Huckleberry picking season is nearly here! With all the talk about picking huckleberries, I am reminded that there are several misconceptions about using huckleberry rakes.
So, I have decided to share some excerpts from an article I wrote awhile back on this particular issue:
What is the Real Story Behind Picking and Harvesting Wild Huckleberries?
There are many myths in the outdoor community concerning using huckleberry rakes and the history behind the huckleberry rakes. The International Wild Huckleberry Association, in particular, has received fiery responses from readers attacking the use and recommendation of using huckleberry rakes.
We would like to share with you some of the stories behind the myths and why they are just that — myths!!
Huckleberry Picking Rakes Damage Plants and Should Not Be Used in Wild Huckleberry Stands
Dr. Dan Barney (or Dr. Huckleberry!) has stated the following about the use of huckleberry rakes:
“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 which form that same (current) 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 is 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 … 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 (huckleberry) plants transplant easily. There is no good reason for digging wild huckleberry or bilberry bushes from public land for transplanting.”
Dr. Danny L. Barney
March 7, 2007
The Native Americans Never Used Huckleberry Picking Rakes, so Neither Should We!
The myth about the damage caused by huckleberry rakes comes primarily from some members of the Native American community who, for cultural and spiritual reasons, do not like the use of man-made “tools” for picking huckleberries. So they’ve made broad claims about how damaging rakes are, and this myth is becoming an unfortunate urban legend over time, perpetrated by media which does no fact checking before putting misinformation into print.
Just as a point of fact, some Native Americans DO buy commercial picking rakes for huckleberries; and the FIRST HUCKLEBERRY RAKES or “combs” known to US history, were from native peoples, as reported on Page 8 of:
“A Social History of Wild Huckleberry Harvesting in the Pacific Northwest” – General Technical Report PNW-GTR-657, 2006, USDA-Forest Service.
Native Americans used wooden hand-carved picking combs, or a raking tool made up of the backbone and one side of the rib cage from a salmon. Apparently, those tools worked quite well. And I am sure they were not out to rape the wild huckleberries or damage the plants.