January 5, 2005
My contact with the Wisconsin researcher was less than satisfactory. He is, apparently, completing some research and plans to publish it on in vitro propagation of western Vaccinium species. Understandably, he did not want to share any of his results and declined an invitation to collaborate on joint projects. For his information, we’ll just have to wait until he publishes. In the meantime, I have a graduate student working on the same problem. I’ll also be back in the lab beginning today propagating test plants for cooperators.
February 4, 2005
(In response to a grower request for a pro forma “budget” for growing huckleberries…)
I believe you are referring to enterprise budgets. With an abundance of production data available from many regions over decades of commercial production, we have excellent budgets for most or all domestic fruit crops. Unfortunately, as huckleberries have not yet been cultivated, we are guessing at many factors, including yield, years to crop maturity, and so on. Also, management of wild stands will produce a very different budget than cultivation.
Your suggestion is an excellent one, and development of enterprise budgets should be high priority items as we develop the necessary bases of experience and data. At this time, we could probably put together a draft enterprise budget for wild stand management. Budgets for cultivation are probably ten years away.
We have a good start with cooperating growers. Once improved varieties are available for planting in different growing regions of the Northwest, we will be in position to generate the required information.
As for factors to consider in terms of cultivation, equipment, soil modification, and so on, I would choose to use a blueberry enterprise budget as blueberry and huckleberry crops and cultivation practices are similar. I will be putting together a new blueberry budget within a year or so and will notify members of the list when it is ready.
Thank you for your suggestion
February 11, 2005
I hope we can generate interest in a community-directed huckleberry program, although I’m not sure exactly how that would work. The idea of a huckleberry festival sounds great. Other communities throughout northern Idaho and western Montana sponsor them.
I can travel to Elk River a couple of times this summer for preliminary meetings in the spring and a late spring or early summer meeting for the public. I particularly like the idea of a tour of a producing huckleberry field. As I have not collected in the Elk River area before, I am not familiar with the terrain or huckleberry stands. I would have to do a bit of scouting before the meetings.
My initial thought is that we should focus on management of forest stands, versus cultivation. Stand management is possible right now, while cultivation beyond experimental plots is still a couple of years away. We might want to coordinate our efforts with the district Forest Service Office.
I worked under a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation in the early 1990s and found the organization reasonably easy to work with and supportive of this type of program. Our emphasis was alternative agriculture, which actually allowed us to move into huckleberry research. I’m sure they would be pleased to see the earlier grant bearing fruit, so to speak.
Please let me know what you would like me to do in terms of contacts, organization, or information.
By the way, I received a call from a Canadian consulting firm looking for information on commercial production of bilberries (dwarf huckleberry) in the upper Midwest. Given the present lack of cultivars, they may not continue efforts in that direction. Given the many other contacts I receive, interest in commercial production of these crops is strong. Someone will start producing them. Hopefully, we can move rapidly enough to develop a centralized industry in the Northwest.
March 4, 2005
Management of naturally-occurring colonies is possible now and I have some clients doing so. The first cultivars for field production should be released in about five years. My advanced selections are going out for testing beginning this year. We have eight mountain huckleberry, four oval-leaved bilberry, and one bilberry that will be tested. Many more selections are in my advanced trials at Sandpoint.
The industry is presently decentralized with little or no coordination or cooperation. All very secret, especially regarding sources of berries, prices paid, and volumes purchased and processed. All berries come from the wild, with prices of $4-5 per pound typical. Recently, export markets for raw fruit have developed, some domestic and some to the Pacific Rim. prices have gone as high as $7 per pound, exceeding what our local processors can pay. Also, we are shipping fruit overseas at relatively low prices, where it is freeze-dried and ground to make nutritional supplements that are sold at much higher prices. Seems like we could do that processing in the Northwest and keep a larger share of the profits.
The idea behind the huckleberry association is to expand the industry by improving coordination and communication between producers, harvesters, brokers, processors, and marketers. My efforts are directed at developing improved varieties and production systems. For the industry to expand, we must first increase supplies, reduce the variation in fruit supplies, and provide fruit to processors reliably and at sustainable prices.
March 17, 2005
If we cannot find strong community support for a huckleberry program, I suggest holding off for a year and focusing on our cooperating growers. If we can generate some domonstrable success stories, we will have a better chance for expanding.
For right now, my main focus is getting the prospective cultivars propagated and out for testing. The sooner we can release some decent cultivars, the better our chances of getting the industry moving. We have a number or plants rootd and are propagating more as rapidly as we can.
I’ll be arranging on-site visits with huckleberry growrs. If you would like to participate in some on site visits in the kamiah area, please let me know.
July 7, 2005
Interest is high and demand looks good.
Dan Fagerlie of the WSU Cooperative Extension office in Republic and cooperator with the Colville tribe called in response to the Spokesman article asking to work as a cooperator. We have some good opportunities for expanding the regional industry.
The biggest hold up right now is planting material. My grad student and I are working with that now and are making some progress.
