Category Archives: Berry Harvesting

A Forestry Experiment

Cranberries lost and found. When I was younger the area where I grew up used to be full of spots to pick lowbush cranberries (lingonberries). My family and I did not even have to go far. We could just ride our bikes down some local back roads and the berries would be growing all around; next to the roads and along the edges of the woods. There were some very nice spots deeper into the woods where the poplar and quaking aspen trees grew. The woods were not dense and the forest floor had many sunny and shady spots; the berries grew in abundance. But all this abruptly changed about four years ago on the evening of Sept. 15th 2012, an immense wind storm began to blow. The storm lasted for a few days after but the night of the 15th was of a certainty the worse any of us had ever seen. The winds were so strong that some of the blasts were rated as being hurricane force though no rain accompanied them. When it was all said and done nearly 500 acres of trees in the surrounding forests and valleys had been blown over. Because of the shallowness of their root systems when trees fell their wide root systems pulled great hunks of the forest floor with them. Many of our usually berry patches were literally ripped up by their roots and still many more were buried by fallen trees and branches. Our trails became essentially impassible, and the aspect of the forest changed so much that once familiar landscapes had become a shocking picture of nature’s destructive force.
This event attracted the notice of the local forestry division and they began to look more closely at our area. One forester in particular had a burden to make our area a safer residential zone; he felt that the thickness of the forests near our roads and near our houses was an extreme fire danger. In the summer of 2014 forestry sent a large crew to our area and they began to clear the trees near all the roads. We thought that this would be a relatively small project. A continuation of the cleanup projects that they had been helping us and the others in the area with because of the Great Storm. Time past and the tree lines along the roads moved back from 10ft to 20ft and more; then forestry decided more clearings deeper into the forests needed to be created as LZs for supplies and crews if a fire did occur. They did much cutting with chainsaws which was not very damaging, but this took too long so they brought a great drum with metal ribs on its outsides and filled with water. This giant cylinder was pulled behind a big piece of equipment and reduced acres of forest to great openings filled with ripped up vegetation and crushed timbers. Needless to say any and all berries in these areas have been completely eradicated. I and others in the valley have found other patches deeper into the forests and so all is not lost, but I do wish that in their quest to make us all safer forestry had not been so completely successful in removing all burnable substances for miles around. This project is still ongoing even this summer a crew was working behind our homes deeper into the forest cutting more and burning great piles of brush.
I understand the need for safety but I do hope that one day the berry patches will come back. A few of the men in our neighborhood, who own and run a logging and milling business, say that given time the torn landscapes most likely will grow up into deciduous forests. They hope that the increased sunlight and nutrients will begin to bring long dormant seeds to life. I see this being a good thing as in the past the best patches I found were under the canopies of deciduous trees. I have put in a few interesting links about lingonberries and the likely hood of whether the old patches I used to know will ever return. I have looked for info on the particular method of tree removal that I mentioned, but apparently it was an experiment forestry was trying. Their hope was that the deciduous trees would come back and are keeping an eye in this area to see how fast the forest takes to regrow including the underlying groundcover such as berry bushes. Because it is a new method I could not find much info about it I guess only time will tell. I will continue to watch the patches of cleared land to see how fast.the vegetation takes to come back. The following links are simply interesting research articles on Lingonberries and Alaskan berries that are important to Alaskan communities in general. AB Delta Junction
By Richard G. St Pierre, Ph.D. 2016
Accessed Sept. 19,
By Various researchers: Michael Brubaker, Jerry Hupp, Kira Wilkinson, Jennifer Williamson.
Accessed Sept. 20, 2016

