WILD HUCKLEBERRY
PICKING RAKE

 

WILD HUCKLEBERRY RAKE
USER INSTRUCTIONS FOR ETHICAL HARVEST

Here at Gourmet Innovations LLC and Tastes of Idaho,  wild huckleberries are a BIG part of our business, our income, and our lifestyle!

We want other people to enjoy picking the wild huckleberry, and maybe even sell us a few if you are so inclined, BUT WITHOUT DOING ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE to the wild huckleberry resource.

Researcher Illustrates
Proper Use of Huckleberry Rake
How to Use a Huckleberry Rake

Dr. Dan Barney, University of Idaho extenstion horticulturist & leading huckleberry researcher,
exhibits how to use a huckleberry rake,
without damaging the wild huckleberry plants!


The most DAMAGING thing you can do to a wild huckleberry plant is clip or break off branches, or worse yet, the entire plant! Wild plants live in a very competitive environment, and the first ones to grow and take up space in a particular spot, tend to keep that spot, until or unless a taller species grows up over the top, and shades them out. But if you remove the desired plant from a spot, something else will often takes its place... and then we lose the very species we went out in the woods to enjoy!

Currently, wild huckleberry stands are declining across most of their range, due to changes in climate, fire intensity, and even logging practices. At the same time, more people and chefs around the world are learning about the unique, tangy sweet taste of huckleberries. (Also, demand for dietary supplements, where huckleberries are called "bilberries", is rising exponentially!)

So have fun while picking, but PLEASE, do not damage the resource. Fortunately, there are still lots of huckleberries to go around, but ONLY if we choose to be responsible environmental stewards to the wild huckleberry resource. Huckleberry stands take 5 to 15 years to really start producing, after logging or after low to moderate intensity fires. So if you damage plants, they are not likely to be productive again in the near future. Each plant someone destroys is a lost piece of huckleberry pie (hot out of the oven, with vanilla ice cream) or jar of huckleberry jam that no one may ever enjoy.

A HUCKLEBERRY RAKE is the best way to get more wild huckleberries in your bucket, in an environmentally sensitive manner. Once you get into a good patch, I've heard 10 times as many berries are possible. But I think four times as many per hour is a realistic goal -- especially if you are having fun, and eating a few berries along the way.

(Additional Tips When Picking Huckleberries!)

Unfortunately, there are both good ways and bad ways to use a huckleberry rake. Just like any tool, (A) it can be misused, and (B) it takes a few tries to really get good at it. A hammer, screwdriver, or drill is a valuable tool - with practice and when used appropriately. But misusing any of these tools can lead to vandalism, injury, or even death.

You probably would have a hard time killing someone with a huckleberry rake, depending on the model (but please don't test me -- this is NOT a challenge!). But it IS fairly easy to damage wild huckleberry bushes, if you don't approach picking with conservation in mind. Or IF you think using a rake doesn't require a little time to uncover its secrets.

So first, a few things to know:

  • There IS a short learning curve to using a huckleberry rake effectively. Kind of like learning how to "set the hook" on a trout, catfish, bass, or walleye... they are all a bit different. 
  • Wild huckleberries grow ONLY on the current years growth, near the tips of the branches and branchlets, but NOT all the way down the main stems of the plant. (So no need to rake anything but the tips of the branches!) 
  • A huckleberry rake is most effective where the huckleberries are "good". If the berries are sparse, stick to picking one berry at a time, by hand. In most wild huckleberry patches, thankfully, the rake will really get you a lot more huckleberries, faster (before you poop out!) 
  • You WILL get more huckleberry leaves in your bucket with a rake, than when picking by hand. But since the huckleberries are usually washed/cleaned anyhow after picking, the extra work is not significant compared to the much larger yield in your bucket. (NOTE: taking the extra leaves does not really damage the plant - shortly after the berries ripen and fall off, the leaves fall off too, naturally. You will get an occasional branchlet with your rake, but with practice, the damage will be incidental.) Also, if you use the model of Huckleberry Rake we sell, you can shake a lot of the leaves out the bottom, without losing or crushing those precious huckleberries.
  • The huckleberry rake is effective for MOST species of roundish berries, in that general size range or larger, including blueberries, service berries (Saskatoon berries), chokecherries, elderberries, cranberries, etc. However, the rake will NOT work for "seedy" berries such as raspberries and blackberries. 

And NOW, the moment you've all been waiting for -- let's start with the actual instructions for using the huckleberry rake! (I apologize about all the background information, but some is necessary for using the huckleberry rake effectively, and the rest... well, you can see my passion for huckleberries, and for protecting the wild huckleberry resource!)

If you've read this far, you are MY kind of Huckleberry Hound!

PICKING INSTRUCTIONS
WITH A HUCKLEBERRY RAKE

So now, you are in the woods surrounded by a nice patch of wild huckleberries.

(And just another reminder that huckleberries ONLY grow on the current year's growth, AND that the huckleberry rake tines, while made of sturdy metal, work best with a small, but manageable clump of berries. Don't try to "bull" your way through the huckleberry plant. Short, quick, easy strokes, with just the right amount of branchlets as a target, will net you the greatest yield of huckleberries, in the shortest time.)

Start small - chase the smallest branchlets first, to get the hang of the wrist action. Send the tines in just under the lowest huckleberry in the group, then pull the tines up and through the loose clump of berries.

"WHAT JUST HAPPENED?", you ask.

