At the risk of sounding pretentious, I want to spend a little time talking about the art of picking berries, and the pleasures this simple act provides.
Im not trying to duplicate all the berry-picking tips anyone with a computer can find online. These are simply a few observations gleaned from 10 years of cultivating a modest amount of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and marionberries at Horsefeathers Farm in East Olympia. In addition, weve had a significant bounty of native Pacific blackberries the past three summers ever since the far back wooded pasture went wild in the absence of horses.
The berry season is in full swing and what better place than South Sound to enjoy it. First it was the strawberries in early June, followed by the raspberries, which are still in full swing. Not to be outdone, the blueberries and wild blackberries are coming on like gangbusters and the marionberries arent far behind.
By most accounts, this has been, and continues to be, a grand year for berries in Western Washington. At Horsefeathers Farm, we can attest to the berry abundance this year.
Living so close to Spooner Farms, the strawberries we grow simply supplement our purchases. But I enjoy the handful that were available about every other day for snacks while working in the garden or to munch on in the car on the way to work. We had more than usual thanks to lighter than normal competition from slugs this year, plus a supply of bird netting to cover the entire bed.
The raspberries seemed to ripen a bit early this year and the harvest is ongoing. We eat the ones we grow fresh over frozen yogurt or with our breakfast cereal and pick next door at our neighbors super-productive raspberry patch for putting up preserves. When theyre on vacation during berry season, we have free rein of the place. Sunday night we had raspberry shortcake for dessert, and I think I like it better than strawberry shortcake.
Tip number one: When they are crimson red and plump they separate with a gentle tug from the ivory-colored conical core, which stays on the plant. Use an ultra-light touch: They bruise and break apart easily.
The dozen blueberry plants at Horsefeathers Farm are just beginning to produce enough ripe berries to allow picking each night after work. We still have a few bags in the freezer left from the 2012 harvest, but theyre about to be joined by a new crop. We quick freeze them on cookie sheets without washing to reduce the buildup of ice particles in the freezer bags over time.
Tip number two: The top side of a blueberry ripens quicker than the bottom. Roll a cluster in your fingertips and the blue-black ripe ones will fall into your hand.
We doubled our marionberry production from two to four plants this year and enclosed the mature plants in wide mesh wire to give the vines a place to spread and climb. We have more berries than ever. The early-ripening berries are not quite ready to harvest.
Tip number three: If you have to tug at the berry, leave it be. A few more days of sun should trigger the launch of the harvest season.
This brings us to the elusive, shy Pacific blackberry. By my way of thinking, its fragrance and sweet taste far surpasses that of the larger, nonnative Himalayan berries. The native berries are much smaller, and harder to see in their typical tangle of underbrush and ground cover habitat. But, boy, are they worth the effort, especially if you can round up enough for a blackberry pie or cobbler.
Tip number four: When picking Pacific blackberries, fix your gaze on a single spot. Look closely. The ripe berries will come into view, rewarding your patience and willingness to slow down a little bit.
Berry-picking is a meditation, a way to ease a cluttered, worried mind. Be in the moment and the world of berries comes into a sharper focus.
Berries are a nutritious food source, too. Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants to help ward off cancer. Theyre high in dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese. Raspberries are a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as something called ellagic acid, another cancer-fighting compound.
Im probably preaching to the choir when I extoll the virtues of berries. Oh well, heres one final reminder for backyard berry growers.
Tip number five: Pick every day for your health and peace of mind. Besides, every day missed is a day when berries overripen and hit the ground.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org