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Jackie Clay

Q and A: huckleberries and growing onions

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013


My wife and I bought 28 acres several years ago and have been steadily developing it ever since (small cabin, barn, rabbits, chickens, etc). We have recently discovered a large amount of huckleberry plants, and honestly have no info on these berries. Do you have any advice, or can you recommend a book or resource so we can harvest and use these berries? Please note, we have at least 1/4 of this land covered in raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and grapes, none of which we planted. We have been harvesting the other berries for jam,etc, the huckleberries are a recent find.

Robert Hutchinson
Cincinnati, Ohio

Lucky you! We value our wild fruit nearly as much as that which we have planted in our berry patch and orchard. In fact, we are also making “wild” plantings of domestic and wild fruits such as wild plums and Hansen bush cherries to further extend our wild fruit “orchard.” We, too, have wild raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries which we pick (provided that a late freeze doesn’t cause the blooms or early fruits to drop off!).

Wild huckleberries grow in colonies like blueberries but are taller, which makes picking much easier on the back. The blue-black berries resemble blueberries very much. You can either harvest huckleberries, when ripe (blue-black) by hand picking or by using a hand-held Swedish-style comb harvester. Huckleberries make excellent jam, pies, and other baked goods. You can also can the berries for future use or else dehydrate them. Use information under “blueberries” — the process is exactly the same.

Taste a berry or two before picking whole-hog. When they’re not ripe, they are kind of sour or flavorless. And, you want to make sure the berries are indeed huckleberries. There really aren’t many berries that look like them, other than blueberries, so they are pretty safe to harvest. (Look for the blossom scar on the bottom which resembles a small crown.) Now you’ve found your patch, you can keep watch over it in the years to come, waiting for the berries to ripen. How exciting! — Jackie

Growing onions

The recent rains have exposed the top half of my onions–both the early ones which are quite well-established and the new sets I planted last week. Should I add more soil to cover them?

Sandra Agostini
Nixa, Missouri

Usually, onions do okay with the tops exposed. However it may be a good idea to cover them a little until they get more established to keep winds from tipping them over as they won’t have a good root system yet. Only an inch is plenty; onions don’t like to be deeply buried. — Jackie

9 Responses to “Q and A: huckleberries and growing onions”

  1. Ginger Borgeson Says:

    Hi Jackie,
    Speaking of onions… You mentioned Potato onions a while back and we purchased some sets for them,. Now I forgot to ask if I am suppose to cover/mound the sets as they get taller like we would do with potatoes, or do we raise them the same as other onion sets?
    Thanks for all your help & hope you are feeling better.

  2. Nancy Says:

    I can remember as a child in Michigan, my dad taking all us children and as many buckets as we could get into the car with 8 youngin’s and going to central Mich and picking huckleberries. We would eat until we were sick, and pick and eat some more. My mom canned and made syrup. It was great being young back then. I thought life was perfect. And it was.

  3. zelda Says:

    Hi Ginger, I grow potato onions too and have for many years. Don’t know where you live or what Jackie will recommend, but I don’t do anything to mine. You’ll see multiple sets of green onion tops growing out of each onion set, and each of those will make an onion. As the onions get larger, mine end up mostly on top of the ground as a cluster of onions, some small and some large. I don’t cover them with mulch or dirt, and being on top of the ground doesn’t seem to harm them. If they got frozen before you pulled them up that would surely cause them to rot in storage, so what you do depends on where you live. I cure them in the shade, and they last all winter and through spring. I just finished planting the last of my small leftover onions from last fall. Mine are hard like a Copra, don’t mold or rot or get soft, and have a great flavor.

  4. Ginger Borgeson Says:

    Thanks so much, Zelda.
    Whenever we try something new, we like to get All the info we can.

  5. zelda Says:

    Ginger, if you will go to the web page of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and the page for potato onions and the Yellow Potato Onion, there are photos of potato onions that look exactly like mine do on the top of the ground, and a growing guide. Once you see what they are going to look like you’ll know what to expect from them. I forgot to mention that if you get sets that are supposed to be red or white instead of yellow, the most recent research I know of concluded that there’s only one potato onion, and it is yellow. The others are sports that will revert and not come true if you plant them. There’s a man whose name I’ve forgotten who has been researching this issue for many years because of old information about white and red, doing growouts and genetic tests trying to verify that there are different colors, and he concluded that there are not. A red potato onion would be a wonderful addition to the garden. There’s a discussion about red potato onions on the Seed Savers Exchange forum.

  6. Ellen Says:

    Regarding huckleberry identification: here in BC, we have the dark blue/black huckleberries higher in elevation, and sometimes in marshy areas – they’re on shorter bushes. Also, at the edge of forests, and in some clearings, our huckleberries are red, and grow on taller plants – sometimes out of rotting cedar trees that have fallen over or been chopped down. I’ve transplanted an evergreen huckleberry (bought at a nursery) under a Douglas Fir in my front yard, and I use it to judge when the local berries are ready so I can fill my pantry with my favourite jam. Both colours of berry show the crown that Jackie mentioned.

  7. Tauna Says:

    Lucky the man who has huckleberries on his property!
    I live for huckleberry season and pick like a madwoman for about 5 weeks in late summer.

  8. Lisa Says:

    Ellen, We also have the red huckleberries that grow here. Great idea transplanting a huckleberry bush to your property to judge picking time. I always head out to the hills to pick on a guess and am sometimes wrong. It makes for a nice drive in the country anyway.

  9. jackie clay-atkinson Says:


    You just plant your potato onions like “regular” onions. They aren’t fussy. The great thing is that you’ll be getting a bunch of medium sized onions from the bottom, onion greens from the leaves and top sets to re=plant to make more. Then you can also re-plant a few of the smaller bottom onions from the “nest” to increase your prennial planting. They’re a great addition to the garden!

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