Gathering Cycle of the Year: August

By Kaare Melby

When I close my eyes, I see nothing but blueberries. People who live in northern climates have been picking blueberries for countless generations. In Scandinavia, wild blueberries cover the forest floor, and here too in North America we can find vast fields of wild blueberries. Wild blueberries respond well to fire, and the Anishinaabe people who lived in this area would often burn areas to maintain good berry patches. Blueberries are part of the experience of living in this place. That long history is part of why my brain goes into blueberry mode, I share the experience of blueberry picking with thousands of generations of my ancestors. My mother taught me to pick blueberries, and in turn I am teaching my daughters to pick blueberries. This experience teaches the lessons of the gathering cycle of the year. Blueberries are only ripe for a short period of time, but we want to be able to eat them year-round, especially in the winter. So we must go into “blueberry mode” to harvest and freeze enough to last a whole year. While picking blueberries recently I asked my 3-year-old daughter if she was going to eat some blueberries, her response was priceless: “No daddy! They’re for the winter!” 

Juneberries are a little hit or miss this year. The drought we had earlier in the year really hurt some juneberry bushes and the berries just dried up before they were ripe. But in other places where there was a little more rain, the juneberry bushes are just filled with berries! You can feeze juneberries for winter use, but they really are best fresh. My daughters have learned that you pick blueberries for winter, then when you take a break from blueberry picking you can go eat your fill of juneberries. It’s not a bad system, especially because there tends to be juneberry bushes near (or in) blueberry patches.

Thimbleberries and raspberries are also ripe. Neither provides the bounty that Blueberries and Juneberries can provide, but they are a delicious treat none the less. Thimbleberries are my all-time favorite berry.

Chokecherries are just starting to ripen now. In some areas they are already ripe and ready to harvest, but they are still a bit green in my valley. I like to wait until they are very dark – nearly black – before I harvest them. They make wonderful jelly, and excellent wine.

The chanterelles are here! It’s a dry year, so the wild mushrooms are struggling. But there is still a bounty to be found. If you want to go out mushroom harvesting, your best bet is to go out after a good rainstorm. But if you know of a place where these mushrooms grow, it’s not a bad idea to periodically check to see if they are coming up and ready. In addition to chanterelles, I’ve also seen lobster mushrooms and boletes out there. If you have never harvested wild mushrooms before, it’s best to go with someone who has experience. Wild mushrooms can be a tasty and bountiful wild food, but picking and eating the wrong ones can have unpleasant, and even deadly results. If you want to learn more about wild mushrooms, I really suggest the book “All That the Rain Promises, and More…” By David Arora. If you really want to dive into learning about wild mushrooms, you can also take a look at “Mushrooms Demystified” which is the sister book to “All That the Rain Promises, and More…”, also written by David Arora. These books have lots of pictures and detailed descriptions. They also reference each other, so they are really useful to have as a pair.

Hazelnuts are ripening, and the game of letting them get as ripe as possible before they fall and are eaten by squirrels has begun. Technically they can be harvested now, but the longer you wait, the better they are. They are covered with tiny little stickers that poke your skin. If this bothers you, you may want to wear gloves when harvesting these nuts. Hazle nuts are one of the few tree nuts that grow in our area, and some years they can really produce a sizeable bounty. This year seems to be one of those years. Keep your eye out for them, and get ready to harvest.