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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

From the Ravages of Fire Come Berries

The Off-Grid and Free series recounts Ron and Johanna Melchiore’s experience with ultra-remote living in the Canadian wilderness. Click here for all posts in this series.

'Tis the season for harvesting. Specifically, for me at least, the abundant blueberries and cranberries that are in quantity and free for the taking. When we first moved to the wilderness 16 years ago, both berries could be found in open areas but any open areas were few and far between.

In 1999, when we were first camping out and exploring this area we cut our food a little too close and what blueberries we could find helped sustain us. Johanna remembers flying out of here after our initial stay with nothing but salt and pepper left for food.  

Due to the fires in the area and the openings we’ve created around the house, blueberries and cranberries are literally everywhere. They are one of the first plant species to repopulate the ground after a burn. And for some reason, although the ground did not burn around the house, our “lawn” on two sides of our home, is a carpet of cranberries.

We each have our summer tasks and responsibilities and mine is to go out and harvest these berries. With berry rake in hand and occasional shouts of “hey bear”, I’ll head out into the burn to gather a half a bucket of blueberries in short order. Best to give any bear in the area a heads up that I’m coming in, lest I scare it and end up bear 'rasslin'.

Filled Blueberry Rake

An excerpt from my book Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness explains my procedure: 

A blueberry rake is a handy device that makes it much easier and faster to pick berries in quantity, as opposed to picking berries one at a time by hand. The rake has long tines that can get right in and snag clusters of fruit at once. The berries collect in a part of the rake that resembles a box. When the rake box is full, I empty the berries into my bucket and repeat the process. In good blueberry ground, I can pick five gallons in an hour.

Then we go through a sorting process to get rid of leaves and debris. First, we use a fan to winnow out lighter material. With the fan set on an outside table, we pour the berries in front of the fan, from one bucket to another. As the berries free-fall between buckets, the lighter leaves and debris are blown to the side by the action of the fan. 

Next, we pour all the fruit through a wire mesh to sort out most of the immature green berries. The larger mature fruit stays on top of the screen, while the green berries fall through and are discarded. Finally we hand-pick through the remainder, selecting the good berries to eat fresh or freeze. The whole sorting process will take an afternoon of work. Cleaning five gallons of blueberries is a tedious activity, but one that gives us jars of jam and juice, many bags of frozen berries for pancakes and muffins, and bowls of fresh fruit.

   Winnowing Blueberries

The procedure is the same for the cranberries as it is for the blueberries. With the proper tools and techniques, and a few afternoons of labor, we get our year’s worth of frozen fruits and canned juices.

Come winter, when the cold winds blow, temperatures drop and the snow deepens, it is innately satisfying to enjoy a breakfast of blueberry waffles or muffins. Or a dinner served with cranberry sauce. The topper is a nutrient rich glass of cold blueberry or cranberry juice to wash the meal down.

It’s at that time, we are able to reflect back on the previous summer’s harvesting efforts and realize that with a little toil, we have taken a big step towards being self-reliant for our food needs.

Ron Melchiore and his wife Johanna currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook
and Pinterest. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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