Posted March 31, 2015 By sandy
Although Dr. Barney is not currently propagating and growing huckleberries, he is still considered the expert on the subject and giving interviews to interested parties.
We are fortunate to have a written copy of his interview with Kristina Johnson who is a food and agriculture reporter:
1. Where does domestication of the berries stand now? Is there research close to succeeding?
Unfortunately, I believe little university or other government research is presently being conducted on domestication of western huckleberries and bilberries. Research funding is limited, and efforts are being directed toward well-established crops, such as raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Much knowledge remains to be discovered and developed before most western Vaccinium crops can be grown successfully in commercial settings.
It is important to identify the different crops. I use the term “western huckleberries and bilberries,” which includes about eight species in the genus Vaccinium. All are edible, and several have outstanding culinary quality. The seeds are usually small to very small. The common names “huckleberry,” “bilberry,” and “whortleberry” are interchangeable and many species are known by all of these names and more. Eastern huckleberries are members of genus Gaylusaccia and, like Vaccinium, members of family Ericaceae. Unlike western Vaccinium species, eastern huckleberries have ten large, hard seeds and the berry flavor and culinary quality leave much to be desired. When it came time to domesticate a blue American fruit, farmers and breeders chose highbush and lowbush blueberries.
The domestication efforts that I was involved with included work on Vaccinium species … have the greatest immediate potential as culinary crops. Vaccinium ovalifolium (oval-leaf huckleberry) has good potential as a nutraceutical crop due to its high antioxidant properties. I did not work much with Vaccinium ovatum (shot or blackwinter huckleberry) which grows along the Pacific coast and has been cultivated to a small extent, primarily for ornamental foliage used by florists.
We were able to develop and demonstrate several production systems, and know how to grow the berries. I grew many thousands of plants in Idaho and colleagues also grew the plants successfully in northwestern Montana and western Oregon. The greatest limiting factor is the lack of improved varieties that have been developed to provide good site adaptability, acceptable growth and plant habit, and commercially-acceptable fruit in sustainable yields.
My breeding program at the University of Idaho produced some advanced selections. However, we were still at least one and probably two generations from releasing a cultivated variety when the research station that I was at closed due to budget cuts and I left the University. That program was not picked up by anyone else. Some of the selections are still being tested by growers in the northwestern U.S. and western Canada. I intend to resume the Vaccinium breeding program upon my retirement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in October 2015. That program will take place in Southcentral Alaska.
2. Can you explain the incentives to domesticate the berries? Is it primarily commercial manufacturers pushing the research? What are the economic and ecological incentives and/or potential drawbacks to domesticating the berry?
Western huckleberries and bilberries have been harvested for food for at least centuries and likely millennia. They were vitally important both for food and trade for several Native American and First Peoples nations in western North America. When European colonists arrived they quickly adopted the crops and by the early 1900s were shipping large quantities of wildcrafted (plants harvested from the wild) berries to eastern markets. Picking the berries is very labor intensive and usually takes place in remote locations. The fruits are borne individually on the bushes, rather than in large cluster like domestic blueberries, and mechanical harvesters are not often feasible. Therefore, the amount of berries one person can pick per day is low. The commercial market peaked in the 1930s, and largely died during World War II when labor became scarce. The market began to re-emerge in the 1980s as general and ecotourism increased in the Northwest and western Canada.
Prior to the early 1900s, forest fires were not controlled and the forests were very different than they are now. Tree density was lower and understory shrubs much more abundant. With the advent of modern fire-fighting methods, fires were largely removed from the landscape. Native Americans had long kept highly productive berry harvest areas productive using controlled fires. That practice was outlawed. By the end of the 20th century, tree density had greatly increased while productive berry acreage shrank dramatically as the trees reclaimed the landscape and shaded out the berry crops.
While none of the berry species is threatened or endangered, colonies suitable for commercial harvest have greatly decreased in size and number due to forest encroachment and development of forest lands. With increased demand for the fruit for commercial culinary and nutraceutical purposes, commercial harvests have become increasingly aggressive and have reduced the availability of fruit for cultural, recreational, and subsistence pickers. In a related way, commercial harvests have resulted in conflicts with some Northwestern Native American groups, for whom huckleberries are an important part of their culture.
Wild huckleberry harvests are highly variable. During some years, the yields are very high and during other years very low. On average, you can expect a good harvest every 3 to 7 years. Such unpredictability makes operating a commercial enterprise challenging and encourages overharvest whenever the opportunity presents itself. The unpredictability also influences prices greatly, impacting income for pickers, brokers, and processors.
My program was intended to provide reliable crops of commercially sustainable quantities of fruit grown in cultivation or in managed forest stands (like highbush and lowbush blueberries, respectively) and to leave the wild forest huckleberry colonies for noncommercial harvests.
More of the interview next post!
Posted August 30, 2014 By sandy
From our friend Joe Culbreth who is a huckleberry grower in Rathdrum, Idaho. This is the email I received from Joe last spring:
We here at Berry & Nut Farm are not a research center for huckleberries, but are are growing huckleberries. We started our huckleberry field in 2010, which now, consist of about 1 acre and about 1200 plants.
We purchased our plants from 4 different sources. Our oldest plants are now 4 years old and we hope to see some flowers any day.
My grandsons and I visited Dr Barney in 2009 or 2010 to learn about growing huckleberries and nut trees. We should have had a few more sessions as Dr Barney had lots of knowledge, more than we could take-in in a 2 hour visit.
A few days ago, I received the following correspondence with the pictures attached:
You can’t tell from the attached photos, but plants have recovered from last winter’s, winter kill. That sounds better than, I lost a years growth.
As for providing shade protection for huckleberries, (we have planted) blackberries and apple trees behind the huckleberry plants ….
