Hey Ranger: A bounty of berries

By Nate St. Amand July 16, 2012 08:09 pm

 Don’t pick blackberries until they’re completely ripe (above). For tips on making a picker’s pail, below, go to www.nps.gov/redw/forkids. Del Norte Triplicate file/Bryant Anderson
Don’t pick blackberries until they’re completely ripe (above). For tips on making a picker’s pail, below, go to www.nps.gov/redw/forkids. Del Norte Triplicate file/Bryant Anderson
Remember when you were a kid and you came home after a long night of trick-or-treating? You dragged your dirty pillowcase behind you, loaded with the fruits of your labors. You staggered up the steps with a new respect for your own front door. You made it! You dumped your bag and watched in amazement as a mountain of candy formed in front of you.


Regardless of the fruits, be they full-size candy bars or the dreaded candy corn, it was your own labors that made them so sweet.

Summer marks the start of berry season in Del Norte County — a chance for kids of all ages to resurrect that trick-or-treat spirit.

 The “Hey Ranger” column written by employees of the Redwood National and State Parks is published monthly. Today’s column is by Park Ranger Nate St. Amand.

Redwood National and State Parks invites you and your family to come berry picking and hopes that your labors will be fruitful and sweet, indeed. Within your parks, you can pick one gallon of berries per person, per day. No permits. No fees.

For most pickers, a gallon per day is a pretty good take. Make it a family affair and you could potentially pick a year’s supply of blackberries in just a couple of days. Berry season offers families a rewarding and educational adventure together and, like Halloween, free sweets on-the-go. For many kids, no further motivation is needed! But just in case, here are two online activities to get kids motivated and ready for berry season:

• Berry Pickers: a coloring sheet and berry identification cards. Download them at www.nps.gov/redw/forkids

• The Pro Picker’s Pail: how-to instructions. Download them at www.nps.gov/redw/forkids

Most Del Norters are well-schooled in the art of berry picking and need neither instruction nor directions from a ranger. Likely, you already have a love-hate relationship with Del Norte’s most common berry, the Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus). If your home has a pasture, garden, or structure that has been taken over by a web of reddish-colored stems with large sharp thorns, say hello to Rubus armeniacus!

Saying goodbye to the Himalayan blackberry, however, is something many of us only dream about. Capable of growing up to 20 feet in a single growing season, this plant didn’t just get handed the title of “noxious weed” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it earned it.

The Himalayan blackberry is the largest invasive, non-native variety of blackberry in the Pacific Northwest. It out-competes native understory vegetation and prevents the establishment of native trees that require sun for germination. Once established, it forms impenetrable thickets along the banks of rivers and creeks, preventing both wildlife and people from reaching the water.

However, there is a sweet side to this plant. From now until September, the Himalayan blackberry produces large sweet fruits that can be found throughout Del Norte County in great quantities.

Unlike many other fruits, unripe blackberries do not ripen after being picked. So when you pick, pick winners and only what you intend to use. Once you return home with your harvest, there are thousands of possibilities.

For most of us, the choices are simple: wash, eat, cook or freeze. For eating and cooking you are on your own. I do, however, have some washing and freezing tips to share:

Some pickers, including me, gently soak their berries in water for about two to five minutes. Soaking causes the little bugs and debris on your fruit to float to the top, where they can be easily removed. However, submerged berries will absorb water and dilute the sweetness.

On the other hand, simply rinsing

your berries limits the amount of water absorbed but is less effective

in removing insects and debris from your berries. So you may end up with a sweeter berry, but with a bug or two (or 10!) in it.

After washing, allow the berries to thoroughly

dry. Spread them out on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer for a few hours. Then bag the frozen berries and return them to the freezer — this prevents them from forming a solid frozen block and allows you to later use your berries as needed.

Redwood National and State Parks reminds to you be safe while berry picking. Never pick alone. Keep small children close at all times. Make noise, especially while entering new spaces. Noise lets other animals know where you are and limits surprise encounters. Black bears, elk, and mountain lions are common in places where blackberries grow. Be alert to your surroundings and keep 500 feet away from wildlife.

Pick from trails, not roads or via “bushwhacking.” Why? Picking along roads is dangerous, not only due to moving vehicles, but also because roadside bushes may have been sprayed by herbicides (outside park boundaries), and avoid bushwhacking because it damages native plants and other park resources.

Bring water and sunscreen.  Blackberries are full of thorns; remember to protect your eyes and body when picking. Wear old clothes and expect blackberry stains.

If you want to chat about berry picking, types of berries in Del Norte County, and/or some of the best picking locations in Redwood National and State Parks, give me a call at 707-465-7394 or send me an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it