The following Public Service Announcement is brought to you by the Better Berry Pickers Benevolent Society or the BBPBS for short. I have no idea if such an organization exists, but it should. To give the etiquette, tips and the does and don’ts of berry picking.

Every year, around this time, many people seem to go a little crazy as the berry picking season begins. Roads, like the Ingraham Trail, become lined and clogged with traffic as Hordes of berry pickers flee from the city into the Boreal Forest looking for little red gems, known as Northern Cranberries or Lingonberries, along with numerous local names.

Columnist Walt Humpries and Pattie Beales berry picking in 2018.
photo courtesy of Diane Baldwin

People new to the North often ask, “Where is a good berry picking spot?” They are either met with stony silence or told, “If I told you where my favorite patches are, I would have to kill you.” 

This of course, seems a little extreme. Hopefully, they are just joking, because Berry Picking is not a blood sport, most of the time. However, it is all about being practical. If I told you where my favorite spots were, you would go out and pick them. I would then have to waste a lot of time and energy prospecting the bush, to find some new ones. So, the motto is, if you want to go picking, it’s up to you to find your own patches and hope you are the first to arrive.

I will now reveal some of my tips and secrets to finding northern cranberries. “Seek and ye shall find” is the first piece of advice. The berries are everywhere. It would be difficult to spend an hour walking, anywhere in the Boreal forest, without coming across a few.

In the fall, when I was out prospecting, I used to carry a container with me and sort of pick it up as I was walking along. If I spotted some good ones, I would stop and pick for a few minutes. If I hit a really good patch, I would often sit down and pick for a while. It was a nice way to take a break from looking at rocks.

If I am just out prospecting for berries, I usually look for an outcrop hill or ridge. Then on its sides, I look for places where there is enough soil present to support vegetation and trees. I look for open bush, meaning the trees are far enough apart that you can walk through easily. Then you start looking for cranberries. If you see some bearberries, that can be a good sign because they are often close together. The bearberries seem to need more sunlight and as you get more shade, the cranberries can intermingle before taking over. I like to see some birch trees as well because birch trees need a lot of water just as do the berries.

The berries are small and close to the ground. You will see some, as you look down, but if you kneel or sit down and look under the leaves you will find a lot that are hidden. If you get a good patch, you can sit down and pick several handfuls in the area within you reach. Then you just move a few feet over and you can do it again and again and again. You can find patches that would take you hours, days or, under ideal conditions, weeks to pick. Once you pick or clean out one patch, you go in search of another. Simple as that.

The berries like sandy soil if there is any around. If you have a boat, some islands are good as well. Near a lake the berries are often bigger because they get more water through splashing and morning mists. One time, I was going along a rocky shore in my canoe and I could reach up and pick some good big berries, as I eased my way along.

The picking spots along the road get picked over first and every year there seem to be more people out picking, particularly if the weather is good. So, if you have access to a boat you might want to go out picking that way. Most people pick from the road not from the lakes.

Berry picking is a good way to spend a beautiful fall afternoon. Just remember not to damage the plants as you pick and to pick up any litter you encounter. You can also pick other treats like rosehips and blackberries, if you hit a good patch.

Berry Season. You have to love it.

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