July 8, 2005
Thought I would give you an update on the huckleberry and bilberry program. I am writing to people who have expressed interest in participating in the huckleberry and bilberry domestication program. If you would like to be removed from the list, please let me know.
The germplasm evaluation program has generated thirteen promising selections that are ready for testing. My graduate student and I are propagating them as rapidly as possible for distribution to those of you who have expressed interest in testing huckleberries and bilberries in your locations. We’ll have a small number of plants from a few of the selections ready to ship this fall, with more in 2006.
Propagation has proven the challenging part, especially establishing mature plants in vitro. If all goes well, we’ll have all of the selections established in vitro by this fall. We are working on some new protocols that appear promising. We should know by the end of the year if they are successful.
We have F1 plants from the breeding program established, but are several years away from evaluations.
We are refining the in vitro protocols for several species and should complete the seed and in vitro propagation trials by early 2006.
The initial soil survey is complete and we are in the process of publishing. The best soils will probably be well drained loams or sandy loams. Well drained silt loams can also be acceptable, at least for some species. For silt loam soils or where drainage is otherwise less than ideal, I suggest growing on raised beds. Alpine bilberry (V. uliginosum) will tolerate a wider range of soil types than the other western species and tolerates seasonally wet sites as well as dryland sites. Cascade huckleberry (V. deliciosum) also tolerates seasonally wet sites.
The soil pH should be near 5.0 and a range of pH values from 4 to abut 5.5 acceptable. In native stands in five northwestern states, we found pH values from 3.6 to 6.2. Retired professor Nellie Stark observed mountain huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) at near neutral pH values.
High concentrations of volcanic ash or organic matter were not universally found in our survey, indicating that these materials are not required for survival or productivity. Likewise, many of the species we evaluated tolerated a wide range of nutrient concentrations and often thrived on low nitrogen sites. Container-grown plants in a peat moss-based potting soil respond strongly and positively to liquid fertilizer, usually 20-20-20 during the spring and early summer and tapering off to 10-30-20 or so in the late summer and fall. Field grown plants have not necessarily responded well to granular fertilizers and we presently use liquid fertilizers applied in irrigation water for our field plots. More extensive soil studies are in progress at Sandpoint.
Shading studies are in progress. Mountain huckleberry, Cascade huckleberry (V. deliciosum), and oval-leaved bilberry (V. ovalifolium) survive from full sun through 70% shade, provided soil moisture is adequate. Not all genotypes are equally adaptable, even within a species. An ideal location would probably be a cool, north-facing slope. In hot and/or dry areas, light shade on the order of 30% may prove beneficial. I have field trials under a thinned hybrid poplar stand and many of the accessions are growing and producing well. I have observed generally good fruit set at 50% shade, but the fruits tend to be sour.
Interest in huckleberries remains strong. An Idaho Public Television Outdoor Idaho special entitled Tastes of Idaho aired last night and featured our huckleberry program. the Spokane, Washington Spokesman Review newspaper ran a front page article earlier in the week and Associated Press plans to pick the story up for an upcoming weekend in July. Please contact me if you would like an electronic copy of the article.
Demand for planting stock remains strong, although some purchasers complain that the plants grow very slowly. We have found the seedlings remain juvenile and grow slowly for about two years and then begin to grow rapidly, producing mature shoots in the second or third years. I have found fruit on plants as young as three years and do my first selections at four to seven years. Bilberry (V. myrtillus) and mountain huckleberry seem to come into bearing more rapidly than the other species that we work with. Oval-leaved bilberry is slower and Cascade huckleberry slower, still.
One cooperator from central Washington has had excellent results with seedlings, producing four-to-six inch tall plants with mature foliage in a single season. Transplanting the seedlings to four- to six-inch containers early appears to allow for more rapid growth. We formerly produced our seedlings under 50% shade cloth, but full sun to a light shade may give more rapid growth. We will be testing that hypothesis next year.
The Western Huckleberry and Bilberry Association was formed last October, representing producers, processors, marketers, and researchers.
We have cooperative programs underway with the Clearwater Resource Conservation & Development Area of the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Clearwater RC&D Council, Inc. Rural Roots and other non profit groups have also assisted us with programming. A Washington Cooperative Extension office in northeastern Washington has expressed interest in participating in the program. The goals of our program relate to expanding the huckleberry and bilberry industries in the Northwest. At this time, the emphasis is on increasing supplies of the fruits through cultivation and production in managed forest stands. Providing high quality, productive plants to growers is the most serious limiting factor we have now.
The University of Idaho website has quite a lot of information on native Vaccinium species, as well as a grower’s guide. Check out the research page for general information. The publication Growing Western Huckleberries is available free on-line at http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint/UI 20Publications.htm.
A workshop for prospective and established huckleberry producers will be held in Elk River, Idaho on July 29. The focus of the program will be on managing forest stands. More information on the program is available at
For those of you in central Idaho and east central Washington in the Pullman, Moscow, Kamiah, and Weippe areas, I can arrange on-site visits during the week of 25 July. Please contact me if you would like a visit.
