Do Huckleberry Rakes Kill or Damage Plants?

Frequently, we receive inquires as to the safety of using rakes to pick huckleberries.  Over the years, we have responded to comments with the facts about the issue.

Last week, we received the following comment from Valerie:

“How rude! When you use the rake you are not telling rakers they are killing the bush.”

Thank you, Valerie, for bringing up a common misconception (even an “urban myth”) about huckleberry picking rakes. It ALWAYS comes from those who’ve never used them, or even seen theA social history of wild huckleberry harvesting in the Pacific Northwestm used.

The blueberry industry has been using rakes to pick commercial berries for several decades, maybe even a century.

Native Americans traditionally harvested huckleberries using rakes carved from wood, or made from the backbone of a salmon or steelhead together with the rib cage on one side.

No one would be using rakes if they even damaged the plants, much less killed them.
The teeth on a huckleberry raking tools are typically set with a 3/16 inch gap. This allows the tiny twigs (huckleberries only grow on the current years growth) to pass through unharmed, but will pop off all but the tiniest berries.

While it is theoretically possible to damage a huckleberry plant with a rake, if misused (after all, you can easily kill someone with a screwdriver, which is not the intended use), doing so would be counter productive. The aggressiveness required to damage a bush would put so much trash into your bucket, that the berries would not be worth trying to pick out of the mess.

You will get a few more leaves with a rake that by hand picking. This is because the leaves huckleberry picking rakeare nearing their traditional leaf fall which occurs every autumn, and using a rake is less selective than hand picking (and bumps the twiglets a bit more). But you get leaves, even with handpicking… and for the same reason.

I guess that when people hear the term “rake” it SOUNDS like a tool that you would SCRAPE against the branches. However, this is far from the case. Berry picking tools are designed to minimize contact with the plant itself, while capturing as many berries as possible.

Which is why even the most environmentally conscious huckleberry lover, probably owns a rake or two… you can easily pick 3x as many berries with the same investment of time and gas into the woods. And if the berries are thick, you can get 10X the berries in the same amount of effort.

See more at the following websites:

And thanks, Valerie, for your comment! We appreciate the opportunity to clear up this common misconception.

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5 Comments

  1. Comment by Ron Elmore:

    We use them all the time with great success without damaging the plant. The Elk, Deer,and Bears do a lot more damage to the plants than do humans, and heavy snow years can also do damage to the plant. I’ve been picking for 40 years and would not have any good patches if not managed properly. To only way too distroy a plant, is to pull it up with its roots, and there is not much of a reason to do than unless they are logging.

  2. Comment by Liz:

    Thanks for the information! I’ve never been huckleberry picking, but am looking forward to trying it!
    Liz´s last blog post ..A Guide to Knife Edges

  3. Comment by sandy:

    Good luck Liz and feel free to share your experiences with us!

  4. Comment by Jon:

    Except I just spent a week in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest harvesting(by hand- rakes are illegal in the Gifford-Pinchot) and those rakes only cause minimal damage when used properly. Do you think all these migrant commercial harvesters I have to compete against care!!! I have seen the plants 25 yards into the forest(with enough forest to block them from view of the road or trail)just scraped and raped clean by your basically non harmful rakes.
    Sure when used right they only do minor damage and when used wrong on a first pick and there IS only ONE picking.

  5. Comment by Malcolm:

    Greetings Jon,

    I understand the frustration you must feel if you think you are competing with people using a huckleberry rake (actually huckleberry brush is a more accurate description of how one is used).

    And I am told the penalty on the Gifford Pinchot for using a rake is a $5000 fine. So those using one there are very stupid indeed.

    However, I have trouble believing your story. This “rakes clean off the bushes completely and kill them” has turned into a urban myth in a rural outdoor setting. Somebody started the rumor and everyone who prefers picking by hand just passes it along.

    I’ve heard this “information” dozens of times, and even though everyone now has at least one cell phone all them at all times, I have yet to see a photo, and an explanation of how this would happen.

    I was out picking in the Idaho Panhandle a couple weeks ago, and had three different models. I tried my best on a couple bushes to do what you described, because i hear it so often.. IT COULD NOT BE DONE without bending or breaking the tines on the rake, or at least any rake I’ve ever seen. Not to mention that it greatly SLOWED DOWN the number of now mostly squished berries in my bucket, and added a horrendous collection of leaves. I poured my booty out on the ground, since it was not worth cleaning them.

    Here is why:

    People who use a rake are interested in one thing. PRODUCTION. MORE BERRIES IN YOUR BUCKET. Especially commercial pickers, They are paid by the gallon (or pound) of CLEAN berries. The number one obstacle to production (both picking and cleaning) is LEAVES. To do what you describe would slow down the brushing motion to the point hand picking would be faster. In fact if you are in sparse berries, or leafy plants, you are usually better off hand picking. RAKES DO NOT STRIP THE PLANTS. They rake berries AWAY FROM the leaves. Which requires a gentle two handed brushing motion, where the off hand lays over and flattens out a branch or twiglet into the mouth of the rake. The object is to brush through a MINIMUM of leaves in each stroke. Once the twig is laid against the mouth, you brush through the very ends of the twigs, where the huckleberries grow. Otherwise, you bind up the rake, damage the berries, and get massive leaves in your tool. Surely you’ve cleaned enough berries to know that if you had ten times as many leaves in your bucket, it would dramatically slow down the volume of finished CLEANED berries (which commercial pickers are paid on)? .. even with large scale cleaning systems the torrential addition of leaves would make this futile and COUNTER PRODUCTIVE.

    Remember that huckleberries grow ONLY on the current annual growth. Why would a commercial picker strip the leaves off the entire plant? How would that increase production? Not buying it, Jon, sorry.

    Blueberry farmers have used rakes in their COMMERCIAL fields for a hundred years. Fields that they nurture and invest years in to get to maximum production. Would they do that, if the rakes even slightly reduced harvest, much less killed the plants?

    Native Americans have used rakes – including on the Gifford Pinchot – for hundreds of years. Maybe thousands. They made them from the backbone and one rib cage of a salmon, or carved them from wood. If your allegation was true, there would not be a single huckleberry producing plant left on the Gifford Pinchot.

    Sorry Jon. Your story smacks more of racism (and resentment toward commercial pickers which I understand). But I think you passed along this story as part of the great huckleberry rake myth. As many do. But the practical fact is that what you describe is very unlikely to happen. And if there is a tool out there that would increase production doing it that way, I have not seen it… and if I did, I would personally seek to have it banned.

    Most rakes are gentle brushing tools, which greatly increase berries in the bucket, after a short learning curve. But they are only a benefit where there are lots of berries, and sparse or small leaves. An experienced raker quickly learns to avoid leafy huckleberry plants REGARDLESS of nice, big, shiny berries, because it is simply not productive to “scrape” the plant. We leave those big leafy plants for the hand pickers (or come back later after most of the leaves have fallen off with the coming autumn).

    Sorry Jon, you are telling a story. If not, please send photos. I’ve laid this challenge out to dozens of people and have yet to see a response or an explanation of how rakes do this. Pure myth until someone proves otherwise.

    Malcolm

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