Will be adding a lot more sawdust this fall, will not be tucking-in each plant with pine needles as I have the past 4 winters. I will be crossing my fingers…
We wish Joe the best success with his huckleberry crop. For more information on his Berry & Nut Farm, check out his website
Posted August 11, 2014 By sandy
Announcing the Huckleberry Festival in Mount Hood, Oregon.
According to Janet Eastman, writer for the Oregonian ….
Mt. Hood Huckleberry Festival and Barlow Trail Days has live music, storytellers, historical tours, a watermelon launch and other activities, exhibits, food and retail vendors, fresh wild huckleberries and huckleberry-filled treats. 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri-Sat, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun, Aug. 22-24. Mt. Hood Village Resort, 65000 E. Highway 26, Welches.
The family-oriented event will have live music, Native American storytelling, arts and crafts, and historical tours of Mount Hood’s Oregon Trail. Catapults and other uniquely designed contraptions will launch watermelons and other produce into the air.
Admission and parking are free.
You can also buy huckleberry goodies like jams, syrups, candies, teas, milkshakes, coffee and vinaigrettes as well as Indian frybread and tacos. There will be a Native American salmon bake and a huckleberry pancake breakfasts.
For more information about the Mt. Hood Huckleberry Festival, visit the Cascade Geographic Society.
The article also talks about growing and raising huckleberries. Here are some points of interest from the Northwest Berry and Grape Information Network
- Huckleberries grow slowly, taking up to 15 years to reach full maturity from seed or cuttings, and prefer high elevations.
- Black huckleberry colors range from black to purple to bluish tinge to red. You can even find white berries.
- Cascade and black huckleberries are naturally adapted to short-season areas and depend on an insulating cover of snow for survival during winter’s sub-zero temperatures.
- For small plantings on sites with poor air and water drainage, consider growing huckleberries in raised beds.
Some of the nurseries sited in the article that sell huckleberry plants:
- Bosky Dell Natives in West Linn
- Woodbrook Native Plant Nursery in Gig Harbor, Wash
For more information on growing huckleberries, check out our resource section for a copy of Dr. Barney’s book on Growing Western Huckleberries (available in PDF download as well).
Make sure to check out this informative article for more information on growing huckleberries.
Posted July 25, 2011 By sandy
Gloucester Daily Times
I ordered some herbs from a catalog this year. Included were some huckleberry seeds. I planted the seeds in an 8-inch clay pot, and now they are about a foot high. How high will they grow, and should I plant them in the ground?
Posted May 24, 2011 By sandy
Bastrop Daily Enterprise
They were huckleberries just like the ones my mom used to pick and make the absolute best cobblers I ever tasted. I declare those huckleberry cobblers are …
Posted January 15, 2011 By Patrick
Hi there, my name’s Patrick and I’m growing huckleberries in Perth, Australia!
I’m nearly 16 weeks into the process and have some lovely little seedlings so far. We’re getting well into an Australian summer so a couple haven’t survived the hot weather (maximum temps of at least 30C/86F and up to 37C/100F this week), but most are big and strong enough to cope.
A little bit of background – I fell in love with huckleberries when I moved to Portland, OR a couple of years ago. My wife got a job back in Australia, so before I moved I hiked up into the Mt Hood wilderness and picked some berries to collect the seeds. I checked it all out with AQIS to make sure that the seeds were allowed in the country and planted them a couple of weeks after I got back in early Spring. Prof Barney’s book is fantastic, I emailed him before I left for Australia and he was very encouraging, too. So far, the seedlings are growing in old cherry tomato punnets in “native plant striking mix” – my Dad’s a plant pathologist and raises Australian native plants with it. We tried transplanting a few seedlings a couple of weeks ago but I think the potting mix had too much nitrogen and they didn’t make it.
At the moment, we’re just maintaining them through the hot weather, fertilizing every 2-4 weeks and then when we get some cooler weather, we’re planning to transfer them to individual pots. I’ll upload some photos of the seedlings, too. I haven’t quite worked out yet how to get them cold enough to go dormant during winter without exposing them to frost. Might have to buy an old fridge…
Posted January 2, 2011 By sandy
Albany Democrat Herald
SWEET HOME — Huckleberries were an important part of the diets of native Americans … Opening the canopy will increase the amount of light for huckleberry …
The huckleberry plant, native to the United States, bares berry-like fruits that contain 10 seeds per fruit. Raising huckleberries requires a big commitment …
Posted June 21, 2010 By sandy
Huckleberries have the reputation of being difficult to grow. … Most huckleberries grow in moist, acidic woodland soils that are rich in humus. …
By Pip Gardner
I think that’s all for now. I will try to have some pictures next time. As always I am open to suggestions whether huckleberry related or just basic gardening tips. I’ll mention you in the blog post if I use anything. …
By Michael Antoniak
There’s more huckleberries to be picked every day until the season run its brief course. Plenty to satisfy me and the parade of birds which make their way to that bush throughout the day for the seasonal treat we share. …
They know me so well that they got me a bottle of Huckleberry Creme Soda made right in Missoula. They also got me a Huckleberry Chocolate Bar and some Huckleberry Fudge. I am guessing huckleberries are all the rage up their in Montana. …
Ever since my husband went to Montana last year and brought home some huckleberry jam my son loves it. The problem is you can’t find it here, …
By Pip Gardner
According to my research and Barney (pg 24), huckleberry plants aren’t supposed to start flowering until 3-5 years. I am not expecting any fruit this year or next year for that matter. However, I am certain that one of the plants has a …
Posted February 1, 2010 By sandy
Growing Huckleberries in Florida. I love huckleberry jam, but I only get a taste of this yummy fruit in December when I go to Idaho for vacation.