Sunday, August 17, 2008

What Size Huckleberries Will a Rake Capture?

A woman from Eagle, Idaho had me on the phone yesterday, asking just how small of a huckleberry will a huckleberry rake pick up?

As we discussed previously, one of the benefits of a rake, is that you get a more efficient harvest of smaller berries. This is partly because if you are hand picking, you are more likely to pass over the smaller purple berries. And also, smaller berries are often on branches with smaller leaves, which are MUCH easier to rake. Swish! - and the branch is clean, no damage. Small huckleberries pile up quickly in your bucket.

FYI, on the model we sell, and this is typical of huckleberry rakes in general, the distance between the edges of the tines is about 3/16 of an inch (about halfway between 1/4 inch and 1/8 inch). Just to be clear, I am not talking about the tine spacing when you are building a rake, which is the distance from the center of a tine, to the center of the next tine. No, this is the inside distance between the outer edges of adjacent rake tines.

So, the answer to this woman's quest, is that any round berry down to a little less than 3/16 inch, will catch in the tines and end up in your bucket. Because there is a slight flattening (and therefore widening) of the berries when you pull up against them, you might get some berries slightly below that measurement, but that is about it. But, if you are catching some leaves (and you probably are), they will often cradle even smaller berries, and pull them along for the ride, into the rake reservoir. This is how you will sometimes get very tiny green berries into your bucket... but a little shake of the rake, will remove some of those, out the bottom.

In summary, huckleberries 1/4 inch (same as 4/16) will definitely end up in your rake -- 1/8 inch diameter berries mostly will not, again, unless some leaves drag them in.

One of this woman's questions was really about the high elevation huckleberry, with the really sweet, but very tiny berries, a different species known as "grouse whortleberry". While closely related to our Idaho state fruit, the mountain huckleberry, this little gem probably is not a good bet for using a huckleberry rake. The rake would need a complete redesign, to pull in the tiny berries on "grouse huck", and then the new rake would be useless for our more common huckleberry. But an interesting idea, none the less.


Southern Idaho Huckleberry Crop Report


Peter Zimowsky, aka "ZIMO", an outdoor writer with the Idaho Statesman newspaper, had a great column in today's edition regarding huckleberry picking. He noted the better than average crop, after bumping into them along the upper Selway River country here in North Central Idaho.

After calling around, he got reports from a number of southwest Idaho picking areas and communities... worth a look if you live, or pick, in southwestern Idaho:

Idaho Statesman Huckleberry Picking Column

We are still getting some reports of mostly green berries, or just coming on, in the higher elevations of huckleberry habitat, e.g. above 5000 feet, in the northern half of Idaho. Reports at the lower elevations indicated the berries are wrinkling QUICKLY in the extreme heat, and are done or close to done, for this year.

Next edition... how does a huckleberry rake work with super small berries?


Friday, August 8, 2008

Advanced Tips for Using Huckleberry Pickers

Hi, again!

I promised a few additional tips, over and above the HUCKLEBERRY RAKE web site, on effective use of wild HUCKLEBERRY PICKERS!

Probably the biggest thing I noticed while out for an hour last Saturday in the Clark Fork area, was how the size and density of leaves on the huckleberry plant affected the raking action. When huckleberry bushes exhibited small, narrow leaves (for example, under an inch long), it was easy to gently slide the picker up through the berry producing portion of a fairly long branchlet, and slick out the berries without a hitch.

However, when the leaves were big and robust, in many cases 2-3 inches long and up to an inch wide, the picking rake would snag much more easily. It required you to take a much shorter section of huckleberry branch, in order to avoid damage, and reduce the number of leaves in the well of the huckleberry picker.

One thing I liked about using a picking rake, was greater utilization of smaller berries. When most of us are handpicking, we tend to go for the biggest berries, and avoid the patches of smaller huckleberries. However, with a rake, it's no more work to slide through a branch with lots of smaller berries (sometimes easier due to smaller leaves), than chasing the biggest berries,which are often just at tips of the branchlets. If genetics are a factor, the way we pickers key in on bigger huckleberries, the more seeds from smaller berries reach the topsoil, proportionately speaking. Raking evens the ratio a bit.

Later this week... will tell the story of my FIRST huckleberry picking experience near Sandpoint, Idaho in... 1976. Wow, 32 years ago! And my wife says I don't act a day over 15. Hmmm....


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Huckleberry Crop 2008 Updated Report: Spotty!

Greetings again!

I had a chance to pick huckleberries near Clark Fork, Idaho on Saturday, with friends John & Gail Suhfras and their daughter Becky and hubby Josh.

Higher elevation huckleberries were very green, some berries just starting to get there, and quite large! According to John and Josh, the huckleberry crop at that elevation was not as good as years past.

We dropped lower, and got some pretty good berries at mid-elevation, on a south-facing ridge. Berries not quite as big as on top, overall, but much thicker. John took his first session of using a huckleberry rake and enjoyed the effort, finding them much less impactful on the huckleberry plants than he expected.

I had the chance to try out a new rake with plastic teeth, instead of the wire tines on the rakes I use. I could find no difference in performance, very nice. Next year we will be offering this model as well at one of our huckleberry rake web sites. Also, the manufacturer sent us a "kids" rake, sort of a cute miniature of the larger rakes, BUT with the same plastic rake tine shape and spacing as the larger plastic tine rake. I did not get a chance to try it out yet, but it looks like it will be a winner. Just not sure you can get young people to use it. I think the rake is probably suitable for grade school age children. Not sure yet if we will offer the rake, but it probably is a nice touch for family outings. Give me a holler if you think you have an interest in the huckleberry rake model for your kids or grandkids, and we will consider inventorying them.

