Categories
Foraging Nuts

Where to Find Wild Hazelnuts

There’s something fun about eating wild hazelnuts. Sure, the edible part of the nut is a little small, but they’re a blast to snack on, while reminiscing on time spent foraging in nature.

Where can you find wild hazelnuts? Wild hazelnuts, consisting of beaked hazelnuts and American hazelnuts, are widespread throughout the United States. Beaked hazelnuts are mostly across the Northern US and parts of California, while American hazelnuts are fairly widespread throughout the Eastern US. Both thrive in disturbed areas.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know to start identifying areas around you that could feature wild hazelnuts.

The Most Common Types of Wild Hazelnuts

There are two different types of wild hazelnuts that we’ll cover in this post: beaked hazelnuts and American hazelnuts. I won’t get directly into identification of each species, as I think that’s best left up to guidebooks and experienced mentors.

American Hazelnut

American hazelnuts are fairly widespread throughout the Eastern United States. Here’s what you can expect the immature nuts to look like:

The bushes of an American hazelnut are not as tall as the beaked hazelnut, and they take on a more “bushy” appearance.

Beaked Hazelnut

Beaked hazelnuts are also widespread throughout North America, occupying the northern part of the United States and parts of the west coast. Here’s what an immature nut for a beaked hazelnut looks like:

Beaked hazelnuts are noticeably taller than American hazelnuts, and they tend to cluster in tight groups where the main stems are visible for about the bottom two thirds of the shrub.

Common Habitats for Wild Hazelnuts

Both types of wild hazelnuts prefer disturbed areas, meaning that they are frequently found in areas like roadsides, forest edges, openings, and other similar locations.

While they can exist in shadier locations, you’ll want to seek out areas with decent access to sunlight, as that helps a lot with nut production. Trails running through mature forests can have wild hazelnuts, but you’d want to look on the side with the better light access.

Using USDA Reports to Narrow Our Options

This is where this post gets a little technical. Rather than leaving you with a description of potential habitats and then offering a hearty “Good luck!”, we’re going to try to leverage a USDA application to find land with soil that might be suitable for wild hazelnuts.

It’s worth noting that this entire process is based upon a report that doesn’t appear to be universally available across the continental United States. Unfortunately, not everyone will have access to this information.

For those that do have access to data from this report, understand that this can be an incredibly useful tool for a forager, in a million different ways. Sure, maybe this post will be specifically focused on finding areas with a higher likelihood of having wild hazelnuts present, but that’s not where this reports utility has to end. From blackberries to blueberries to cranberries and more, a wide variety of edible plants show up in these reports.

Brief Introduction to This Process

This process is based around a tool called the Web Soil Survey that is provided by the United States Department of Agriculture. The goal of this browser application is two-fold:

  1. Allow users to access a soil map of the United States that indicates which soil types are present where.
  2. Facilitate the easy access of information about the soil types found in a certain area. This includes both scientific properties and information on the suitability of that soil type for different real-world scenarios.

This all may be a little confusing, and that’s OK. In this post we’re going to exclusively focus on the steps you need to take to generate the report we need. If you happen to be interested in learning more about this application and would like to explore it in greater depth, feel free to check out this post that covers everything you could need to get started.

Finding Soil Types That are More Likely to Have Wild Hazelnuts

Alright, let’s get to it: here’s the link to open up a new session of Web Soil Survey. This should be approximately what your screen looks like once you’re loaded:

screenshot of the main page when you load the web soil survey web app

The first thing you’ll want to do is zoom into the local area that you’re interested in learning about. By default the ‘zoom in’ tool is selected when you open the application, so you have to zoom to your area with one of two methods:

  • Pressing single-clicks until the map is zoomed in on your area
  • Clicking and dragging to form a box over the area you want to zoom to, and then the screen should zoom to the highlighted area

You’re probably noticing at this point that the navigation is a bit…dated. Adjusting the zoom and moving the map is a much more manual process than we might be accustomed to in this modern age, but its controlled by a relatively simple toolbar. The first three buttons on the toolbar what you’ll need to navigate, and they are the following:

  • Zoom in
  • Zoom out
  • Pan the screen (moving the map manually)

Again, this isn’t a great interface, but I think you’ll get the hang of it relatively quickly.

One quick note on the area that you’ll zoom into: you’ll want to cover a relatively large area, but there are limits. The tool only allows a selection of 100,000 acres or less, but you’ll be able to keep to that limit pretty easily. For context, a 10-mile square, which is therefore 100 square miles, would only be 64,000 acres.

Once you’ve zoomed in on a location that you’re interested in learning about, you’re next going to have to select an ‘Area of Interest’ with the menu. To select this we’ll need to use the button in the toolbar with the red box, which is located here:

screenshot with an arrow pointing to the area of interest button in the toolbar of the web soil survey web app

After turning this feature on, we’ll then drag a box over the area that we want soil information on, like so:

screenshot of an area of interest being selected in the web soil survey web app

Once you release the mouse, you should be presented with a box that has diagonal lines running through it in the area you selected. There are two possible situations that might give you an error.

