Huckleberry rakes are currently in stock and ready for this season’s huckleberry pickers!
Early reports coming in bode well for a good huckleberry season! Warm wet spring combined with no late frost this spring is a good indication of an abundant crop. The reports we receive show crop ranges from flowers to turning red, depending on the location/elevation.
Since we are right on the edge of the huckleberry season, we want to clear up some misconceptions about picking rakes.
Huckleberry Rakes Do Not Damage Plants
Frequently, we receive inquiries as to the safety of using rakes to pick huckleberries. Over the years, we have responded to comments with the facts about the issue — especially questions about the damage to plants when using huckleberry pickers.
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. (See the following resource: USDA: A Social History of Wild Huckleberry Harvesting in the Pacific Northwest.)
No one would be using rakes if they even damaged the plants, much less killed them.
Dr. Dan Barney, formerly from the UI Research Center in Sandpoint, 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 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
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.
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