How to Gather More Wild Berries

A Bowl of Wild Gathered Berries

            By the third week of June, a variety of wild berries share the flare of their untamed spoon.  Gathering wild red (Rubus idaeus), black and purple raspberries (Rubus occidentalis), as well as wild blackberries (Rubus fruiticosis) can offer a unique meal, sure to appeal to your body and soul.  With a few growing tricks, you can gather more wild berries to pick.  Scouring the countryside for some sweet and sour berries is an all natural way to ripen health and happiness today.   

Fertilizing Wild Berries

            This farmer enjoys traveling back in time to the dawn of agriculture, which emerged when our hunter/gatherer ancestors tended to wild plants to produce more.  Fortunately, I can increase wild yields of berries by applying a few tricks from the farmer’s fields.  About three weeks prior to blossom in the spring, I add a few handfuls of sulfur based fertilizer to the berry patches.  Applying synthetic fertilizers at this time is encouraged since the fertilizer will be available to the plant within a few weeks. This timing is critical so the plant can acquire its food during a period of rapid nutrient uptake which occurs during and post-flowering.  Wild berries prefer slightly acidic soils, which is why sulfur based fertilizers are recommended. Without taking soil tests, this yearly application of a small amount of fertilizer is doing an excellent job.  I time the application before a light rain to help the fertilizer sustainably release into the soil profile. Avoid applying fertilizers before heavy rains since it can cause the fertilizer to leach into the watershed causing pollution.  Also, refrain from applying fertilizer on hot sunny days. The strong, scorching sun can volatilize the nutrients like nitrogen.

Pruning Wild Berries

            In addition to fertilizing, I prune the berries.  Simply removing dead, diseased or overcrowding branches will have major effects on yields.  Rayford, an old time mountain man, gave me the following pruning advice.  For black and purple raspberries, after you have gathered all the fruit, prune these canes back to ground level since these berries only produce fruit on two year old growth.  This year’s fruiting canes of purple and black raspberries will not produce fruit next year.  However, the fruit on red raspberries only produces on one year growth so the entire wild red raspberry patch should be cut to ground level.  Requiring more attention, black raspberries have a two stage pruning process.  Foremost, in early spring, after removing dead or diseased wood, cut the blackberry patch back to two feet tall.  This will encourage lateral branching of the canes which will result in more fruit.  Since wild blackberries only produce fruit on two year growth, after harvest prune these two year canes back to the ground.  Ideally, I prune my domesticated berries in late winter early spring while the nutrients are stored underground.  However with the wild berries, I take my pruning tools with me during the last picking and prune what is required.

Reducing Pests & Diseases

            Sometimes, I even cut trails through the berry patch to harvest the delicious berries way back.  This trail will improve circulation and help the vegetation dry off quicker.  The faster leaves dry, the less likely they are to contract and spread fungal diseases.  Finally, I spray the wild berries once or twice a year with a combination of an insecticide and a fungicide. I know from experience without spraying, pests and diseases will destroy the crop. Additionally, it is important to control pests and diseases in wild plant populations, since they can transmit diseases to your domesticated crops.  These three methods are effective at increasing the amount of wild berries you can gather.

When & Where to Harvest

            When the wild berries are ready to harvest, my favorite time to gather is before the setting sun, after my work in the fields is done. A sunset’s sequester of berries, a noble way to end the day, and ripen royal dreams your way.  The advantage of this time is it is cooler than mid-day and the morning wet dew has dried by this hour.  Since berries have to be picked in hard to reach and overgrown places, the morning dew covered vegetation can quickly saturate your clothes, wetting your woes.  Also, there tend to be more gnats, mosquitoes and bugs early in the morning, causing mourning! 

I highly recommended wearing long sleeves, pants, shoes, and having a pair of leather gloves handy.  I usually wear a glove on one hand so I can move the thorny vegetative matter around while picking the fruit with my other hand.  The best places to find berries are along field edges, fields in transition to woodland, trails, roadsides and in clear section of the woods. If you remember where the berries are and visit next year, chances are (especially if you fertilize, prune and spray) they will appear. Berries tend to be one of the first plants to spring up in an open section of woods where a tree recently fell down.  For a few years, they will enjoy a monopoly of growth until they are conquered by taller trees.  

Gathering or Growing?

            When the farmer becomes a gatherer, gathered is gratitude for the yields from a farmer’s field are a vast amount, compared to what is gathered, is barely enough to count!  What takes two hours to walk all over and gather in the wild, takes just a few minutes to gather from the farmer’s fields.  During the season of wild berries, after scouring the earth for hours, I am lucky enough to gather a quart’s worth. Perhaps the most rewarding fruit, is after gathering berries, you harvest a new you.  Even if you fail to fill your pail do not weep and wail for nature has led you down to life’s tastiest trail.

The only guarantee to have enough food to thrive, is to grow food yourself. If people suppose they can survive by gathering, they will be filled with troubles and woes. Fortunately, I have shared my knowledge about growing food in my recently available book, Back to Your Roots. How to Grow Vegetables & Fruits “.

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