First, you may have selected an area that exceeded the size limit of 100,000 acres. If that is the case, all you’ll have to do is draw a new AOI.

Another possibility is that you selected an area that draws from more than one soil survey. You’re still allowed to proceed if this is the case, but it will make the reporting more laborious to work through. If this is the case, I’d recommend that you redraw your AOI if you’re using this application for the first time.

If your screen looks something like this then you’re ready to move onto the next step:

screenshot of a satellite image with the area of interest rectangle visible in the web soil survey web app

What we want to do next is to scroll up to the top of the page, and then look for the third tab which is called the ‘Soil Data Explorer’ and looks like like this:

screenshot with a red arrow pointing to the soil data explorer tab in the web soil survey web app

Clicking this tab will generate a soil map on the screen, and then update the menu on the left with the appropriate features. Once you click through you should notice a second set of tabs; this time we want to click on the ‘Soil Reports’ tab, which is located here:

screenshot with a red arrow pointing to the soil reports tab in the secondary menu of the web soil survey web app

This will bring us to the page that has the report that we’re looking to run. We’ll want to look at the menu on the left, which should look something like this:

menu showing the soil reports available in the web soil survey web app

We’re interested in the ‘Vegetative Productivity’ group of reports, and you can click anywhere on that section to expand the reports. Once expanded, we’re looking for the ‘Rangeland and Forest Vegetation Classification, Productivity, and Plant Composition’ report, which is listed here:

screenshot of the reports available in the vegetative productivity section of the web soil survey web app

Click anywhere on that report title to expand the screen, and then you’ll want to click the ‘View Soil Report’ button, which is found here:

submenu options with a red arrow pointing to the view soil report button in the web soil survey web app

Once you run the report, you may notice that there is a report that shows up underneath the map. Assuming you have data in the report, that area should look something like this:

screenshot of the results of the rangeland and forest vegetation classification report from web soil survey web app

I’d like to draw your attention to the column name that I’ve highlighted in the screenshot above. This is the column that we’ll be most interested in, as it contains the list of plants associated with that specific soil type.

Before we start interpreting the results, I’d like you to quickly do a search on your screen for the ‘hazelnut’ term. This will go through the report results and check whether hazelnuts are mentioned at any point.

It’s possible that you have report results but hazelnuts are mentioned nowhere. This is totally fine, and it turns out that the area I randomly selected for demonstration purposes doesn’t mention hazelnuts at all. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no hazelnuts in this area, it’s just that they’re less likely to be found in these types of soils.

After a few tries I eventually found an AOI that included hazelnuts in the results, as this is what I found:

sample report results for the Mudlake soil series in web soil survey web app

One quick navigational note before we start discussing how to use these results. If your selected Area of Interest didn’t include hazelnuts and you’re looking to try a different area, you’ll first have to go back to select another AOI by clicking the ‘Area of Interest (AOI)’ tab at the top of the screen. Then you’ll select a new AOI and then navigate back to the ‘Soil Data Explorer’ tab to run the report again. One final note: you’ll need to click the ‘View Soil Report’ button to generate a report for the new AOI, as the results shown are still for the old AOI.

Making Sense of the Report Results

Alright, so we found a report that mentions some kind of wild hazelnut in it. What exactly does that mean for us? Here’s where it might help to briefly explain the structure of the information in this report.

Take, for instance, the report results that I highlighted above. There are two parts of this report that are most important to understand:

screenshot of report results with the Mudlake soil series name highlighted and a red arrow pointing to the MuB soil map unit in web soil survey web app

The first thing to understand is that the different types of soil on the map are labeled with the map unit symbol, which in this case is the value of ‘MuB’ that the arrow is pointing at. This means that the soil type is MuB. Long story short, soil types are comprised of different soil series, and ‘Mudlake’ is an example of a soil series.

In a (hazel)nut shell, here’s what the report is telling us: beaked hazelnuts are commonly associated with the ‘Mudlake’ soil series, which is a major component of the ‘MuB’ soil type. In English: if we want to find wild hazelnuts, we should be interested any parts of the map that are labeled as the ‘MuB’ soil type.

Hopefully this is all making sense, but I understand if it’s a lot to take in. Taking your time to work slowly through this and experiment with the tool will make it feel much more natural in no time.

Action Steps: How to Actually Use This Approach in the Field

I’m sure this seems cool and all, but the goal here isn’t to have you spend a bunch of time on your computer while you think about nature. We want you to actually get out into nature and on the hunt for delicious hazelnuts. We’re just looking to use technology to make that journey a little easier.

Find a Large Enough Area on Your Soil Map That Features the Desired Soil Series

Going back to the example I was discussing earlier, we now have to take the report results and find the specific soil types that indicate there’s a likely presence of hazelnuts.