Berry ripeness

For someone who has never picked berries before, I found a site that almost gives step-by-step instructions on how/when to pick certain type of berries. I learned a little bit more about exactly when to harvest berries right down to the time of day. Reading through the article by Amy Grant called “Berrie Harvest Time: Best Time to Pick Berries in the Garden” and she said, “The best time to pick berries in the garden is in the early morning hours before the heat builds up in the fruit,” (Grant, p. 5, Gardening Know How). Having harvested berries on my own, I can relate to Grant when she talks about knowing when a berry is ripe enough to be picked. Later in the article, Grant moves on to mentioning what certain berries should look like before picking. For example, she says, “The number one reason for sour blackberries is harvesting too early.”, (Grant, p.6 Gardening Know How). Some berries may seem to look the same all year round, but I’ve learned to pay attention to the texture of the berry and not just color or size. AK Wasilla

Berry Harvest Time: Best Time To Pick Berries In The Garden

To clean or not to clean berries

To clean or not to clean I don’t clean my berries–ever. Partly because I’m lazy. Partly because I don’t use a berry harvester like a rake so I don’t have quite as many leaves. One more reason? I’ve seen things like Horsetail Grass for sale at my local health food store. Apparently it does all kinds of wonderful things such as help with ulcers and skin irritations (Shofield, 2003).   Labrador tea? Good for heartburn and hangovers, colds and arthritis (Schofield, 2003).Basically most of the leaves and plants that end up in my pail probably have some beneficial medicinal use. Not the poisonous mushrooms or berries of course, but those are pretty easy to avoid. And the bugs? Protein! My favorite and most comprehensive reference for using Alaskan plants:Schofield, J. 2003. Discovering wild plants: Alaska, Western Canada, the Northwest. Alaska Northwest Books, Portland. HR Fairbanks

Beach strawberries

I found this video and found it particularly interesting. You cannot see the strawberries on the ground or the plants themselves because of the large amount of ground cover but yet there is still a crop of berries growing there. Makes me wonder what kind of environmental conditions that strawberries need in particular to flower and produce berries. Digstravel33. 2012. Strawberry Picking In Gustavus Alaska, Avaliable online: Accessed 14 Sep. 2016.

Climate Change and Berry Variability

Climate Change and Berry Variability
Climate change does not only affect wildlife, but it can also change the ecology of an area as well. Researchers are starting to look for ways to predict how climate change is affecting the berry harvest in Alaska. In addition to berries, researchers are also looking at caribou and other wildlife in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. As the behavior of wildlife changes, it affects the plant growth. Berry pickers should be knowledgeable about the changes occurring in their region. A study was conducted in 2015 that found Alaskan berries to have more variable harvests in recent years. The study can be found here for further reading:
N/A. 2016. Western Alaskan Forecast Calls for Scattered Berries and Partially Visible Moose. Available online:   Link Accessed 9 Sept, 2016
Hupp, J. Brubaker, M. Wilkinson K. and Williamson, J. 2015. How are your berries? Perspectives of Alaska’s environmental managers on trends in wild berry abundance. International Journal of Circumpolar Health. 10.3402/ijch.v74.28704
CM Fairbanks

Secret spots

Blueberry picking is a huge thing in Alaska, when those berries come it is no surprise that everyone is out picking at all hours on any day! One thing that has become common in having a secret berry picking spot. Once you find a spot that you love, that location will never be told to others. I grew up berry picking and my family and I would travel hours to find the perfect spot for berry picking. As I’ve been getting older I have been realizing that people aren’t so keen on telling their berry picking locations, perhaps they want to keep going back for more, or they just don’t want anyone to know. I wonder if it has always been this way, or if it is because of some other factor. Could it be that with the changing climate and weather people are becoming more and more protective of their spots? It is interesting to think about!  LF Fairbanks

To use berry pickers or not

Berry Picker: Good or Bad?

