I’d heard it was another great year for blueberries in Minnesota’s North Woods, and since I’ve never done a story on blueberry picking, I decided to find out for myself.
Late July and early August are prime time for wild blueberries, which, although smaller, are far superior in taste to the blueberries you’ll find in the grocery store.
So, Sunday morning, I ventured to Norris Camp, headquarters of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area south of Roosevelt, Minn. Manager Gretchen Mehmel and her husband, Jeff Birchem, are avid pickers along with their son, Joshua, 15, and daughter, Johanna, 9, and they agreed to show me around the woods for a few hours of picking.
The rumors I’d heard were true: There’s an impressive blueberry crop this year.
A snowy winter, wet June weather and the absence of a late-spring frost are the three main reasons for this year’s impressive berry crop, the second strong crop in as many years.
Some years, Mehmel says, you’ll be lucky to find enough blueberries to fill a cup.
That’s not a problem this year.
Blueberry pickers can be a secretive bunch — for good reason — but areas with jack pine trees or cut-over jack pines are among the best locations for finding blueberries. Beltrami Island State Forest and Red Lake WMA have an abundance of jack pines, and as a result, an abundance of blueberries.
We easily gathered more than 3 gallons of blueberries during our time in the woods. In one spot, we literally were able to pick berries in the middle of the trail we drove to get into the woods, and the ground was awash in blue in the best places.
The abundance of berries likely will mean tough bear hunting when Minnesota’s bear season gets underway in about a month.
We also found an abundance of blueberries that hadn’t yet ripened, which means the prime berry picking should continue for the next two to three weeks. Juneberries, which grow on bushes, also were abundant in some areas and are just coming into their prime. If they’re not as sweet as blueberries, they’re very close.
Just be ready for mosquitoes, and lots of ‘em. I figure I picked about a gallon of berries and gave up about that much blood.
That’s an exaggeration, of course. But not by much.