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.

Picking and Cleaning Huckleberries

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.