It has been a long time since I have update this page so I thought I would let you in on what I have been doing lately. As we put content here, we found it difficult to find more content to share. I have started another blog and will try to maintain updating content on this one as I see fit. I am hoping that I can be a little more useful with my online presence. Here are a few things I have been working on.
It’s spring and as I sit here writing this post, the rain is falling and everything starting to turn green and the trees are starting their bloom. I am getting anxious for summer. Time for fishing, camping and yes, hiking through the woods hunting for huckleberries. I thought this might be the perfect time of the year to make sure that we have the supplies for these trips to the mountains. Here is a list of supplies that I feel are a must for a successful, safe huckleberry outing. If you would like to purchase any of the items below, check them out at The Huckleberry Basket Store.
|This is a great set which will serve many purposes. I would recommend using the large cooler for transporting home. The smaller one would be great for putting berries in as you pick them. The larger would be gret to pack snack to your destination and pack all your huckleberries back home in|
|These are Arctic Ice cold packs. I would recommend a minimum of 2-3 of these for the 38 qt cooler above. Line the bottom of the cooler with them to keep your items cold all day. These are not the standard "blue" packs you see in the stores. Also, unless you want stuff to freeze, make sure you get the Alaska series instead of the Tundra series.|
|Sunscreen is always a necessity when hiking. Bulfrog spray has always been our choice. It works really well even when through sweat and water. The best thing about this spray is it's one of the easiest to applying.|
|A good detailed map that includes mountain roads is always helpful.|
|Running into bears is a possibility. They love huckleberries too! Bear Spray will help slow a bear down in the event of an attack. I hope you never have to use it but I hope even more that if you need it, you have it. For information on what to do in the event of an attack check out our post Huckleberries and Bears|
|For those interested in using a huckleberry rake, these will help increase your harvest. For more information and to purchase, please visit huckleberryrakes.com Please review its proper use and be responsible please.|
Huckleberry Picking Methods
As the popularity of the huckleberry grows and the demand for them increase, the more pickers you will see out and about. Picking berries can be a tedious task to say the least. Where there is a monotonous task, there will be someone with ingenuity to create a tool to make the task easier and faster. This is where the advent of the berry rake began. As with all tools, there comes responsibility. Unfortunately, where there are humans involved, there comes moments of irresponsibility. This is where the controversy of the berry rake begins.
Though there are an abundance of plants in North Idaho, I have read many posts that indicate thinning stands in other areas of the northwest including Oregon and Washington are few and far between. I cannot tie the reason for the diminishing stands directly to the berry rake but wonder if they could have played a role in the problem. Not the rake itself but the rake in the hands of the wrong person.
From what I have read, it can take up to 5 years for a stand to mature and produce a significant amount of fruit. The stems are thin and can be brittle. The leaves can fall off with little more effort than it takes for the fruit to come off the plant. Improper use of the berry rake can tear leaves and break branches. I have heard stories of irresponsible users ripping entire plants out of the ground. This is the type of behavior that can cause irreversible damage to a huckleberry stand.
Many folks use the rake so they can pick a large number of berries in a short amount of time. A quick search on craigslist, I found huckleberries going for anywhere from $30/gallon to $20/quart. Locally, there are individuals that make a living off nature. Whether it be from gold panning, selling firewood or picking berries, this is there way of life. The rake increases productivity for them which puts more money for them to live. I commend them for this lifestyle because in general, I find that many of these folks have a greater respect for the environment. Nature’s sustainability is a factor in their livelihood.
I personally hand pick berries. I enjoy going with family and friends, often competing to see who can pick the most or largest berries. I find this a common past time for most pickers in general. I understand the delicate nature of the huckleberry bush. I choose to hand pick over using a rake because I try to cause as little negative impact on the bushes as I can. I am not here to pass judgment on those that use the rake or recommend their use. I personally weigh on the side of caution. If there is the slightest chance that I will have a negative impact on the huckleberry stand by using rake, I choose not to.
My one recommendation is that each of you make your own judgment. Do your research on the rake before you do. Make yourself aware of the pros and cons. Determine your end goal; why you are picking. Is it for profit or for self-indulgence? That could be the answer for you there. I will leave you with these thoughts: Leave as little impact on nature. If you use the rake, use it responsibly. Follow the old adage “pack out what you pack in”. In other words, take your litter home with you and dispose of it properly. Let’s try to preserve these wonderful fruit baring plants so our children and grandchildren can enjoy them in the future.
