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Summer Foraging

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

Growing your own food is a rewarding experience that any homesteader can accomplish. With a little bit of dirt, water, and some seeds, your garden can be anything from a single tomato plant to acres of land planted with sweet corn. In our world of convenience though, we often forget that Mother Nature provides many opportunities for us to forage, often times right in our own back yards. In Michigan, Morel Mushroom hunting in the Spring is a popular hobby that gets many people out into nature. During Autumn, it’s all about whitetail deer hunting to fill the freezer. Winter in Michigan brings frozen lakes and ice fishing. Ice shanty’s dot the ice, with those inside fishing for the perfect fillets to fry up and enjoy with friends. But with the heat of Summer, many overlook one of our farms favorite foraging treasures, wild berries.

Most of the berries we harvest from nature are in the Brambleberry family. These include Thimbleberry, Raspberry, Black Raspberry, and Black Berry. We’re lucky enough to have one wild Blueberry bush and a cluster of Elderberries as well. Those along with the Black Berry will ripen later. Today, we’re going to be concentrating on the Thimble, Rasp and Black Raspberries. The Thimbleberry and Raspberry are very similar. A Thimbleberry will generally be firm and have less of a chance of falling apart when picked. All three types of berries grow in what’s commonly referred to as prickers or thorns. These three berries will ripen around July with the Black Berry ripening after they finish.

Each berry season is a race. Not only do we love them, our woodland friends do too. The deer and rabbits are quick to find and eat what they can, but they’re not the only ones. A few years ago we had a black bear pass through, knock down a patch of our berries where they were eating, and then leave a surprise pile in our yard. Our dog, Smoke, also loves to tag along when we pick. Smoke is not shy either. He’ll snag berries himself if we forget to toss him one every now and then. Even if that means getting poked on the nose by a thorn, which should tell you how good these berries are.

To pick the berries, it’s just good old fashioned hard work. We’re lucky enough to be able to pick on our own land. If you’re not, be sure to ask permission from the land owner before foraging. Some people use leftover plastic grocery bags to collect, and we have in the past, but I prefer a hard plastic bucket now. Because these berries are found in prickers, it can be a sad day when your bag catches one and it tears open, dumping all of your hard work down into the thorn bush. It’s also a good idea to wear jeans as your legs will often be in those same prickers. Your hands will get stained but soap will take most of that off. Remember to use a light touch when picking or you’ll end up with a bucket full of crushed berries. Each berry should pull off easily, leaving the stem and leaves behind. If you find yourself having to tug to get the berry, it’s probably not ripe yet. A ripe berry should be full color, whether that’s a red or black.

Unless you hit a sweet spot like the one below, you should plan on doing quite a bit of walking if you want to collect enough for a pie or jam. Bramble Berries grown in a garden are quite productive and easily collected, but the wild ones can be sparse outside of a good patch here and there. At Grey Dog Maple Farm, some of our help has a hard time keeping up on long hikes so we make it as easy as we can by using the Mule to go between spots. Foraging for berries should be an enjoyable event, even if you’re just picking enough for a little snack. It’s something that can create positive life long memories, and in today’s world, that’s more important than ever.

So, what do we do with the berries once we have them picked? Besides snacking, you can make pies, jams, and a whole host of other foods with them. If you want to find out what we’re going to do with ours, you’ll have to come back and check out our next blog…. Until then, happy homesteading and good luck foraging.

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