If you are an outdoor person, there seems to be a season for everything. Well, by mid-July it is time to get the old berry bucket off the shelf in the garage. With the lack of winter and spring moisture this year, the blackberry patches are much reduced. In addition, the berries are about two weeks behind their normal ripening schedule. In normal years, berries can be picked through Labor Day in the Rim Country, but it may not be the case this season.
Residents who have picked in previous years know where their favorite canyon or drainage is located. But if this is your first time, explore a drainage, which has water and the right environment for blackberry bushes. The area of Christopher Creek on the east to Pine Creek on the west and all the minor watersheds in between are likely spots to start the hunt. The seasoned veterans of berry picking are often closed mouth on their favorite spot and especially during a dry year.
Everyone in the family can enjoy berry picking to obtain that fresh blackberry pie or jam. There is something special about harvesting or picking wild berries. Wild blackberries beneath the Rim are truly organic, with no growth hormones or additives.
Picking wild berries is the perfect half-day trip for the very young to get an appreciation of the outdoors with some precious family bonding. When we take our grandchildren, the rule of thumb is two in the mouth, one in the bucket, and a purple smile from ear to ear for that precious photo. If you are picking near a stream, chances are very good other interests may soon take precedence over berries.
There are a few prerequisites. The recommendations do not change from year to year, so here they are again! Make sure you wear the proper attire for the occasion. These bushes have thorns and they leave their mark on any exposed skin. Long pants are a must and the more rugged the fabric the better, with jeans being the best leg protection. Always wear a long sleeve shirt. Even with all this protection, it is still likely arms and legs will have some catlike scratches after a trip to the berry patch.
Watch out for poison ivy or oak. I prefer to wear a single glove on my non-picking hand to move the brambles aside and get to those hard-to-reach ripe berries. If someone is not dressed properly, it can be a miserable experience. Be sensitive to the limits of friends and family if you want them to accompany you again.
My bucket is a gallon plastic coffee container with a handle made out of light wire or an old shoestring.
Save the lid, for it can be very valuable after the can is filled, to prevent an unplanned spill or fall. Sometimes the trip back to the road can be an obstacle course with deadfalls and other brush that can cause a tumble. On more than one occasion I have tripped, landed on the ground, and watched the berries go airborne everywhere. Upon reaching the vehicle, have a cooler with ice to keep the berries fresh and firm.
In many places, the brambles are so thick that the ground where one steps may not be visible, so always take a walking stick to maintain balance and move brush aside to plan your next step. Most blackberry patches I have visited have very little level ground, lots of deadfalls and obstacles.
The cool moist areas where berries grow also may be a place for cold-blooded reptiles to escape the summer heat. Arizona does have rattlesnakes, so always be careful and know where the next step will be. Seeing a rattlesnake before he sees you is a healthy precautionary measure, which can be remedied with a walking stick that moves the underbrush away before stepping.
As the berry season progresses, it is likely an occasional black bear will also wander into a patch. Noise is a good deterrent in scaring away a bruin or some kind of bear spray.
The Payson Ranger District has complete maps of the Tonto National Forest and the roads or trails that will get you close to places that may have blackberries. Always let someone know where you are going. If this is your first time at picking berries take a friend, these are remote areas. The time to pick wild blackberries is now in God’s creation, the Rim Country.