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Grower: Bears put bite on berry crop

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
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Fruit growers in Unicoi County are seeing the results of a spring freeze that limited the apple crop this year, but David Moore of Heavenly Holler Farm said there’s another obstacle for him to overcome – bears.
Moore grows blueberries, peaches, apples and Asian pears on his recreational farm that overlooks the south end of the county. His crop is ready for harvest much later than other orchards in lower elevations. He said he likes to invite people who may have missed out to pick their own fruit every year; however, there isn’t much to pick from this year.
Moore said he saw the first signs of some unwanted guests early in the summer. “We started seeing signs of bears in July,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bear in July.”
The blueberry crop on Moore’s farm was full at one time, but has rapidly vanished. He said one blueberry bush had about 300 berries to pick, but now the limbs are sparse. “We’ve been doing this for 13 years and have a pretty large customer base,” he said. “When they found out we didn’t have any blueberries they were upset. I bet we’ve had about 30 calls in the last few weeks.”
The only explanation Moore could think of was that bears lack food in their natural habitats because of the freeze, leading them to snatch food from his farm.
“That frost that we had, it killed the bloom for the fruits in the woods,” Moore said. “So all the acorns and fruits that the bears would normally be eating now aren’t dropping and they are hungry. They are coming down to the orchard because they are hungry.”
Moore said the freeze and the bears will make this picking season very limited.
“This bush was completely full,” he said, pointing to a bare blueberry patch. “My daughter came down the second week of July and in 10 minutes had a gallon of berries. There were thousands of berries. Now, bush after bush is completely devoid. The bears just ate it all. So, I’m compounding injuries.”
Another sign of bears, Moore speculated, is apple trees having more fruit in the tops and lacking on the bottom branches. He said this could be caused by many other factors as well.
“The really interesting thing about this year is how one tree will have apples on one side and not on the other and then the tree right beside that won’t have any apples,” he said.
Moore said the most-loved apple he has growing is the Gala apple, which after enduring the freeze produced about half of a normal crop. “It really is disappointing because we have to do all the same amount of work,” Moore said. “All of these trees are less than 15 percent.”
Pink Lady apple trees also produced a limited amount of fruit, Moore said. “Pink Lady is gone,” he said. “There’s virtually nothing. Again, it’s depressing because you’ve still got to do all this work. You don’t want the tree to die.”
The Asian pear, which Moore said is very popular, was the only type of tree to produce a nearly full crop. “We have people who are usually on a waiting list for these,” he said.
While Moore lined the rows of fruit trees with wire to keep out birds, there isn’t much he can do to ward off natural factors such as freezing temperatures or bears.
“There’s really nothing I can do,” he said. “We haven’t had a situation like this since 2007. That year was worse than this. We didn’t have anything up here; absolutely nothing. When the freeze hit it turned everything black and dropped.”
The impact of this year’s factors, Moore said, are more detrimental to his customers than himself. “All in all it is disastrous here for us,” he said. “But the main thing is that it is disastrous for our customers because they are the ones who come down and enjoy this.”
Moore said that although he is very disappointed in this year’s fruit crop, he can only hope next year the trees will thrive.