One of the three ways to enjoy berries, as mentioned in screen cast 1, is wild berry picking. I am born and raised in Alaska and berry picking is apart of my culture, living off the land is how I grew up. One thing that came up in the screen cast was a berry picker, a device used for easier berry picking. Something that has come up a lot recently is the topic of why they should not be used. Elders in the Alaska Native community are saying that it takes away from the plant and pulls off the leaves, making for an unsuccessful berry season the next year. I wanted to bring this topic up and see what others thought and ask the experts! I would be very interested in finding out more about this, seeing as how blueberries are actually a large part of my life!  LF Fairbanks

Berry Picking with Kids

Growing up in Alaska has resulted in a life long love of eating fresh blueberries right off the bush. When I was young my mother and aunt would always take all the girls out berry picking for the weekend. Sometimes we would set up camp other times just day trips, each day filled with my cousins and I eating more berries than what made it into our buckets. We would hike out to my aunt’s most “secret” berry patches and spend hours picking berries and enjoying the serenity that comes with it. After we’d get home we’d spend more time cleaning out extra leaves and stems, rinsing and storing the berries for the winter, mostly just freezing them for fresh blueberry shakes.

Now I am the mother who is getting to enjoy the hours of berry picking while listening to my two little ones munching away instead of filling their buckets. There’s almost nothing more enjoyable than a weekend near my favorite creek picking and eating fresh blueberries. We will eat fresh berries with burnt marshmallows for a camp dessert, fresh chilled blues with eggs and bacon for breakfast and grilled steaks smothered in mashed berries. When we come home my daughter who is four is always excited to help clean and organize the berries for storage and she’s already learning how to make fresh blueberry pie. Teaching my children how to identify blueberries and harvest them without destroying the plants has been extremely rewarding not only in extra picking hands, but because they are always so excited about finding berries, returning to old berry patches and of course, how purple their mouths turn after a day of eating fresh blueberries.

My son’s favorite blueberry recipe other than simply eating them fresh has got to be the shakes I grew up on as a kid. It seems like he’s always asking for mommy to make shakes and so although super simple, that is the recipe I would like to share, a two year old can’t be wrong…

Alaskan Blueberry Shake:

fill the blender with frozen AK blueberries

pour in milk about 3/4 full

add about a cup of granulated sugar

about a teaspoon of ground cinnamon

and a dash or two of ground nutmeg

blend well and enjoy with a fun curly straw.

As you can tell we don’t exactly measure when we cook, but we mix according to our taste buds. This can be easily tweaked to fit your preferred tastes and to add a little kick try a dash of ground ginger or about a teaspoon of orange zest.  LH Fairbanks

Alaska-Yukon Circumboreal Region Map

Here is a great document with outstanding photos of a mapping project for the vegetation of the Alaska-Yukon Region by Fairbanks researcher, Torre Jorgensen and others. It is an attempt to refine vegetation classification systems using the latest technology.

Jorgensen, T. and D. Meidinger. 2015. The Alaska Yukon Region of the Circumboreal Vegetation map (CBVM). CAFF Strategies Series Report. Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, Akureyri, Iceland. ISBN: 978-


Circumboreal Map

Fairbanks Facebook Link

One place that has been helpful for tips about the best places to pick in the Interior has been the “Fairbanks, Alaska” public group on Facebook. This summer, folks were posting updates about when blueberries were ripe on Nordale, which picking spots were closed due to wildfire, etc. Here is a bookmark, although you do have to be logged in to Facebook to see the group posts:Fairbanks Facebook Link

Migrant berry pickers in Scandinavia

This article from NPR brought up several interesting issues surrounding berry harvest, including migrant workers, domestication of wild plants, and changes in worldwide demand for healthy fruits.

It seems that wild berries in Alaska are harvested more for subsistence than commercial ventures, but that isn’t quite so in scandinavian countries. Apparently the demand for wild berry products, both fresh and processed, is fueling more harvest and the labor is being filled with many migrant workers.

What are factors that have made berry products such an important commercial industry in Scandinavia? I would think that investment in infrastructure would be a major factor, supported by nearby markets that have a high demand for healthy wild berries. Everyman’s Right likely plays a role too.

