Buckets of Berries
05 Apr 2021
N.C. Farms: Life at the Landing
Story and photos by Christine Hall
It was a hot summer day when we packed up our girls in the minivan to drive out to Jackson Springs. As we applied our sunscreen and mosquito repellent, I asked our daughters what they were looking forward to most at the farm. “I want to pick blueberries,” our youngest boasted with a grin. “Did you say there was an outdoor play kitchen?” our oldest inquired, with interest in her brows. “I think we’re here,” I smiled as the van tumbled to a dusty stop.
We unbuckled and peered toward a wooden sign featuring a hand-painted white eagle welcoming us to Eagle's Nest Berry Farm. “This way to the playground!” Mary squealed. “Which way to the outdoor kitchen?” Ella asked, her eyes now in a squint. “Which way to the berries?” I wondered silently as the girls took off down a path. I inquisitively followed them while my husband gathered our water bottles and hats.
As we approached the playground, aptly named “The Landing,” we could see a rubber tire and balance beam obstacle course, an outdoor kitchen, tepee village, swing sets, and a slide. A nearby sandbox with tree stumps for seating quickly lured our youngest while her older sister took note of a music wall filled with homemade drums and gongs. My husband and I watched the girls explore as we took in the view before heading to the main field to pick.
Our next few hours were filled with adventure and delight. We picked blueberries and blackberries, wandered among the many neat rows of bushes, ate watermelon popsicles, and drank blueberry lemonade. While the girls were off galivanting, we got to know Karyn Ring and her sister Elaina Overby, who, with their family, own and operate the farm. The sisters shared stories of how the farm began and their vision for building on the history of the property.
On Eagles Wings
Located just west of Pinehurst in Jackson Springs, the farm was originally owned by the sisters’ great-grandfather Herbert R. Currie, who maintained the property as a tobacco farm. The family began transitioning their acreage from tobacco to timber, watermelons and cantaloupes in the 1980s, and began their berry production in 1999. It was the passing of the sisters’ father, Captain Larry C. Richardson, that sparked the official creation of “Eagle's Nest Berry Farm.”
The berry farm itself had been the visionary offspring of Captain Richardson who had served in the U.S. Navy. Upon retirement, he had dreamed of planting a field of blueberries. “He had a notebook and had everything drawn out,” says daughter Karyn Ring.
“He had tested the soil for the best locations for blueberries and best locations for blackberries and had previously decided he was going to buy a bulldozer,” Ring recalls. “I tried to tell him that you cannot just buy one – that you must go to school to learn how to operate one. His response was: ‘Honey, if I can land a 40-million-dollar plane on a moving ship, I think I can figure it out.’”
It was with this charisma and determined spirit that the farm began, yet Captain Richardson would not see it to fruition. “After our father’s sudden death, we carried out his dream of establishing a blueberry and blackberry farm in Jackson Springs,” says Ring.
Eagle's Nest Berry Farm has expanded over the years to include nearly 3,000 bushes that produce seven varieties of blueberries and four varieties of blackberries. “The Landing at Eagle's Nest Berry Farm” was added in 2017 as an outdoor learning environment. “It is the farm's wish to teach children where their food comes from and to encourage them to have an active lifestyle, outside and away from electronics,” Ring says. “The Landing serves as a gathering point where children and their families can play while visiting for berry picking or shopping the country store and produce stand.”
This spring a new venue will be opened on the property where the family plans to host a blueberry “jam” as well as children’s birthday parties, school events and small weddings. For up-to-date information, visit eaglesnestberryfarm.com or call 910-639-3966.
Berry Varieties at Eagle's Nest Berry Farm
Rabbiteye Blueberries, which come in mid-late June varieties include Premier, Powder Blue, Tifblue, and Climax. Southern Highbush Blueberries, which come in as early as late May varieties include O’Neal, New Hanover, and Legacy
Thornless Blackberries, which start coming in the first week of June
varieties include Arapaho, Natchez, Ouachita, and Triple Crown
Planting Your Own Patch
Blueberries can be easily grown most anywhere in the Carolinas when using the right variety and care. Choose among Premier, Powder Blue, Tifblue, and Climax varieties of Rabbiteye.
Cultivated species can produce more than 10 pounds of berries per bush, and can remain productive for 15-20 years, so plan accordingly!
Timing: Fall planting is preferred when the bushes are dormant and can focus on root growth. The next most common time to plant? When a brilliant specimen catches your eye at the plant nursery! With the help of some extra TLC and regular watering, new additions can typically be coaxed along during the growing season.
Variety: The Rabbiteye variety is a good choice for the Sandhills because it is drought tolerant and amenable to a range of soil types. This variety can grow as tall as 15 feet and gets its name from the light pink, young berries that emerge before turning blue.
Soil: Blueberries are acid-loving, so knowing your soil’s current levels and adjusting accordingly will ensure a proper start. A soil test can be done through your local agriculture extension agency. I have found blueberry bushes love organic matter and peat moss. Live in an apartment or condo? No problem. Raised beds or patio containers can house blueberry plants too.
Care: Full sun but some will tolerate a bit of shade. Prune in the winter to remove older, gray wood.