One of the unexpected pleasures we discovered during our first summer here on Hard Hill Farm was berry bushes — growing wild on the edges of the wooded areas scattered about the property. We didn’t realize they were here when we purchased the farm, as we did not make settlement until late September, when berry season was well-past. When we found those prickly canes while weeding in the spring, we knew we had some free fruit on the way. As June rolled into July, we found that we had black raspberries and red raspberries to compliment the strawberries we had planted in May. Hooray for anthocyanins!
Local wisdom dictates that berries should be picked early in the day, to lock in moisture and decrease the chance of wilting later on. Knowing this, I head to the woods sometime between feeding the cats and the second cup of coffee, ideally before 8AM. There are mornings when this feels miserable, as it is often very humid then. This year I am wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and rubber boots to berry, having learned the hard way last summer that to not do so invites scratched, bleeding arms and paranoia about unexpected poison ivy encounters. I am also sporting some DIY bug repellent this time around, as no one can have a berry good day covered in itchy welts delivered stealthily by those nasty no-see-ums (punkies).
I’ve also found it useful to collect berries when the hens are still in the coop. I don’t know how they learned the joys of the little purple gems, but they did. They will follow along, looking for dropped berries, grabbing at the low-hanging fruit, and even pecking at my ankles as if to say “throw one down here!” That’s another good reason for the boots!
Weather notwithstanding, I travel the berry patches around the grounds about twice a week, in an effort to catch the individual berries at their ripest. Seldom is an entire set of canes ripe at once, so over the course of a fortnight I manage to get plenty of berries. We eat a lot of them fresh, mixed into yogurt at breakfast, tossed into salads at lunch time, and crushed over ice cream after dinner. In addition, I have been known to make and home preserve blackberry jam, a treat to open and spread on freshly baked bread in the dead of winter. I also freeze berries to use in smoothies later in the year. Raspberries are also great at tapas time, topping a dab of goat cheese on a crostini.
But relying on foraging to gather your daily antioxidants leaves too much to chance, so this year we replanted the strawberry patch and carved up a blueberry patch at the far end of the vegetable garden. The strawberries have been a fruiting disappointment, but seem to be well-loved by the local fauna. The blueberries, however, have been a bonus. The six bushes in the garden have all fruited, as have the three “patio” varieties in pots on the deck. The patio bushes are my favorites — convenient to water in the evening, and perfect to pick for breakfast while still in one’s pajamas!
A final note to help you have a berry good day — beware of your livestock’s engagement with shrubs. The dangers to berry bushes (and grape vines) of groundhogs, foxes, coyotes, and deer are well-documented. But here on Hard Hill, goats and alpacas have proven to be berry effective berry predators. Alis the angora goat has been sighted on multiple occasions chomping entire berry canes to ground level and, surprisingly, old Finn the alpaca has raced down the hill from the upper pasture with berry canes stuck in his fleece. It seems that raspberry leaves are a personal favorite of his.
So be bold this summer, improve your diet and health, pull on your Wellies, grab a colander, and pick some berries. Enjoy the scent of sweet grass as you walk along the wood’s edge looking for treats. And have a berry good day.