By Zach Morton
For Farm Carolina
Albemarle- For many people, 30-plus years of a career in any chosen field is not only admirable, but calls for a well deserved, relaxing retirement. For Earl Almond, he found his calling in berry farming.
“I planted my first vines about eight years ago. Then I just decided to take it up.”
After spending 32 years building and working on engines for Richard Childress Racing in NASCAR, Almond decided it was time to relax.
“It was a little bit of trial and error at first. The first plants I set out, I made the mistake of planting them to close to the shade tree. Berries like to be out in the sun.”
Currently, his crop includes eight rows of five different blackberry varieties, one row of raspberries, and four rows of three different blueberry varieties. Almond also produces jellies, jams, and juices to sell also.
“The vines I have now are about three-years old. I usually try to change with the flow and see what new and different varieties are out there. They are always coming out with new ones every year it seems like.” One blackberry variety grown is an Arkansas cultivar that allows for late season harvesting.
“They are a little bit smaller than some blackberries, but they will last until the first frost.”
Racing and Berries
Like many farmers, Almond crop felt the wrath of the scorching heat this summer. Though he was able to take a have some produce, transporting would be a hassle.
“The biggest challenge for me was keeping them cool while getting them to the market.” Using his NASCAR experience and some spare parts around his home, Almond constructed a homemade cooler to transport his produce to the farmers markets in the summer.
Placing twelve frozen 2-liter bottles in the with the berries, “it can the temperature under 65 degrees in 95 degree weather for up to six hours. I just plug it up to a spare car battery when I am driving to the market, then I just plug it into the outlet.”
“Basically it’s the same kind of setup that we used to cool down engine parts. The fan used in it came out of an old kitchen range that I had laying around.” But the fresh ideas didn’t stop there.
“I developed a special trellis systems for the vines. When they start to bloom, I can lay the trellis down on the ground. Then when the berries are ready to pick, I can stand it back up. It makes picking easier because all the berries are only on one side of the trellis instead of both.”
Picking around 25 gallons every other day during the peak months, Almond says his current vines are “perfect”.
“If I expand anymore, I’ll have to find more buyers.” He also helps to give back to the younger generation as well.
“During the summer, I’ll invite some of the area high school students in the 4-H program to help with the picking.” For those interested in growing their own berries, Almond offers this advice.
“Do a little research first. Find out what kind of varieties are out there. Some have more seeds than other. Do you want a sweet berry or one that is tart?”
“I would start small. Plant at least two varieties and start with five plants total.”
If you would like more information of prices and what is available, Almond can be reached at (980) 521-1188.