Tips for picking huckleberries
So out in the woods, enjoying the fresh air and the beautiful sights. But now you want to take some of these wonderful berries home? Some suggest baggies like zip lock bags. These are fine if you want to make smoothies or milkshakes as a they are fragile and could be damaged in transit. But if you want to leave your options open till you get home, I suggest a hard side cooler of some sort.
Now when you are out picking the berries it is going to be in the hottest part of the season, so putting the warm berries in a cold container will cause them to burst. No rush to cool them off, and don’t worry about cleaning them. In fact the leaves will work well to insulate and cushion the berries until you get home, leave those there!
Tips for cleaning huckleberries
Once you get home, you are ready to clean out the stems, leaves and insects that somehow ended up in your bucket. Everyone that I have gone picking with has their own way to clean them, and I am going to present a few:
The most basic suggesting for cleaning is pouring the berries out on a cookie sheet, and then pick out the berries by hand. This is a very simple process, however it’s a bit time consuming, and asking friends or family for help will shorten your yield!
Another option is to simply dunk the berries into a bucket filled with water. The berries will sink to the bottom and most of the bugs, stems and leaves will float up to the top. This is a great way to clean out the berries, it’s less time consuming, and does a pretty good job at getting them clean. My only complaint about this is it can water-log the berries, and if you toss them right into the freezer you will end up with clumps of berries when it comes time to pulling some out.
My favorite is something that requires a bit of ingenuity. This process is almost like sluicing for gold. You take berries and slide them down an incline, and the basic idea is that the berries will roll down the incline and sticks, stems, and leaves will be left behind.
Tips for storing huckleberries
As for freezing them, simply putting them all in a bag and then in the freezer works well, if you are looking to sell them some places will assume that part of the bag is water if they were cleaned by dunking them.
If you pour out the berries on to a cookie sheet, into a single layer of berries they will freeze faster and not clump up when it comes time to pull some out of the freezer.
Things to take while picking huckleberries
When venturing off to the wilderness it is important to use some common sense and pack essentials that will come in handy. These are jut a few things that will help ensure a safe huckleberry adventure.
- Take food/snacks, water and a basic first aid kit.
- Cooler and smaller buckets to put your berries in.
- Take a blank or warm clothes. Remember that at higher elevations the can be cold and uncomfortable even in summer months.
- Always let someone know the general location of your destination and when you are to return in case something does happen.
- Cell phone service does not always work in the mountains. In fact, count on your phone being useless most of the time.
- Before heading into the mountains, make sure to fill the gas tank. You don’t want this to be the reason you end up isolated you in the mountains.
- Bears and other wildlife live in the mountains and they LOVE huckleberries. There will be a higher chance they will be foraging for food in the mornings and evenings. Many folks carry a weapon for protection in the event of a bear attack. At a minimum, stop by a sporting goods store and pick up a can of bear pepper spray.
Need to know what to do in the event of a bear encounter? Visit our post Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!! (ok, not lions or tigers)
(ok, not lions or tigers)
Remember, out in the wilderness, you are out of your element and in the element of other predators. When hiking, remember to be aware of your surroundings. In our area there is always a threat from bears, mountain lions, wolves and bobcats.
Bears are a viable threat when encountered. You have a higher chance of encountering one of these predators when huckleberry picking as this wonderful fruit is a staple to their diet as well.
If you see a bear before he sees you, leave the area quietly and give the bear its space. Try to retreat downwind to lessen the chance of the bear noticing you. If the bear has seen you but is still a good distance away, talk normally and wave your hands in the air. This will give signs that will identify you as human. Back away and in this instance move upwind so he can get your scent and knows where you are and where you are going.
If the bear shows signs of aggression, do not run and try to retreat slowly. Bears will often bluff charge you. This is a defense mechanism designed to let their enemies to back down before actually making the attack. The last resort if the bear charges and is at a very close range is using pepper spray. Hopefully this will slow the bear down or stop him from attacking long enough for you to get away.