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is one species that is highly sought after in scandinavian countries, and increasingly asian countries, with seemingly good reason. It is high in antioxidants, with an ORAC score of 706 (Brunswick Laboratories) for dried fruit. For comparison, our native blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) has a score of 420. A higher score denotes higher potential antioxidant activity.

Removing Stems from Berries

I really liked the way of getting red currants of the stems in this week’s video.  De-stemming Red Currants.  That’s definitely one of the things I don’t like to do when dealing with red currants. I’m wondering is there any other tricks for other berries that I don’t know about? For cleaning gooseberries?

A summer berry picking job!

Last summer one of those kids in Finland who didn’t have a summer job ended up in the news. This 14-year old boy got a hint from his mother that picking berries could be a great way to earn money during the summer. As picking berries is everyman’s right in Finland, the boy looked for good wild berry spots, and picked 350 litres of blueberries in four weeks! He made 1500 euros (1700 USD) by selling those blueberries, many of those buyers were his school teachers.

If no one offers you a job, create it yourself!

Variable Wild Harvests in Alaska

Alaska Public Media recently reported on a study that invited Alaskans to report on the quality of their local berry harvests. The study “suggests that the harvests of several popular wild berries are becoming less reliable in many areas of the state.”

Further research is necessary to investigate what may or may not be causing this reported variability, but I have wondered often what sort of changes we might expect to see from berries due to the unseasonable weather we’ve experienced in recent years.

That being said, my picking spots provided ample highbush and alpine blueberries this year! We access them with boats and ample hiking, so picking pressure is low.

Berry Picking and Politics in North Korea

Here is an article about berry picking in North Korea and how politics can be very involved. A short interesting read.   Berry Picking North Korea

Berry Picking in Finland

Today I thought about my attitude towards berry picking when I was a kid. Me, my brother and my parents used to go berry picking together a lot. Blueberries, raspberries, cloudberries… I think it’s funny how me and my brother were talked into berry picking: we were promised to get a burger and fries from our little local grill after a long day in the forest. Today I wouldn’t enjoy that burger as much as I enjoy fresh berries picked up with my own hands from the pretty forests in Finland! Now that is the real reward after roaming a long day in the woods!- Sofia H.

Arctic Berry Harvesting- Churchill, Canada

This site lists the common berries found in and around Churchill,Canada and great information about the berries, photos,  and personal harvesting reports, as well as tidbits about wildlife and birds in the area. Churchill, Canada Berries. It includes kinnikinnick, wild blueberries, bunchberries, cloudberries, bog cranberries, crowberries, gooseberries, raspberries, lingonberries and highbush cranberries.

Spruce Root Berry Baskets

I once took an introductory workshop with Sitka artist Teri Rofkar on spruce root basket weaving. Tlingit basket weaving has persisted for over 6,000 years and many of these basket types were traditionally put to use while berry gathering. Many of the beautiful baskets that Teri brought to showcase were well stained with berry juice.

On her website, Teri says that “harvesting the raw materials to create the basketry is more labor intensive than weaving and in the case of large baskets can take years to collect before the weaving can begin.”

I do not doubt that for a second. Once the long surface roots are collected, roasted and whipped through a forked stick to remove the outer bark, they must be split multiple times and sorted for curvature. I tried my hand at this and decided it was not my calling. I could barely get a root evenly split in half. A skilled weaver can split a root into quarters, and then split those quarters in half!

Salad Spinner Lingonberry Cleaner

I wanted to share a quick and easy method that I use to sort leaves, dirt, and stems from my lingonberries (and it could be used for a variety of berries). I collected a few gallons of lingonberries this fall and didn’t really want to sort them by hand. I used a plastic insert from a salad spinner. It has slits that are lengthwise instead of holes like a colander. The slits catch the leaves and it is easy to shake the debris off the berries. Here is a similar one to what I used:salad spinner

Alaska On the Go

Alaska on the Go is a blog about traveling Alaska with children. This blog post is about berry picking:

Berry picking with kids