It’s been a rough year for berry picking in eastern Idaho, but it’s getting better

After a very slow start to the blueberry season, recent rains in the region’s mountains have revived some of the bushes with green, unripe berries. With seven weeks of temperatures in the 90s and no measurable rain, some of the green berries were drying on the plants. The prospect of harvesting my five gallon goal this year seemed nearly impossible.

In previous years, I could average about a gallon per four hours of picking. This year it has dropped to one to two liters during this period. It was difficult because, like most pickers, I couldn’t find any bushes with berries in our usually consistent plots. Most of the berries were small except for an occasional bush.

One day while riding out of the mountains between the Heise and Moody areas, I visited two men from Idaho Falls who had searched their favorite patch with only about two cups for their effort. I come from a serious family of berry pickers and we all struggled to find quality patches.

Our fortunes have improved a bit this week as the picking has improved after the heavy rains of the past week. Plants in some regions have been revitalized, leaves have turned from wilting to a healthy green, and berries are plumper. One day this week, my 86-year-old sister and I harvested two gallons in four hours of picking. We were delighted with these numbers.

We still have plots that have lost their leaves due to the attacks of hundreds of small white butterflies, as well as sterile bushes. There were harvests of berries as spiders set up webs to capture plant eaters. But we found several small, healthy patches that were protected from the scorching sun by a mixed forest of evergreens and aspens. The shade seemed to protect the developing berries, which were large, firm and easy to pick.

A single blueberry bush with large berries in a patch of mostly barren plants. | Bill Schiess,

We have had three consecutive summers of very hot weather and some of the blueberry plants that were producing very well four or five years ago have been replaced with blueberry and snowberry plants. Many blueberries will not produce their meager product because the extreme heat has dried out the flowers and green berries before they can ripen.

There are also large patches of seemingly healthy blueberry bushes that have no signs of frozen or green berries. They have no evidence of flower production, but in these patches there may be three of four individual bushes laden with over 100 large, ripe berries. Could part of the reason be that there aren’t enough pollen spreaders, bees for example, that have left these patches barren?

Many traditional berry pickers are frustrated and looking for a loaded patch after failing to find many berries in their “favorite berry patch”. If you find one, be “watchful” because the patch my sister and I located was also found by these pesky animals. There were several beds where bushes and grass had been flattened and they had left a calling card of excrement filled with reconstituted blueberries and ant parts.

Hopefully with the cool weather and a few more thunderstorms more patches will produce berries so the bears can spread out a bit and late berry pickers can get what they need. It would be sad if we had to go a year without blueberry cheesecake, blueberry shakes or blueberry raspberry jam for Christmas gifts.

blueberry bush
For several storms, some plots of blueberries have started to produce green berries for a late harvest. | Bill Schiess,
lingonberry bush 2
In recent years, blueberry plots have replaced blueberry plots, but due to the hot summer of 2022, their flowers and green fruits have dried up. | Bill Schiess,
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