In the event of an attack:
- Medium to dark brown
- Distinct hump between shoulders
- Average height of 6 to 6 ½ ft
- Long claws that can be seen from a distance
- Mostly found in Canada but there are populations in western states bordering Canada
- Surviving Grizzly attack
- Use bear pepper spray
- Bears can run up to 30 mph….you can’t so don’t try to outrun one
- Drop down to fetal position and cover your neck with your hands
- Play dead, when the bear stops playing with you, continue to play dead until you know for sure the animal is gone. Grizzlies will often wait to make sure their prey will get back up
- Black to light blond in color
- No hump like the Grizzly
- Smaller than grizzlies
- Shorter claws than grizzlies
- Are the most common in North America populating 41 of the 50 states in the US
- Surviving a black bear attack
- Use bear pepper spray
- Stand your ground and make as much noise as you can. They are more timid and if you show you mean business, they are more likely to leave you alone.
- Black bears have claws that make them excellent climbers….you don’t so don’t try to out climb them
- Fight back with anything you have. Try to hit them in the snout and eyes particularly. A black bear will usually give up if they see their victim is willing to fight to the death.
PLEASE DO NOT GO OUT TO TEST THESE. USE THESE AS ONLY A MEANS OF SURVIVAL!!
Visit our post Preparing for your huckleberry adventure for other tips on a safer huckleberry adventure
I will speak to the Inland Northwest because that is where I have had my Huckleberry picking experience. You will have to head to the mountains and scout locations starting in early July to see how things are ripening up. Good luck in getting an answer from locals as to where to pick them. Usually, this is a secret kept in the family for years. It is almost like asking them where their claim is after seeing a huge nugget of gold pulled out of their pockets. I recommend stopping by the local US Forest Service or Department of Fish and Game. One of them should carry local mountain road maps. This will help you in the even you get lost. You can’t always get cell service in the mountains. I have started on mountain roads near the western border of the Idaho panhandle and ended up in Montana near the Canadian border taking nothing but mountain roads. The map, along with a full tank of gas, will come in handy.
You will be heading up roads that were designed for logging. They will be narrow and some not well maintained or used. As you head of into the mountains, start looking for the plants along the roadside. They may not be heavy with fruit but will tell you if you are getting to the right elevation. The leaves have been described as leathery in texture with a slight serration to the leave edges that will be about an inch to inch and a half long. The bark is smooth and stems are thin. In the spring, they will produce pink bell shaped flowers.
Unlike the blueberry that usually grown in clusters, the huckleberry fruit is usually spread more apart on the plant. As the fruit reaches its peak in ripeness and the summer months get warmer, the leaves can sometimes have a reddish tint to them.
The fruit itself looks very similar to a blueberry. The huckleberry is a deciduous or evergreen shrub. Hucklbeberry is the common name for two different plant species: Vaccinium Parvifolium and Gaylussacia. The plant grows to about 2- 3 feet tall and thrives in damp acidic soil. They usually produces ripe, ready to pick fruit between the months of July and August. Here in North Idaho, they are found at elevations between 2000 and 11000 ft. They are not commercially grown so picking by hand is how it is done. If you do not live in a region where you can pick them yourself, it is possible to purchase online if in season. Out of season here, they are running $30-$40 per gallon frozen. I don’t think that price has varied much over the last few years.
Huckleberries have a unique sweet taste. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t taken a liking to them after their first bite. My dad visited once and after his first huckleberry shake, he went everyday to get one until the day he headed back home. The fruit can be frozen and used later. I love them in pancakes. You can use them like most fruits to make jams, cobblers, pies and syrups. The best way to eat them is sneaking a few in your mouth right off the plant while picking them. This does however reduce the amount of berries you get to take home.
Visit our post Picking wild huckleberries in the Inland Northwest for more information on finding wild huckleberries.
Before moving to the Inland Northwest, I had never heard of Huckleberries. In fact, if you
would have shown them to me before I knew what they were, I would have sworn they were small blueberries. My first recall of this wonderful fruit was my first opportunity to go Huckleberry picking. I didn’t have anything else to do on a hot August weekend afternoon. After a long trek by car into the mountains, followed by a long walk further up that mountain (each of us carrying a bucket), we had finally found our prize. Well, at first, I wasn’t aware we had found anything. It wasn’t until I was shown what the plant looked like and folded up the leaves, did I realize what we were looking for. This particular patch was abundant. By abundant, I don’t mean that the buckets were filled instantly. It definitely took the better part of the day to get a few gallons of berries. We probably could have had a gallon or two more if we weren’t eating along the way. They were sweet and delicious.