Going for the blue - Wild blueberry's that is

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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Hearth Supporter
Jul 11, 2008
8,897
Northern NH
My mom was a blueberry picker and she used to drag us kids out to pick wild lo bush blueberries. Most true berry pickers avoid the domesticated high bush berries. Yes, the high bush are much larger and easier to pick, but the flavor is nowhere near as good. Most locals regard them as "blue grapes" better than nothing but definitely not a substitute for the "real" wild low bush ones. Where I grew up in southern Maine there were also wild high bush berries but they were rare and usually only grew in wetlands.

I was the only one in the family that acquired the interest in picking although not her clean picking technique. I tend to use the bear approach, find a good patch, sit down and grab clumps along with green ones and leaves plus other trash then clean them afterwards when I get home. I pick real wild Maine blueberries, the ones folks see in the stores are technically wild Maine blueberries that are heavily managed with newer producers switching to techniques used for cranberries, they are still technically low bush berries but starting to be less wild.

I go for wild patches and the best patches are on rocky open areas and summits. Blueberries thrive in acid low nutrient soils that tend not to support other growth and mountain top regions fit the conditions. I run into plants everywhere and enjoy grabbing a few for quick snack but my favorite placeto pick is over in western Maine on a large lump of granite called Rumford Whitecap. The berries only really grow on the top so its 2 mile hike up the mountain. I go there most years around this time of year and some years they are great and some years not so great. We have had a long stretch of rain and I hadn't made it over this year so I decided to check it out yesterday. I got an early start to take advantage of the cooler temps in the AM as blueberry patches are inevitably sunny with no shade.

Wild low bush blueberries are like apples, they hybridize so any field will have thousands of distinct plants that all thrive on different conditions. Nevertheless, they tend to sort out into four or five major types, Not every year has all types but I found 4 out of the five and in abundant quantity. I carry containers in backpack and generally if I can fill two one gallon containers I am happy. I filled the two in less than an hour moving no more than 100 feet. The plants have small green leaves (some folks make tea out of them) but in good year they will be blue with blueberries. The plants on occasion will have so many berries they are flat to the ground as the plants can hold up to the weight. I carry a wide shallow plastic bowl and gently lift up a plant and place it over the bowl than rake the berries with my fingers. The ripe ones fall off into the bowl (along with some debris) and I repeat. Once the bowl is full, I fill my containers. Picking was so good I picked another gallon zip lock bag. I also consumed a fair share as its fresh plump berries off the plant are hard to beat. BTW each variety has a distinct taste but once they are mixed together and cleaned they get a far more uniform taste. The processed maine berries tend tobe less hybridized than the truly wild mountain versions. After about 2 hours with a half hour enjoying the 360 view off the summit I headed down. I now have three gallons of berries to clean and that should last four of 5 months of berries on my breakfast. I may bake a few muffins but normally use the bagged variety for pies as a pie really eats up a lot of berries.

Rumford Whitecap is on the southern end of a large valley whose only claim to fame was the Telstar ground antenna location. Young folks may be clueless about Telstar but as kid of the sixties, it was as high tech as it gets, the site of the first transatlantic TV broadcast and transatlantic satellite telephone ground station. There used to be a big inflatable dome and visitors center but now it is just a collection of a small satellite dishes with all remains of the dome and visitor station removed. The location was selected as the valley had almost no development, it had a hand crank phone system up into the seventies with a ring of mountains around it to block out interference from the surrounding region. The Appalachian Trail runs along the north rim of the valley and another lesser known but possibly soon to be famous mountain forms the SW end. That mountain, Plumbago Mountain, previously known for small strikes of various semiprecious gem grade minerals like touramalines, beryls and amethysts is now recently known as the site of a potential multibillion dollar deposit of an unassuming dull quartz looking mineral that happens to have one of the highest concentrations of Lithium in the world.https://time.com/6294818/lithium-mining-us-maine/.

I then took a casual drive back home over backroads. It is nice to be retired and be able to go do what I want.
 
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That sounds like a delicious and rewarding trip. I love wild blueberries. When you get them at the right time, the flavor is superb. I didn't know about their self-hybridizing. These days our picking has been our own patch which is having a banner year. We've picked a few quarts already and have several more to go.
 
The five major varieties I see are

Standard Blueberry, light blue.

Silver Blueberry - They have a fine whitish powder on them that makes they look a silver light gray. When handled the berry loses the powder and looks like a regular bluebery

Purple Blueberry - The berrys are dark blue/purple, they tend to grow back a bit from the edges of the patches with taller plant. The berries tend to hide under leaves so when I see good plant and lift it up I see three or 4 more times number of berries.

Black Blueberry - some call them huckleberry's but they grow in the same patches and do not have the seeds of a huckleberry. They are distinctly black. They have the best taste.

Alpine berries - These are darker blue with a slight greenish tint. The berrys are teardrop shaped and they mst be ground pollinated as the face down. I usually see that at higher elevation summits. The are very low to the ground and dense. They are very tart.

There are also crowberry's in the area that grow on taller bushes
 
The birds are punishing my 10 blueberry bushes. I even covered them with toule but they get under it and take almost every berry just before it's ripe. They've won the fight the last 3 years.
 
The birds, deer and bears get most of our blueberries in the Northwoods. There's been a couple of years when we've gotten enough for a pie or couple of cobblers, but usually it's just a few berries here and there.
 
Down low in the woods, the critters do get a fair share, but I think up high, in the blueberry fields the food source is only there for few weeks so there is not enough food to sustain a large population year round. No doubt the local bears spend some time in the lesser visited areas filling up with berries. While picking the population of small birds feasting on berries is interesting to watch. They flit around and land nearby.
 
Terrible year here for blueberries,not enough moisture,very small which makes for a long time to fill pail.
 
We picked blueberries thus AM, high bush at our friends’ place. They have a dozen bushes with high yields in a five sided mesh enclosure that is keeping out the birds. We trade them a winter’s supply of butternut squash for berries. Blueberries must be the easiest fruit or vegetable to freeze and use. Spread on trays, freeze, shovel loose into freezer bags. Been having some in oatmeal most mornings. They thaw quickly in the hot cereal. The nearby “wild” pick your own grower shut down a few years back and our rake has been idle since.
 
I have been seeing folks picking the low bush along the roads of late. The state mows the right of ways to improve sight lines to see large animals emerging from the woods and if the soils are right, the low bush blueberries can thrive. Long ago the state and utilities used to use herbicides to knock back growth but most stopped doing that due to public pressure.
 
I have two domesticated high bushes in my yard that I tend. Had ten pound yield this year which will keep us happy until next summer.
 
Going for the blue - Wild blueberry's that is
Here in west central Saskatchewan we had a good crop, one of the best I’ve seen in 10 years. The weather gods cooperated and provided a good to excellent crop of wild strawberries, raspberries, saskatoons and cranberries, pin cherries were okay. I expect next spring we’ll be seeing lots of bears with twins and triplets, they should be going into hibernation with full bellies.
 
Likewise. We had the best crop ever this year.