Huckleberry Rake Controversy

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.

Preparing for your huckleberry adventure.

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.

  1. Take food/snacks, water and a basic first aid kit.
  2. Cooler and smaller buckets to put your berries in.
  3. Take a blank or warm clothes.  Remember that at higher elevations the can be cold and uncomfortable even in summer months.
  4. Always let someone know the general location of your destination and when you are to return in case something does happen.
  5. Cell phone service does not always work in the mountains.  In fact, count on your phone being useless most of the time.
  6. 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.
  7. 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)

Picking wild huckleberries in the Inland Northwest

huckleberry bushes on mountain side

Photo courtesy of Wildhuckleberry.com

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.

Huckleberry bushes with berries on them

Photo courtesy of wildhuckleberry.com

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.

Huckleberries on branches of huckleberry bush

Photo courtesy of wildhuckleberry.com

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.

What are Huckleberries? Where do I find Huckleberries?

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.

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