Van Dyk's by nature

Van Dyk News & Announcements // Aug 21, 2013

Notes from the 2013 Wild Blueberry Harvest

An intense blue sky rises endlessly above the rolling barrens, carpeted by tiny lush green leaved plants with a powder blue coating like blue icing on an elaborate cake. I’m standing in the middle of one of our largest wild blueberry fields, a cool ocean breeze tempers the August heat as an eagle sores in the distance. It doesn't get much better than this!

August is when the Van Dyk family of Caledonia really comes together. Grand Parents (OMA and OPA), Parents, Brothers, Sisters, Aunts , Uncles and cousins. You might think I’m describing a family reunion and I suppose it is one of sorts. But this is no normal family reunion. IT’S WILD BLUEBERRY HARVEST TIME and its all hands on deck. There’s hand raking and weighing to be done, mechanical harvesters to be run and trucks to be loaded and unloaded. It is a busy but exciting time of the year.

We have been waiting patiently all year. We have done all we can to help Mother Nature but in the end it is in her hands. Will we have good weather in the spring for pollination; will we avoid frost and get a good combination of sun and water? What will this year’s crop bring…it is time to find out.

This week we are harvesting our wild blueberry barrens in Sable River, NS, very close to the open Atlantic Ocean shore of Lockport, Shelburne County. Some of this property is level and rock free enough that we are able to harvest with mechanical harvesters. For the rest of the field, however, we will use the traditional harvest method of hand raking.

The hand rake is a dust pan like shape with a row of narrowly spaced steel prongs on the bottom and a handle on the top. You slip the prongs under the wild blue clusters tilt the front of the rake up and pull towards yourself. The sweet, delicious little wild blueberries break free of their clusters and roll into the back of your rake. You tilt your rake to the side and pour those healthy nutrient packed little blue gems into your pail and repeat. It is physically hard but rewarding work and a great way for junior and senior high school students and tough retirees to make some extra spending money.

Scoop pull, scoop pull, pour; scoop pull, scoop pull, pour; the experience raker quickly establishes a careful steady rhythm and what seems like an impossible task of filling a large pail with those tiny berries quickly becomes a reality. Most rakers prefer to have two pails with them in the row they are raking in. They fill the first and leave it in the row as they keep going. Once two are full they begin to walk to the weigh scale to have their buckets weighed and the amounts recorded under their name. The attentive weighers will see the rakers coming with two heavy pails and hurry to meet them to help carry their harvest to the scale.

The fields are marked off into rows, 8 to 10 feet in width and of varying length with white string. This helps keep some order in the field because these berries are wild there are no planted rows. There are as many unique styles as there are rakers. Some prefer to rake a row solo others prefer to rake in pairs. Some stand and bend, some rake on one knee some rake on two knees. But whatever your technique, sore backs are the most common complaint because the wild blueberry plant ranges from 6 to 10 inches in height.