Bert bought his 10-acre plot of heaven on the top of Moffitt Hill in 1989, shortly after he moved from West by God Virginia with his wife to Old Fort, NC. After working in manufacturing for most of his adult life, the company moved to Mexico and left Bert looking for a job with just a few years until retirement. He hooked on at a chemical plant for a time, but all the while he kept working on the little farm that would become B&J's Fruit Farm.
In 2001, the couple completed construction on their home on the ridge and Bert started planting. He planted pear trees, apple trees, chestnuts and hazelnuts. He planted high bush blueberries, blackberries, red and white raspberries and grapes; muscadines, white and red.
Today, you call ahead like Sue and I did to see if anyone is home and find out if anything is ripe for the picking. Lucky for us, the first week in August is prime time for blueberries and blackberries, and there are enough peaches coming on to make it worth your while.
On a clear day you can see Mount Mitchell, the North America's highest peak East of the Mississippi, but during the summer, only pocket views of the surrounding mountains are visible through the screen of 12-foot butterfly bushes that ring the house. One must guess the couple enjoys watching the swirling tornado of tiger swallowtails and silver-spotted skippers as much as the distant ridges.
The sun was high when we pulled up to the house, but Bert, now 70, didn't hesitate to leave his air-conditioning to show us where everything was. Halfway down the hill, we were starting to feel a little fruit drunk, as our host pulled peaches, apples, berries, grapes and tomatoes from the vine to sample and approve of their wholesome goodness. None of the fruits or vegetables at B&J's are sprayed with pesticides, (Bert just doesn't want any of that stuff on his land) so you have to cut around a few worm holes here and there - a sacrifice we were more than willing to make.
We told him we wanted berries, and maybe some peaches for jam, and he gave us a collection of buckets, baskets and pails and turned us loose in the gardens. I went for blackberries first, while Sue went over to the blueberry bushes.
One of the results of the zero-pesticide policy at B&J's is a profusion of mosquitoes in the blackberry rows. After battling for 15 minutes or so, I emerged with a quart of berries and a dozen welts around my ankles. Bert clucked at my "meager" haul and my bit-up legs. He has a can of bug spray up at the house that I could have used, but he forgot about the mosquitoes. Thanks buddy, next time I'll bring my own.
Sue was doing much better with the blueberries. The bushes were so laden with fruit, you could pick entire clusters like milking a cow. In no time she had four quarts worth and Bert, who was feeling helpful, got out his pole picker and gathered us six pounds of peaches (at 50 cents a pound mind you).We settled up back at the house. He wouldn't charge us for the blackberries or clusters of grapes I'd thrown in, and he gave us two pounds of peaches for free to make up for the worm damage we'd have to cut away. Before we left, Bert divulged that he makes wine from most of the crops on the farm and asked if we'd like to try some. We did and we did; elderberry, red raspberry and rhubarb wines; the latter two being predictably fruity and sweet - good candidates for spritzers and sangria - the elderberry tasting more refined and complex, good enough to stand on its own at the dinner table (in a Mason jar no less).
On the way back to Black Mountain, we devised a plan for our haul - blueberries fresh and frozen, blackberry/peach cobbler, grapes for the table and peach jam.
Ahhh summer - the height of your bounty is truly amazing.