If you’re a berry picker in Southeast, you may have noticed it’s been a particularly good season for salmon berries and other berry varieties. Warm weather has been arriving at just the right time to provide a plentiful harvest.
Lovey Brock is 71 years old and has been picking berries in Wrangell since she was a kid.
“I used to go berry picking with an elderly lady that lived next door to us and at the time, Wrangell was mostly woods,” said Brock. “So we would go out on a point. She would take us out there, and we’d pick berries all day long and come home.”
When asked about this year’s salmon berry picking, Brock said her patch has been doing well.
“Oh gosh, this year it’s beautiful. Usually they don’t ripen repeatedly. This year they have. I’ve been berry picking since May. I just keep going to the same spots every two weeks, and I pick as much as I want,” said Brock.
It’s easy to chalk up a good season to more sun and less rain, but it’s not that simple. Pat Holloway is a retired horticulturist. She said the berry you’re picking has to survive animals eating them, insect infestation and most importantly, the timing of Alaska’s good weather needs to be just right.
“There’s a long laundry list when you think about a perennial plant like the salmon berries. Anything with in the entire year of the lifecycle of that plant can cause problems,” said Holloway. “When you see these really wide swings and you get huge amount of fruit, sometimes that means the weather was pretty darn good when the insect pollinators were out.”
Each little nub on the berry, and there can be hundreds, needs to pollinated individually. It takes a lot of pollinators such as bees, butterflies and humming birds to pollinate every berry on just one bush.
“So you could use one bumblebee, but it has to spread that pollen on every one of those little pistols that will eventually form into that little bump, the fruit . It’s called a droplet,” said Holloway.
Halloway said the bush’s flowers also need to make it through spring. Any late season frost or harsh storms will kill them and fewer flowers equal fewer berries.
“The flowers are the least hardy part of the plant and so you can have a plant that survives really well, but the flowers can be killed just because the temperatures go down too far,” she said.
For Wrangell residents like Brock, this year’s picking is going a long way. She makes jams and freezes berries for her friends and family.