Nothing says summer like sweet, local blackberries

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 11, 2008

By Katie Scarvey
Nothing says summer like plump, juicy blackberries.
This summer, however, if you’re looking for wild berries, you’ll probably come up empty ó or if you do manage to find berries, they’ll probably be tiny and sour.
Several years of drought have seen to that.
Fortunately for blackberry-lovers, there are some berries available locally, and they are plump, glossy and beautiful.
You might not expect to find them at Hill’s Minnow Farm, but tucked away behind the gas station and convenience store on Bringle Ferry Road near Dan Nicholas Park are rows of berries planted by Terry Hill.
If you want to buy them already picked, they’re $4 a quart, available at the store. Or pick your own for $2.50 a quart.
And with berries this large and juicy ó and no thorns to worry about ó it doesn’t take long to fill a box.
“I got started with these blackberries just to have some for us,” Terry says. His daughters, Mary and Lisa, love them, so he put in a few plants.
The project seemed to take on a life of its own.
“I just enjoyed messing with them,” he says. “Every year I would root more plants.”
Now, he’s got two 150-foot long rows and five 30-foot rows of berries, plus an additional two rows of young plants that won’t bear until next year.
A sprinkler system that draws water from a three-acre pond on Hill’s property provides the water for the berries.
As Terry walks among the rows, he sometimes pops a berry into his mouth. He doesn’t use chemicals on his plants, and he uses leaf mulch as a natural fertilizer. After working for many years as a furniture refinisher, he’s very concerned about limiting his exposure to toxic materials.
He also appreciates the nutritional benefits of blackberries. They are a good source of antioxidants called anthocyanins as well as ellagic acid, which may help prevent cancer. Blackberries are a healthy snack at about 62 calories per cup.
“We hope to produce a thousand quarts this year,” Terry says.
Lisa sells some of them at the Farmers Market in Salisbury.
Most of Terry’s plants are Triple Crown, a popular variety, but he’s also planted a row of Doyle berries, which produce later in the season.
Terry says that the picking season should last for several more weeks.
Call Hill’s Minnow Farm at 704-633-7413 for more information.
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Out on Garrick Road, John Lee and Dollie Smith also have blackberries for sale for another few weeks.
Customers won’t pick their own here ó Dollie and John Lee do the work, getting up early in the morning and picking for about an hour and a half.
For $3.75 a quart, customers get berries in freezer-ready plastic containers.
John Lee has been growing berries for about five years now. He’s got several different varieties, including Apache, Arapahoe and Triple Crown.
Like the Hills, Dollie and John Lee love blackberries and eat them year-round. They sometimes make blackberry wine, which John Lee likes to pour over fruitcake.
The Smiths sell their berries from their home at 535 Garrick Road. From Old Mocksville Road, turn right onto Seventh Street at Ivan’s Restaurant; then turn left on Garrick Road.
The Smiths’ house is the second on the right.
Call first ó 704-633-3935 ó to make sure someone’s home.