was that it took me a while to figure out how to do it. The soil had to be prepped and the irrigation lines had to be run.”
Irrigation lines to water and fertilize the bushes run just beneath the soil under the bushes. Moore doesn’t use pesticides on the plants, and the fertilizer is water-soluble.
Chandler, Elliot and Patriot blueberries fill the main fields. In his ‘experimentation field,’ Moore has planted blue crop and blue ray blueberries, which are smaller than the others.
As pickers approach, they’re asked to leave their tobacco products in their vehicles. This is because the tobacco could carry a virus that’s deadly to berry bushes.
Once all precautions are taken, Moore invites his guests to pick as many berries as they like and to be sure to try a few.
“I know they’re going to eat some while they’re picking so they might as well enjoy themselves,” Moore said. “When they’re ripe, it’s just like candy.”
Sampling can let pickers know whether the berries are ripe, but they also can judge by the color. Blueberries that still have a red cast probably aren’t ready to come off the vine. Once the berries are plucked, they do not continue ripening.
“The darker the berry, the sweeter it is,” said Mark Shouldis, a state worker who spent Sunday picking berries with his wife and two children.
The family of four picked a gallon in less than an hour. They have three blueberry bushes at their home in Given, Jackson County, but the bushes have produced only four berries this year, said Christie Shouldis, a nurse at Charleston Area Medical Center’s Women and Children’s Hospital.
She said they saw the signs for the farm when they got off the Kenna exit of Interstate 77 and decided to stop by.
“It’s cheaper to pick them than buying them at the store,” Mark said. “These are fresh and you get more for your money.”
Christie makes jellies and jams with some and freezes the rest. The two children, Ivy, 13, and Walker, 9, picked but also watched for snakes. Christie said snakes, especially copperheads, tend to frequent berry patches.
“No berry is worth risking being bitten by a copperhead,” she said.
Dane McClellan, 34, and Erin Wolfe, 39, of Lavallette found Herot Hall on the website www.pickyourown.org, which identifies such farms and orchards across the country. They made the 90-minute trip from Cabell County to Kenna to check out Moore’s farm and gather berries for their freezer.
“The health benefits are great,” Wolfe said. “Blueberries are full of antioxidants.”
“And they’re good for memory,” McClellan added.
McClellan has about a dozen blueberry bushes in his yard and often picks from the 40 or so in his neighbor’s yard. Sunday was his first trip to a ‘pick your own’ farm, he said.
“I’ve gotten a crash course in berries in the last year,” McClellan said. “We’re trying to be more self-reliant. If we pick enough, we’ll have enough to last through winter.”
McClellan said he hoped to pick eight gallons this summer and planned to freeze at least six for later use. When picking berries, he always looks for the darker ones and those that slide off the vine easily.
“If you have to pull them, they’re not ready to go with you,” McClellan said.
Moore has big plans for Herot Hall. He has planted another field of blueberries and has hopes for more blackberries.
He plans to install water fountains for pickers and shelters for gatherings of families and friends and even larger events such as weddings and reunions.
He said the berry bushes can bear fruit for 30 years or more, and he hopes someone will pick up where he leaves off.
“It’s an investment that will come back to you year after year,” he said. “Hopefully, someone will continue this after I’m long gone, and this beautiful land won’t become another housing development.”
The farm, which is a few miles south of the Kenna exit of I-77, is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit www.herothall.com.
Craig Cunningham/Daily Mail
Walter Moore, 61, owner of Herot Hall farm in Jackson County, found that blueberries and blackberries grew easily on his farm in Kenna. The farm boasts 3,000 blueberry bushes and 500 blackberry bushes.
Signs direct potential pickers to Herot Hall berry farm in Kenna, where they can pick their own berries by the gallon. The blueberries began ripening about two weeks ago and will continue ripening through July, but the blackberries aren’t expected to be ripe enough until mid- to late July.
Craig Cunningham/Daily Mail Photos
The Shouldis family from Given spent Sunday afternoon picking berries at Herot Hall. Mark Shouldis, at right, with his son, Walker, 9, said they have three blueberry bushes at their home but that so far the bushes only have produced four berries. Ivy Shouldis, 13, holds the bucket at left. At right, Jennifer Goldizen of Liberty shows off her blueberry haul Sunday afternoon. She was careful to taste and pick only the ripe ones, since blueberries do not continue to ripen once they’re off the bush.
Teresa Mitchell of Fairplain, left, and her daughter Chloe, 2, pick blueberries at Herot Hall Sunday afternoon with friend Marlana Taylor and her 3-year-old son, Matthew, who live nearby.
Blueberries hang on the bush at Herot Hall berry farm. Several types of blueberries, including Chandler, Elliot and Patriot, are available at the farm.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org or (304) 348-4850.