WILD HUCKLEBERRY PICKER BACKGROUND USER INSTRUCTIONS FOR ETHICAL HARVEST
HUCKLEBERRY PICKING RAKES OUT OF STOCK FOR THE SEASON
Here at Gourmet Innovations LLC, wild huckleberries are a BIG part of our business, our income, and our lifestyle! We want other people to enjoy picking the wild huckleberry, and maybe even sell us a few if you are so inclined, BUT WITHOUT DOING ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE to the wild huckleberry resource.
Researcher Illustrates Proper Use of Huckleberry Picker
Dr. Dan Barney, University of Idaho extension horticulturist & leading huckleberry researcher, exhibits how to use a huckleberry picker, without damaging the wild huckleberry plants!
The post-Covid SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTION has now reached us in 2022, so we are NOT able to access the WIRE loop tine model of huckleberry picker/rake we’ve sold since 2008. At this moment, we are unsure when the situation will improve, according to our manufacturer.
However, for an alternative, we currently offer ONLY the hard but flexible PLASTIC tine model (in a beautiful purplish color), for $3 less than our standard picker/rake pricing—which had not gone up in 14 years. This model takes a bit more finesse to use than the wire tine model… but is essentially identical in function (and some huckleberry hounds prefer).
The most DAMAGING thing you can do to a wild huckleberry plant is clip or break off branches, or worse yet, the entire plant! Wild plants live in a very competitive environment, and the first ones to grow and take up space in a particular spot, tend to keep that spot, until or unless a taller species grow up over the top, and shades them out. But if you remove the desired plant from a spot, something else will often take its place… and then we lose the very species we went out in the woods to enjoy! Currently, wild huckleberry stands are declining across most of their range, due to changes in climate, fire intensity, and even logging practices. At the same time, more people and chefs around the world are learning about the unique, tangy-sweet taste of huckleberries. (Also, demand for dietary supplements, where huckleberries are called “bilberries”, is rising exponentially!) So have fun while picking, but PLEASE, do not damage the resource. Fortunately, there are still lots of huckleberries to go around, but ONLY if we choose to be responsible environmental stewards to the wild huckleberry resource. Huckleberry stands take 5 to 15 years to really start producing, after logging or after low to moderate intensity fires. So if you damage plants, they are not likely to be productive again in the near future. Each plant someone destroys is a lost piece of huckleberry pie (hot out of the oven, with vanilla ice cream) or jar of huckleberry jam that no one may ever enjoy. A HUCKLEBERRY PICKER is the best way to get more wild huckleberries in your bucket, in an environmentally sensitive manner. Once you get into a good patch, I’ve heard 10 times as many berries are possible. But I think four times as many per hour is a realistic goal — especially if you are having fun, and eating a few berries along the way.
Unfortunately, there are both good ways and bad ways to use a huckleberry picker. Just like any tool, (A) it can be misused, and (B) it takes a few tries to really get good at it. A hammer, screwdriver, or drill is a valuable tool – with practice and when used appropriately. But misusing any of these tools can lead to vandalism, injury, or even death. You probably would have a hard time killing someone with a huckleberry picker, depending on the model (but please don’t test me — this is NOT a challenge!). But it IS fairly easy to damage wild huckleberry bushes if you don’t approach picking with conservation in mind. Or IF you think using a picker doesn’t require a little time to uncover its secrets. So first, a few things to know:
- There IS a short learning curve to using a huckleberry picker effectively. Kind of like learning how to “set the hook” on a trout, catfish, bass, or walleye… they are all a bit different.
- Wild huckleberries grow ONLY on the current years’ growth, near the tips of the branches and branchlets, but NOT all the way down the main stems of the plant. (So no need to rake anything but the tips of the branches!)
- A huckleberry picker is most effective where the huckleberries are “good”. If the berries are sparse, stick to picking one berry at a time, by hand. In most wild huckleberry patches, thankfully, the rake will really get you a lot more huckleberries, faster (before you poop out!)
- You WILL get more huckleberry leaves in your bucket with a picker, than when picking by hand. But since the huckleberries are usually washed/cleaned anyhow after picking, the extra work is not significant compared to the much larger yield in your bucket. (NOTE: taking the extra leaves does not really damage the plant – shortly after the berries ripen and fall off, the leaves fall off too, naturally. You will get an occasional branchlet with your picker, but with practice, the damage will be incidental.) Also, if you use the model of Huckleberry Picker we sell, you can shake a lot of the leaves out the bottom, without losing or crushing those precious huckleberries.
- The huckleberry picker is effective for MOST species of roundish berries, in that general size range or larger, including blueberries, serviceberries (Saskatoon berries), chokecherries, elderberries, cranberries, etc. However, the rake will NOT work for “seedy” berries such as raspberries and blackberries.
And NOW, check out the close-up video on using the huckleberry picker:
If you’ve read this far, you are MY kind of Huckleberry Hound!
© Mal Dell
Elk River, Idaho “Improving Wild Stands of Huckleberries” Workshop July 29, 2005
According to Dr. Barney, “Huckleberry picking rakes, when used properly — just like any tool — do not damage wild huckleberry bushes.”