For those of you in the northern three counties of Idaho, northeastern Washington, and northwestern Montana, I can schedule visits after the July 29 workshop.
I will be traveling throughout Washington and into north central Oregon in late August collecting seeds to complete our studies. I can try to arrange to meet with cooperators in those areas at that time.
Thank you all for your interest and support. Have a great summer.
August 1, 2005
(In response to questions from a prospective grower)
How successful huckleberries will be at your site depends on soils and, to a lesser degree, elevation and snow cover. If you provide me with a specific location, I can provide more precise information.
The best sites for most huckleberry species have well-drained, acidic, loam or sandy loam soils with a soil pH near 5.0 (7.0 is neutral). Depending on the species and site, from two to six feet of snow cover during the winter is beneficial to necessary. All of the species I have tested will grow in full sun, but can benefit from light shade on hotter, drier sites. Two species are adapted to seasonally wet soils around ponds, lakes, streams, and on dry lake bottoms.
I suggest you start by looking over my website. The research page has quite a lot of information on the different species and their growing requirements. Also check out the Extension page on-line publications, specifically the 2004 Berry Bulletin and the bulletin Growing Western Huckleberries. Both are available at no cost in PDF format, or a nominal fee for printed format.
At present, we do not have improved varieties ready for the public. We are developing varieties and have many promising selections, but still have to test them for several years. At this time, we have all the test growers that we can manage. We also work with people who would like to experiment with growing huckleberries on their sites.
For now, people are managing existing huckleberry stands, starting their own seedlings, or purchasing seedlings from several nurseries. The downside with growing seedlings is that only a small percentage produce good yields of high-quality fruit.
Mountain huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) is Idaho’s state fruit and abundant in western and central Washington at elevations of 3,000 feet and above. You can sometimes find them lower and I am producing them in Sandpoint at 2,000 feet elevation. This species will not tolerate wet soils but also does not tolerate drought.
Oval-leaved bilberry (Vaccinium ovalifolium) is native around Priest Lake, Idaho, throughout the Cascades, and along the Pacific Coast from northern California to southern Alaska. It grows mostly on cool, shady sites on moist soils. The fruits usually lack flavor but are rich in anthocyanins and antioxidants.
Cascade huckleberry (Vaccinium deliciosum) is native to the Cascade and Olympic Mountains and along the British Columbia coast at elevations of 2,000 feet and above. It is adapted to seasonally wet soils or drier upland sites. It grows well for me in Sandpoint. This species has especially fragrant and flavorful berries.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) grows on sites similar to the mountain huckleberry. Although the berries are small, they have excellent flavor and are rich in anthocyanins and antioxidants.
These are the four species I would focus on. You might also consider red huckleberry, although it has not been tested in western Washington and may not survive the winters.
Please feel free to contact me as you have questions. You may also visit our plantings in Sandpoint. It is a good idea to call a week ahead of time as I spend much of my time traveling.
August 10, 2005
We are up to our eyebrows in huckleberry propagation and research at the moment, When things slow down around the first of September, I’ll update my research site to include the PowerPoint presentation on management, and provide a link.
Reporter Vin Tahn from the Seattle Times is writing an article on huckleberries. Should be out in a week or so.
Crops I’ve seen so far this year are light to very light. Reports from southern Idaho and central Washington are the same. Not sure why.
August 15, 2005
I’m seeing quite a few people selling berries along the highways. All very informal. Crop reports continue to come in very light throughout the region. If you need berries, I would buy sooner than later. We usually see a price runup later in the season in years like this. My grad student and I will be collecting our samples for propagation studies next week. We’ll be collecting throughout Washington and northern Oregon. I’ll let you know what we find.
September 12, 2005
I am swamped with research at the moment. I was stationed in Cordova, Alaska with the Coast Guard in the 1970s and picked berries there myself. Most of the coastal blueberries are probably Vaccinium ovalifolium, Oval -leaved bilberry. It is sometimes called Vaccinium alaskaense, Alaska blueberry. Although the flavor is mild to poor compared with other species, the berries are exceptionally rich in anthocyanins and antioxidants. The real potential for many of the Alaska fruits is for nutritional supplements and botanical products, not culinary products.
You also have V. caespitosum, dwarf huckleberry, and V. uliginosum, alpine bilberry, in your area. Good flavors but small fruits. The uliginosum is harvested commercially in China and Russia for use in wine production. You also have wild cranberry, V. oxycoccus.
If you would like more information on these species, check my website at www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint. The research and extension pages go into some detail. When time allows, I will be adding a section on forest stand management, which is probably the best option for Alaska.
Please contact me as you have questions.
Danny L. Barney, Ph.D.
Professor of Horticulture
University of Idaho
Sandpoint Research & Extension Center
1904 North Boyer Avenue
Sandpoint, ID 83864