Probably one of two things. Either you went too slow, and the berries were pinched, maybe even tore trying to detach from the stems -- while your rake hung up a bit on the tiny branchlets, possibly breaking a couple off. Or, you went too fast, and most of the berries flew OVER THE TOP of your huckleberry rake, peppering the surrounding vegetation. Just like the rookie shrimp fishermen in the movie Forrest Gump, who only got old boots and a toilet seat in their first catch, your first efforts may net you more leaves than huckleberries inside your huckleberry rake.

Not as easy as it looks, but it will get better, fast. If you are a fisherman or fisherwoman (?), you know what I'm talking about when I mention "setting the hook". You get the line semi-taut, and then at just the right moment, you feel a tug, give a little snap of the wrist and "fish on!". You can describe and explain how to do the wrist motion all you want, but until you experience the sensation a few dozen - or even a few hundred - times, you just won't know how to set the hook, and catch that lunker.

Using a huckleberry rake is much the same. But you will get proficient quickly, because the wild huckleberries are ALWAY bitin', as they say, once you find a good patch. And they don't swim away!

So, here are my verbal instructions, and I will kind of describe the technique, breaking it down as if it were in slow motion. Once you get comfortable, each wrist movement will bring in up to a dozen (or more) huckleberries in the blink of an eye.

So. As you slide the tines under the berries, you want to bring up the rake against the "pressure" of the attached huckleberries -- just like taking the slack out of a fish line. Note that if you try to take in too many branchlets at the same time, the pressure turns your rake into a snarl among the twigs, reducing the effectiveness of your efforts, and increasing the risk of damage to the plant.

Again, start small, maybe branchlets of 2 to 5 berries. When you feel the slightest hint of back pressure, you will do a short, gentle "snap" of your wrist, upward and back toward the rake. Too slow, and you snag the branches and bruise the berries, taking in lots of leaves -- because you are pulling the berries off, instead of popping them off. Too fast, and more berries fly over the rake, than into the rake.

Practice, practice, practice. Don't give up! At first you may feel like it would be faster to pick by hand. And it would be! But hang in there, things will change, and once they change, you will rack up cup after cup of berries much faster than you ever thought possible.

Once you get the hang of the basic stroke, and get a feel for how many branchlets or huckleberries you can really rake in with one stroke, without snagging, you develop a sort of rhythm. Now it's time to add your other hand as a feeder to the huckleberry picking production line. In fact, you probably were already doing this by now, instinctively.

A huckleberry bush often displays berries across a span of ten or twenty inches (or more) around the top and outside of the plant, while your rake is only six inches wide. You can really only cleanly rake a swath of four inches wide or so. But by using your hands in tandem, you can cover a lot more of the plant in less time.

Your free hand gathers huckleberry branchlets together, between the thumb and fingers. You pinch the twigs, either together to make a larger clump of berries, and/or away from the main plant, so they are easier to rake cleanly, without snagging a bigger piece of the huckleberry bush. Then in comes the rake. Swish. Repeat. (You will always get a little snagging, so don't worry about it, just work to avoid pulling off branches when you do hang up. Better to back out, and take a smaller stroke, than damage the plant.)

Again, you will get a rhythm going, this time with both hands. Some strokes will not need the second hand... a branchlet with nice berries is hanging out there, all by its lonesome. In thick huckleberry bushes your second hand will get a workout.

An experienced huckleberry "raker" is a joy to behold, as he or she works around the plant, no wasted motion, short wrist movements, gleaning most of the plant, while standing in one spot. Maybe a short step to the side of the wild huckleberry plants to change the angle, and get any remaining berries. Then he or she works right on through the patch in a semi-systematic fashion, with short interruptions where a stray berry gets popped into a mouth, or the picker takes a swat at an insect.

ENJOY!

Malcolm & Sandy
Gourmet Innovations LLC

PS With the instructions above, the videos to the left, the general huckleberry picking tips below, and a little practice, you have what you need! Oh, and coming soon, is an opportunity to get a free huckleberry product from Tastes of Idaho, if you supply a testimonial!

If you want more information, and results of FIELD TESTS with nine different huckleberry rake models:

CLICK HERE for More Info on HUCKLEBERRY RAKES!

© 2013 - Malcolm Dell



Elk River, Idaho
"Improving Wild Stands of Huckleberries" Workshop
July 29, 2005

huckleberry rake instructions

According to Dr. Barney, "Huckleberry rakes, when used properly -- just like any tool -- do not damage wild huckleberry bushes."

 

Huckleberry Rake Picker

 Our FIRST demonstration videos are NOW ONLINE!

Below is a sequence with "Mr. J" during his FIRST RAKING EXPERIENCE
near Clark Fork, Idaho!
(August 2, 2008)

VIDEO #1:
First Time with Huckleberry Rake

VIDEO #2:
Huckleberry Rake close-up

VIDEO #3:
Getting better with a Rake

VIDEO #4:
Still more Huckleberry Raking


Note that the videos show, even for a newbie,
damage is minimal.
With practice, you get
more and more berries, fewer and fewer leaves
, WITHOUT damaging
wild huckleberry plants!

VIDEO #5:
Experienced Huckleberry Raker

VIDEO #6:
Experienced Huckleberry Raker
CLOSE-UP

Also, for more tips on picking and sharing the current crop reports, check out my
HUCKLEBERRY PICKING BLOG!

Malcolm's HUCKLEBERY PICKING TIP SHEET!

Purchase a
HUCKLEBERRY RAKE
  ONLINE!

Find more information on
HUCKLEBERRY RAKES!

WILD HUCKLEBERRY ASSOCIATION