Wild berry patches are an ever changing resource. Berries rely on a certain set of requirements; if any or all of those change, the berries can disappear and one year you may return to find your once lush patch gone for good. This at least has been my experience in a few of the wild berry patches that I have relied upon over the years. The past year I and some friends were very blessed to fine a lovely patch of Lingonberries in an area we had never searched. The reason we had never found this particular spot was because the berries used to be more prolific nearer our homes and my first rule of berry picking is; if a patch is near pick there. Why spend precious moments that could be spent picking berries wandering thither and yon over rough terrain looking for berries, unless you have to. Well we had to and much to our delight our search was rewarded. The area was not terribly far and had a nice hunting trail already established. We found many large clusters of berries near the trail and my friends decided to stay in this area to pick.
I have always been a wanderer; I usually have a gun with me in case I find something furry and large feeling territorial about the forest. True to my nature I walked some good ways beyond the trail; stopping every now and again to pick some berries and eat some berries. The going was rough with lots of fallen timbers around, but not impassible so I continued on. Finally, my efforts were rewarded. The patch that I found was in fact a series of patches all linked together in a large piece of woodland. The forest was a mix of perhaps 50/50 small spruce, medium sized aspens and a few large birch here and there. The forest floor was covered with lingonberry bushes, crowberry, and a few bearberry bushes all growing happily in the dappled pools of sunlight coming through the leafy canopy. The lingonberries were by far the most prolific; the plants were large and spread out under fallen logs and around old stumps. The area was edged by a few clearings and a long low trench running through much of the patch, perhaps from an old creek bed. The berries grew in thick clusters on the edges of this trench and along its lowest part. As I walked deeper into the forest I found fewer healthy patches; the trees were too thick and ground cover consisted mostly of mosses and lichens. In the more open spaces the berries were beautiful, large, and juicy, tart but also sweet; dark red on the outside and very white inside. Perfect specimens, and it did not take me long to fill my gallon.
This lovely patch has remained in my mind and seems a perfect candidate for wild stand management. I love the idea of having a place that I could care for if even just a little and perhaps improve the patch so that every year me and my friends can return to find it producing in abundance. The berries are already growing so well that I would not need to do much I think. Here are just a few ideas I have to improve the patch and perhaps next spring and summer I can implement some of them. First the spot is not easy to find and the going is pretty rough; I have found another way to get into the beginning of the patch from a different direction. This approach is much more open and I will mark it for further use. I know that lingonberries like sunny spots to ripen in but don’t handle hot weather very well; they need areas that also can shelter them during the cold winter months (garden.org). They prefer acidic soils which is fine, because where I live the soil throughout the whole area is very acidic; I struggle with acidic soils in my vegetable garden and it has been cultivated every year for about 30 years and is still acidic. The spot where the berries are growing must be acidic and the nutrients must be at a good ratio because the berries are very healthy looking. Cross pollination must also be taking place because the berries, throughout the patch, are all very large compared to what I am used to seeing from other patches. The shade does help to keep the moss around the berries moist; this not only helps the berries grow but also provides pollinators another reason to visit the patch. To improve the sunlight into the patch I will have to be very careful how many trees and how much brush I remove to prevent the patch from drying out; this would have a detrimental effect on the overall microsystem surrounding the berries.
I will need to chart when the berries bloom, what pollinators visit and how often. At this point the lingonberries far outgrow any other weeds in the area so I don’t think that I will add any fertilizer as this may encourage weeds to grow. The berry plants look very big to me and any more fertilizer might encourage more vegetative growth that they clearly don’t need (mofa.org). I will take my brush cutter into the stand next spring and remove a lot of the under growth such as small spruce trees, broken off limbs, and remove much of the Labrador tea stands to let more sunlight get to the berries and remove competition. After finding out how many pollinators come to the spot I have some ideas to attract more. I am not sure if it would work but I would like to plant or transplant a few more wild flowering plants to the spot such as bluebells, bunch berry, and others from farther away spots. There are already other flowering shrubs such as bearberry and crowberry and I would not remove all the Labrador tea as it also has nice flower for part of the year. The spot is also full of grouse which I am sure are attracted to the many berries; thankfully there are plenty to go around and the birds are also a very nice resource for fresh meat should I need some this winter. I think the primary pollinators are bumblebees; the spot is full of old trees and fallen rotting logs which would provide good nesting sources for them.
Hopefully I will have time next spring and summer to visit my patch and implement some of these improvements. The berries are happy so I will be very careful how I proceed and plan each action taking many things into consideration. Also if anyone, with experience in managing wild lingonberry stands, would like of offer me some advice I would greatly appreciate it. AB Delta Junction, AK