How To Pick Blueberries
Whether you are a cabin owner, renter or guest, the best technique to pick blueberries is one that allows you to do it in an efficient and safe way. Here is how you can maximize your berries, minimize bug bites and avoid bears.
How To Pick Blueberries
Picking blueberries is certainly a family tradition at many cottages, but berry picking can be back-breaking and bug-infested work. Sometimes, you may even ask yourself why you bother to brave the swarms of mosquitoes and pesky deer flies. This says nothing of the fact that it is highly possible you may encounter a bear.
Yet, every season we seem to once again organize the gang and search out our secret blueberry patch.
Blueberry Picking Technique
The best container to use when picking blueberries is an empty plastic peanut butter jar. Ripe blueberries will fall off the plant as soon as they are touched. To make sure you get as many of the berries as possible, simply place the plastic jar under the berries and using your forefinger and thumb, gently roll the blueberries off the plant and into the container.
This technique not only catches the most berries, it is also a good system for minimizing the amount of leaves, twigs, insects and unripe berries that often find their way into the jar. Once your container is almost full, secure the lid and head back to the central collection pail.
The last thing you want to do is drop and spill the blueberries and lose all the fruits of your hard labour.
Back at the cottage, fill the jar, pail or bucket (depending on how many berries you and the team have collected) with water and stir the blueberries around. This will normally bring the unwanted green berries to the surface where they are easily removed. Leave the berries in the water for at least five minutes, stirring them occasionally. Not only does this serve to clean them, it also takes care of any bugs that might have hitched a ride.
Pour the berries into a strainer and rinse them one more time. Remove any remaining leaves, twigs, bugs or unwanted berries.
Place the berries in a bowl. You can certainly eat them right away, but allowing them to dry for a few days often brings out a stronger flavour.
If you prefer to freeze the blueberries, make sure they are dry before you put them in the freezer. To keep the berries from sticking together or getting crushed, it is more effective (and time consuming) to lay them out in sheets of one-berry-high rows. This is useful if you plan to use them individually at a later date. Blueberries that are frozen in a big batch are perfect for blending and make an awesome addition to a cottage smoothie.
Blueberries are known for having a variety of health benefits. They are widely accepted as the top fruit for containing antioxidants and studies have shown that blueberries may help reduce the risk of certain diseases that affect the brain.
Blueberries are freezer-friendly and can be eaten in a variety of ways. Raw blueberries go great with oatmeal, granola, ice cream, blended into a drink or even added to a light summer salad.
Blueberry jam is a long-time favourite and lets you enjoy the spoils of summer in the middle of winter.
Using your fresh blueberries to make muffins and cupcakes is a fantastic baking idea for a Saturday afternoon at the cottage.
Where To Find Blueberries
The best place to look for and collect blueberries is often a tightly guarded secret in many cottage communities. For first-time blueberry pickers, there are a few tips to help you find your own blueberry patch.
Blueberries are almost always found in open areas that have been deforested or near shield rock formations that get lots of sunshine. The best time of year to find blueberries is generally the last two weeks of July, but this may be moved by a week or two depending on the season.
In cottage country these spots are often found on islands, beside roads or in areas that have been cleared such as along power line routes. If your are exploring the lake, look for islands that have large areas of exposed rock and head for the high point of the island. Be sure to check if the island is privately owned before you go ashore and begin exploring.
Blueberry plants can be found in a variety of sizes depending on the conditions in which they are growing. Some grow like a small bush close to the ground while others stretch out like a plant and become quite tall, as high as a couple of feet. When picking blueberries from plants that are low to the ground, always lift the small branches to check for hidden berries as the best and biggest blueberries are often found this way. As the berries grow and ripen, the weight of the blueberries will cause the branch to droop and conceal the fruit.
Blueberry Picking Clothing
Insects and blueberry patches tend to go hand-in-hand. The best clothing for picking blueberries is a pair of loose jeans, thick sock, rubber boots, a t-shirt and a loose hoodie. If you have a long-sleeve shirt instead of a hooded sweatshirt, be sure to also wear a hat. The rubber boots are useful if the ground is damp, or if the area has a high tick population.
Blueberry Picking Risks – Bears, Bugs and Burns
Bears rely heavily on berries for their summer diet and are often found spending hours on end lapping up juicy blueberries. When taking the gang out to your favourite blueberry spot, spend a few moments when you arrive to survey the area for bears, or evidence that the bears have recently been there feeding. It is also a good idea to wear bear bells when walking to and from the blueberry picking area as well as during the time you are in the patch.
Insect repellent with a high concentration of DEET is a must when you prepare to head out picking blueberries. Mosquitoes and deer flies can drive you mad and will impact the time you can spend collecting the berries as well as the number of berries you will harvest while you are there.
Sunburn and dehydration are big concerns when picking berries. Always bring water to drink. Be sure to wear a big hat and wear sunscreen on all exposed areas of your skin, especially the back of your neck.