As of Tuesday, August 12, 2014
The aroma of a familiar fruity scent fills the woods. The noses find the bushes before the eyes do. However, once the eyes adjust, it’s purple berries as far as the eyes can see.
Idaho County — and other mountainous parts of the state — is having a bumper crop of huckleberries this year. Why?
“You know, botanically, this year is a mystery in many ways,” said Mike Hays, forest botanist with the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. “We didn’t have an abnormal spring moisture-wise. Temperatures were fairly normal. But every plant out there was near historic bloom levels and many are setting fruit like crazy, too. I just don’t know why.”
Hays felt the snow pack may have something to do with the berries being plentiful and plump.
“The pack was fairly normal, but was pretty slow coming off,” he surmised. “So maybe we had more moisture lingering into spring as things got going. But that’s just a thought.”
Hays did put the question out to various Forest Service employees and received the following feedback:
Milder temperatures and frequent spring rains could have really helped with fruit development. Also, there were not any late hard frosts that cause flower drop.
Typically, because huckleberry blossoms are borne in the fall, it also helps when there are one or both of the following: either no late spring frosts after snowmelt, or sufficient snowpack to still cover bushes when there are typical May frosts in upper elevations.
Hays also got word from the retired University of Idaho’s Dr. Dan Barney, one of the Northwest’s leading experts on huckleberries.
“The Flathead hucks have been really abundant and large this season. Our snowpack was at 200 percent and slow in coming off, plus we had a few good rains at just the right time for growth. I’ve already given two interviews, and this is my story — I’m sticking to it,” Dr. Barney reported.
Whatever the best combination for a great huckleberry season, the stars obviously lined up this year and there are happy pickers everywhere.
“I have seen lots of purple fingers this summer,” said Marie Smith of Lowell. “Could be huckleberries, could be blackberries. One old customer stayed for a week at the campground and paid me with berries. – well, he’s actually younger than me and he’s been coming upriver for years just to pick”
Monica Walker of Grangeville said she had not been picking since she was a child – about 7 or 8 years old.
“We went Sunday with the intent of just picking for an hour or so just for fun,” Walker said. “Between two adults and one super-excited 5 year old, we picked enough for a whole batch of jam.”
And where were they? “A super secret location not to be revealed,” but the bushes were loaded with berries.
Susan Nelson said she froze hers and will eat them as healthy snacks throughout the year while Shelly Bentley put hers in waffles. Melissa Shaw uses hers over ice cream, in pancakes, for jam, pies and cobblers while Sarah Finley freezes hers for a special pie at Thanksgiving time. All are of Grangeville.
The season is expected to last a couple more weeks. Get pickin’! That is unless you want to purchase your wares from those who are patient enough to do the picking for you: Local reports have the berries currently selling anywhere from $40 to $70 a gallon.