Where to Pick
Finding a good spot for blueberries requires a little driving and exploration which in itself can be an adventure. You are looking for areas which have been logged in the last 3-4 years or so – or areas where the soils are so bad grass/trees don’t grow. This is where the blueberries take hold – they will quickly fill in the scars left by human activity.
Roadside rock outcrops throughout NW Ontario are a great starting point.
When to Pick
Well, look for blueberries. Blueberries grow abundantly in the Canadian shield however they need a few conditions to make them prime locations. A high acidity soil is essential, luckily with all the conifer trees we have an abundance of that. The second thing they need is exposure. Exposure through lack of trees/taller bushes to block them out. Although there are large areas where blueberries can grow well naturally on natural occurring rock barrens and such, primarily areas burned by fire as well as recently forested areas have become the goto place for harvesting wild blueberries. Other areas where trees are routinely cut are power lines, along highways and gas pipelines.
Blueberries will also ripen differently depending on the particulars of a specific patch. South facing hills will ripen before north facing, hollows where water accumulates will provide larger, faster ripened berries than those at the top of rocky outcrops. Older plants may shade younger plants leading to a two-tier blueberry crop.
When to go may not be as easy as it depends on rain, temperature and sunlight. Usually blueberries are at the start of their season by the first weekend in August which coincides with the Blueberry Blast Festival in Nipigon. The cooler the summer/location the later the season. Geraldton’s blueberries tend to be a week or two later than Nipigon as it is farther north/cooler. Hot summers blueberries could be picked much earlier into July. Cool summerspicking season can extend into September.
Picking in the morning and evenings when things cool down will keep you from overheating and keep your blueberries from turning to hot mush.
Foraging Plant information list
This is not a complete list, this is a list of the species I have directly witnessed in my travels here in Northwest Ontario. If you find something before I do, email me and let me know.
The Three types of
Tree type plants
Resembling small trees with a woody stalk which supports the berries, often with fine hairs on the leaves and many clumps of berries spread up the plant.
This type of plant seems to ripen the last and over an extended time. The berries are smaller however they can be more plentiful. A lot of greens/ripe berries intermixed in clumps can lead to picking problems.
The thicker stalks of these plants can catch the rake when collecting them so care should be taken and smaller scoops for sure as the entire stem can be pulled out easily.
Tall, Green bushes
Predominantly in shaded and moister areas with berries scattered along the longer stems ending with small clumps. These plants can be 30-40cm high and tend to have very green leaves.
Look in shaded areas amongst small trees and hollows where it may be moister.
The berries on these plants tend to be larger, and as a result, the branches have a habit of pulling the branch down. With branches above being picked it may appear that the plants are empty. A quick look through the branches can yield a surprising amount of berries hidden by the leaves and branches above.
Size and abundance make these a primary bush type for picking and raking. The increased foliage cover, as well as moister conditions, make for a more expanded harvesting of these kinds of plants.
These are typically the first berries to ripe as the plants are short (20cm) and are in exposed areas on thin soils on rocks/outcrops.
The smaller berries typically form in clumps near the top of the plants.
Due to their exposed location and week soils, these plants are the first to ripen and the plants quickly develop the red/yellows of their fall colours.
Blueberries should only be washed right before eating.
Simply pouring blueberries from one container to another in a strong wind will remove a lot of sticks/leaves and debris. A simple winnower and fan will make cleaning berries easier.
Rolling berries down a ramp made out of window screen about three feet long in a heavy wind (or with use of a good fan) will also remove a lot of debris.
Small shallow pans to pick out green ones and then you have sorted clean blueberries ready for the freezer.
The best way at preserving blueberries is frozen. To freeze the berries, try to freeze them in sizes your recipes would call for. If you make a blueberry crisp that requires 4 cups, save them in four cup batches.
In a shallow pan (cookie sheets work well) spread out the blueberries on waxed paper and place in deep freeze for a couple of hours. The berries will freeze loosely and can then easily be put into containers or even vacuum sealed as I do.
Loosely frozen in containers allows you to sprinkle into your favorite recipes/cereals a little at a time.