March 5, 2007
I have been asked by the Forest Service to give a presentation at the Mt. Adams Ranger District on March 12. They are planning a large restoration project in the Sawtooth Berry Fields to enhance huckleberry colonies. The Forest Service has also agreed to let me spend a six month sabbatical in Washington and Oregon National Forests studying huckleberry and bilberry responses to environmental factors. I still need to get University approval for the project.
My schedule for March and April is still in flux. I expect to be called as a witness in a hearing and possible trial, but am not yet sure of the dates. When I know, I’ll schedule visits with cooperators.
March 7, 2007
The use of rakes to harvest huckleberries has long been a highly emotional one. During the early 1900s when there existed a large commercial huckleberry industry in the Northwest, many pickers used rakes or other devices. This is well-documented in “A Social History of Wild Huckleberry Harvesting in the Pacific Northwest – General Technical Report PNW-GTR-657, 2006, USDA-Forest Service by Rebecca Richards and Susan Alexander. If the rakes damaged the bushes and berry yields, the pickers would not have been able to return year-after-year to the same sites.
I have harvested all nine species of western huckleberries and bilberries by hand and with rakes. Used properly, rakes cause little or no damage to the bushes. Our western huckleberry and bilberry species bear fruit on shoots that form that same season. In other words, when you are harvesting berries, the wood that will bear next year’s crop does not exist yet. To damage next year’s crop, you would have to either break off fairly large shoots or damage the lateral buds along those shoots. I have not observed either type of damage when using rakes to harvest huckleberries or bilberries native to the northwestern United States.
Rakes do not work well for some species due to small berry size, twig conformation, or the way the fruit borne on the branches. For other species, rakes can be used to quickly harvest fruits without damaging the plants.
If a harvester is breaking off twigs and leaves with a rake, then the rake is not being used properly and the harvester is going to spend a lot of time picking few berries and much more time than necessary cleaning them. In other words, they are not going to be making any money and are not likely to persist with the rake.
I, personally, do not support the sections of the legislation banning mechanical harvesting devices.
As for the U.S. Forest Service banning such devices, The only National Forest, to my knowledge, that does so is the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in south-central Washington.
I am far more concerned with the practice of cutting or breaking the branches off and harvesting the berries from the detached branches. This practice can severely damage the plants.
Likewise, I have seen formerly productive colonies damaged by people digging up the plants, apparently with the idea of transplanting them in mind. Particularly sad is the fact that, for several native species, most of the transplants will die. Container-grown plants transplant easily. There is no good reason for digging wild huckleberry or bilberry bushes from public land for transplanting.
Please feel free to share this information with others. Again, these are my personal views and do not represent the University of Idaho.
July 12, 2007
Marie and I spend nearly every July 4 week camping on the St. Joe River.
I’ll be in Orofino July 17 and meeting with cooperators from Moscow to Grangeville Monday and Tuesday. The rest of the week is scheduled for vacation camping along the North Fork of the Clearwater. I have actually found huckleberries along the river, but very few and very small.
As for huckleberry crops, all reports I have received so far indicate a poor crop from Northern Idaho to Yellowstone. A few of my selections bore well at Sandpoint, but overall the crop was nearly nonexistent, largely due to pollination problems related to storage and our timing in bringing the plants out.
Berry size in my plants appears to be below average and the berries are going from green to overripe rather quickly. I have also hear reports from around the region that berry numbers and sizes in wild crops are below average and the bears are heading to the low country.
I suspect last summer’s record low precipitation, a dry spring, and two extremely hot summers in a row are taking their toll.
Picking sites I would have recommended ten years ago are well known and are picked out rather quickly. Some harder to reach sites but larger berries and generally good crops are:
Along the east side of Lake Pend Oreille along the High Drive (Forest Road 278) and roads leading off of it. Dirr Point is often a good site.
West side of Priest Lake at 4000 to 6000 feet elevation from Binarch Mountain and other roads north to Granite Pass. Plan on at least a pickup and a four wheel drive is recommended.
Reeder and Distillery Bay areas along the west side of Priest Lake were good, but are heavily targeted today.
Roman Nose area north and west of Sandpoint is usually good. Well known to local pickers but not so accessible.
Trout Peak area just east of Sandpoint can be very good in some years.
July 25, 2007
We’re not sure what the problem is. We did have the state lab examine some samples and they found phytophthora root rot. Not at all uncommon in the area. Whether that is the sole culprit remains to be seen.
I don’t believe this is something we imported and I don’t see it as a risk to wild stands. Our raised beds and bark bed plants are still perfectly healthy. Only the container-grown plants affected. So we go with a scorched earth policy and propagate all new plants. Could have been much worse.
July 26, 2007
Sorry I’ll miss you on the 3rd. Marie and I will be on our way home from the agroforestry conference in Vernon, BC.
The Board of Reagents is supposed to be taking up the issue of the UI North campus in August. We should know within a month if this is a go.
My staff and I and the Bonner County Extension faculty and staff meet with the architect next Tuesday to review the Ag and Life Science building plans.
August 7, 2007
Glad to hear you had a good picking year. Reports were generally poor to sporadic except in moister locations. Higher elevation crops seem to be especially poor. The site we visited last week in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia had lots of mountain and dwarf huckleberry, as well as grouse whortleberry. The plants were generally healthy, but showed stress from three dry years and few berries.
This industry will take off, it is just going to be a few years more until we get the materials in place. I will probably retire in another ten to twelve years.
If I was any good about making money, I would keep the information proprietary and sell it as a consultant. Comes from being a teacher. I’ll never have to worry about being rich.
September 26, 2007
(In response to an inquiry)
As for the Bay Area of California, the species you are most likely to encounter is the evergreen (aka shot or blackwinter) huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum. You can find more information on this species on my research page at http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint/research.htm
A student exposition of the species appears at http://bss.sfsu.edu/holzman/courses/Fall 2003 20project/vovatum.htm
I have little experience with this species in California. It normally ripens late in the year. I have collected the fruit in coastal Washington during November. The California fruits ripen earlier.
I suggest you contact the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve at http://www.ebparks.org/parks/huckleberry for more information.
October 8, 2007
My colleague at the University of Idaho, Dr. Caleb Nindo, is looking for some huckleberries to conduct research on. Professor Nindo is a food engineer in the Department of Food Science & Toxicology. His assistance in studying huckleberry processing and nutritional characteristics would benefit all of us in the industry.
I presently have no fruit available and we are looking for a source. I am not sure of the quantity he needs, probably several gallons at this time. Frozen berries are fine.
If you have some berries for sale, would you please contact Dr. Nindo at email@example.com.
P.S. despite rumors to the contrary, the Sandpoint R&E Center is still in business. Our research farm is moving to a new location nearby and we will have new laboratories and state of the art greenhouses as part of the new University of Idaho campus at Sandpoint. The huckleberry program is continuing and we are propagating plants for cooperators. We had a setback due to a new disease problem and lost our planting stock this summer, but I think we have found a solution. I’ll get more details out soon.
November 9, 2007
We finally have been able to update our website and have greatly expanded the huckleberry and bilberry sections at http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint/index.htm.
Please let me know if you find any mistakes or if additional information is needed.
Danny L. Barney, Ph.D.
Professor of Horticulture
University of Idaho
Sandpoint Research & Extension Center
1904 North Boyer Avenue
Sandpoint, ID 83864