My buddy Roy from Harrison, Idaho also had a down report on the huckleberry crop, after a fairly rich early forecast. Berries are much sparser than last year on higher ridgetops, still pretty green, and with the dry summer, even ripe huckleberries are starting to show a little stress.

Future posts will include some advance tactics on using a huckleberry rake AND "My First Huckleberry Picking Trip", down nostalgia lane from 1976.

Happy picking!

Malcolm Dell

PS We are working on a community association membership website for huckleberry lovers... stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Dr. Huckleberry" 2008 Huckleberry Crop Forecast

This in from Dr. Dan Barney, University of Idaho extension horticulturist, aka Dr. Huckleberry!

I’ve managed to get into the high country a bit and the crops in northern Idaho look good so far. Fruit set was very good at all elevations I have been at and across a fairly wide area. I finished picking my crop at the Sandpoint R&E Center (2,000 feet elevation) on July 11. I noted pickers in the 3,000 foot elevation range last week and berries seem to be both abundant and quite large at that elevation. Higher up, the berries are still green but set abundantly and seem to be sizing up well.

We’re getting a little more moisture than last year, but it is still very dry and higher elevation berries are likely to be rather smaller than those lower down that are already ripe.

THANKS, Dr. Dan!

I am hearing reports from Montana as well, and hearing that the berries are coming on very fast now with the warm weather, and this first weekend of August should be incredible for recreationists out picking wild huckleberries!\

Good picking! We are up picking in the Clark Fork, Idaho area on Saturday, probably the Coeur d'Alene area the following weekend. I need 30 gallons for my next batch of Wild Huckleberry Toe Jam! (Under the Idaho Redneck label!)

All for today, look for our picking report on MONDAY!


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Predicting BUMPER Huckleberry Crop in 2008!

I got reports the last two days, from people in three locations in the Idaho Panhandle, and I am predicting A BONKERS BUMPER CROP of wild huckleberries. Maybe the best since 1994, perhaps even better.

Roy from the Coeur d'Alene area says the huckleberry crop is still mostly green, but ripening. At the lowest elevations of wild huckleberry habitat on the south facing slopes, huckleberries are mostly just getting ripe, and are BIG! Mid elevation, most plants have some ripe berries, but not as sweet as they will get, but most huckleberries still on the green side of things. At the higher elevations, berries are still pretty much green, but LOTS OF THEM!

Overall the crop is FULL THREE WEEKS behind a normal year, with the heavy winter snows, that took so long to melt off, with the cool wet spring we had this year.

Gail from the Clark Fork area said her husband was out and found three different patches, at different elevations, each with some ripe huckleberries. Huckleberries were "big" at the higher elevations, and she is a true huckleberry hound, making lots of huckleberry goodies in her home kitchen.

If you've never gone huckleberry picking before, or if you've stayed home the last few years (especially 2007, one of the worst years on record), plan some time in 2008. Peak of the wild huckleberry harvest will be the first two weeks of August.

Also, for those of you thinking of using rakes, I just posted instructions on how to use a huckleberry rake, plus tips on managing your huckleberry picking foray. Check it out at Huckleberry Rake! Plus, I posted a couple photos from a huckleberry workshop, in Elk River, Idaho in 2005, with Dr. Dan Barney, Idaho's resident huckleberry expert, showing the group how to pick huckleberries with a huckleberry rake.

All for today. We will be out picking August 2 in the Clark Fork area, and August 8-10 in the Coeur d'Alene area.

Let me know what you would like to see in this blog!

Happy Huckleberry Picking!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wild Huckleberry Season -- Early Reports & Picking with Rakes

Early reports from my fellow "huckleberry hounds" indicate wild huckleberries are starting to ripen in the lower elevations (e.g. 2600') , although still tasting a bit on the sour or "pre-sweet" side of things. Reports also indicate the current wild huckleberry crop is HEAVY at lower elevations.

Normally, we are picking wild huckleberries at lower habitats around the first of July, so just like the cherries in my back yard, EVERYTHING is 2 or 3 weeks later than usual. In fact, the higher elevation huckleberries maybe 3 weeks or more later than usual. An early frost could really shorten the season this year, because those purple gems are still green and small right now.

We are holding hope, with the excellent winter snow cover, wet spring, and more moderate summer temps than years past, we will see a bumper crop of wild huckleberries in 2008. This could be the best year since 1994, the last bumper crop, regionally. However, the positive outlook for the lower elevation berries may not carry over to the upper elevations, where the great bulk of wild huckleberry habitat exists.

According to Dr. Dan Barney, University of Idaho extension horticulturist -- known affectionately as Dr. Huckleberry among his friends -- he expects average to above average wild huckleberry yields in the lower elevation wild huckleberry habitat, with average to above average berry sizes. For higher elevations, he is not so optimistic, and expects spotty crops, but things are still early.

Several issues com into play with the higher elevations wild huckleberry crop. While snow cover was the best in years, some areas had a cold wet spring (possibly affecting pollination?), while other areas did not get much rainfall. Also, Idaho experienced significant snow storms VERY LATE, June 8-9, which probably translated into late frosts in the higher elevations. Since the actual berries only occur on the current year's growth, this is critical.

With a couple weeks of hot weather, although milder than recent years, the wild huckleberries are really starting to come on! Cross your fingers, and get out there... but plan your outings at least two weeks LATER than normal for wild huckleberries.

And if you are interested in getting more huckleberries in your bucket, with fewer gas guzzling trips to the woods, I am now offering huckleberry rakes, sometimes called, "huckleberry pickers", for sale. Check out Huckleberry Rakes ! We also carry them on our Tastes of Idaho web site, take your picker, lol!

And we hope to see you out huckleberry picking in the wilds of Idaho, with your huckleberry rake, very soon!

I will posting more often. I apologize if you tuned in, and I was tuned out!