Wild blueberries are amazing. Tiny compared to domestic blueberries, wild blueberries have a flavor that leaves all other garden raised or pick your own berries at the starting line as they cross the finish line in a race. But it’s not just in flavor where they surpass domestic blueberries. Wild blueberries are much higher in health benefits and have been called the most nutritious food on earth. But the best news is that wild blueberries flourish in our state and we are just about at the midway point of their growing season right now.
There are five species of wild blueberries that grow across the state according to Garden Guides website. These are the Early Low-Bush that grows from 4 to 24 inches tall that is found in just about every county in our state and produce berries in May or June. Dwarf Blueberries are only found in Northeastern Wisconsin and are very short. Canada Blueberries are more common across the north and have smooth leaves unlike other blueberries toothy edged leaves. Hillside Blueberries are found in a only a handful of counties also in the Northeast and High Bush Blueberries that grow on bushes that grow 6 to 12 feet tall often along ponds and streams in the wild and have been domesticated.
Last week I traveled to northern Wisconsin to pick wild blueberries and we found them in abundance. Very short plants they are easily identified. Over the years I’ve been blessed to have been told about timing and places to find wild blueberries so now as I finish up my third season of picking I can say that once you spend a little time learning how, when and where you too can learn the secrets. For me it’s a labor of love and health benefits. Plus it’s just fun for my family to do. Picking pays the dividends and that is all about the flavor. Wild blueberries are tiny but the flavor is huge!
I always wanted to pick wild blueberries because of their flavor but like so many I put it aside because of all the bugs. Wisconsin’s summer mosquito, deer fly, horse fly and black flies will suck you dry of blood and leave itchy and scratchy unless you dress you’re on safari in the Amazon Jungles. But who wants to dress like that in our summer heat and humidity. Step forward my son Josh who was working for the DNR 4 years ago.
That conversation went something like this, “Dad I know you’re always wanted to pick blueberries and I just found a place where I’ve been doing a sharp tailed grouses count and there seems to be an abundance of them. The best thing is that there are no bugs there and it’s right in central northern Wisconsin.”
That last comment was one I had trouble believing but after going there a year later I found out it was true. My wife Nancee’ and I picked blueberries for a few hours and only saw a single mosquito and not a single other kind of bug that wanted my blood. I was amazed. Now after three years of picking I have it down and I’ve learned to I.D. the right habitat and now I find those little blue treasures with ease.
Like so many DNR properties this place is burned on a regular basis to promote habitat that was present when sharp tailed grouse were abundant throughout the state. Back then wildfires were common and the fires created the perfect prairie savannah mix wildlife from that area thrived in. Today they never get a chance to burn out of control do to the abundance of homes and communities. I’ve since learned that burning is done on regular basis and I’ve learned that finding the right burned habitat that produces wild blueberries growth is the key to success.
The secret is to find the burn where new scrub oak growth has only reached half way up to the tops of the old burn. There is plenty of black scared dead scrub oak, 6 to 8 feet tall left from previous fires. Some will have new growth reaching the tops of the old burn and other will have little if any new growth showing. Recognizing the right growth is key to abundant blueberries. I don’t mind stains on my knees because is what I get when I’m done because that’s when I know we have been rewarded with the blue treasures we came for.
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.