In the Area of Interest I was looking at, there are two different soil types that mentioned ‘beaked hazelnuts’ in the results: MuB and PhB. My job is now to scroll back up to the map and search for any instances of these two soil types. Just for reference, here’s what my soil map looks like for my AOI:

screenshot of the soil map in northern wisconsin showing the various soil map units in web soil survey web app

It’s likely difficult to see unless you open the above image in a new tab, but I’m able to pretty quickly spot several different instances of the ‘MuB’ soil type.

After checking a few different areas, the largest section of the ‘MuB’ soil type that I could find is the following:

close up view of a wisconsin soil map with a red box around the MuB soil map unit

There are a few main reasons why I was most interested in this spot. First, it was likely the largest piece I could find that was MuB. Second, I see that this piece happens to have a road running through it. If you remember what we discussed earlier, hazelnuts are usually more prevalent along disturbed areas like roadsides.

Confirm If You Have Public Access to The Land

This is a really important point: just because we find a possible spot on the map, does not mean that we have access to it or the right to forage there (even if it is public land).

You likely already know this, but as foragers it’s our responsibility to ensure that we are always following the rules of the organizations that managed of the land. So our job here is to find a spot that we’re going to check out, and then checking if we have access.

What you’ll need to do is to click the button in the toolbar that is a blue bubble with an ‘i’ in it:

screenshot with a red arrow pointing to the information button in the toolbar of the web soil survey web app

This is the Information tool, and we can use it to pull the GPS coordinates of a specific location on the map. Once you’ve toggled on the tool, you can click anywhere on the map to produce an information window. This window doesn’t show up in the map, but instead shows up as a new report directly below the map, like the following:

screenshot of the identify window in the web soil survey web app

Now that we have the coordinates, we can use them to determine who owns this land. I can confirm that this area is public land, as this bit of land is part of the Nicolet National Forest.

Look for all Trails and Roads Running Through Your Targeted Area

As hazelnuts generally prefer areas that are disturbed, our best bet is to take our target area and look for any trails or roads that cut through it.

It’s worth noting that you’re likely best off picking a location where you can park your car, with the assumption that you’ll park there and go on foot the rest of the way.

Here comes the fun part! Now that we’ve done the technical part, our job is to get out in the woods and see if we can find some hazelnuts.

Things to Keep in Mind While Looking for Wild Hazelnuts

Now that we’ve covered the ‘how’ and ‘where’ of locating wild hazelnuts, let’s take a minute to go over a few key points that any forager should

Learn to Identify the ‘Habit’ of the Bush

This is generally true when foraging for any type of plant, but one of the best things you can do is familiarize yourself with the ‘habit’ of the plant. Generally speaking, this refers to the structure that the plant takes on based on the shape and formation of the branches and leaves.

For example, the beaked hazelnut often has a bush structure that has a sort of open understory on the bottom two-thirds of the plant while the majority of the leaves are in the top third. This means that you can look for an understory that has a lot of main stems that are clustered together and bowing slightly outwards.

On the other hand, the American hazelnut is a shorter bush and is densely leafed throughout the majority of the plant. This may be a little hard to explain in words, but once you get used to seeing each plant you’ll have this ‘habit’ imparted on your brain as a sort of visual structure to be subconsciously scanning the woods for.

As always, your best bet is to heavily rely on your guide books (yes, you’ll use ideally use more than one source) to first positively identify the plant. Once you’ve identified them, your job is to work on building up that instinctual visual memory of how that plant looks.

Easiest to Find the Immature Nuts First

Early to mid-summer will likely be the best time for most people to try to identify wild hazelnuts for the first time. This is because it will force you to look for bushes that have already started producing nuts.

This approach also reduces how much potential time you might have to wait in between positive identification and harvesting. With that being said, any time is better than never, so don’t feel like you need to wait another year just because the timing wasn’t perfect.

Timing is Crucial: Squirrels Won’t Wait for You

It’s hard to stress this enough: when the wild hazelnuts ripen, it will likely be only a matter of days before squirrels and other animals utterly decimate the ripe hazelnuts.

Even being a few days late can be the difference between an awesome harvest and getting skunked, so harvesting wild hazelnuts is often difficult to time unless you live nearby your source.

Just for the record: do try to leave some hazelnuts for the squirrels. They have plenty to eat in the wild, but it’s kind to leave them some, especially given how much they seem to appreciate them.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you enjoyed this piece and got a few valuable tips that you can apply to your search for the wild hazelnut. I’ve always enjoyed searching around the woods for all sorts of different kinds of wild edibles, and wild hazelnuts are no exception.

If you enjoyed this piece and you’d like to read something similar, be sure to check out the below articles:

Categories
Foraging Technology

Our Favorite Apps for Foraging

I’ll admit that it strikes me as a bit odd to be writing about which smartphone apps we use for foraging. After all, we’re talking about foraging which is essentially the world’s oldest skillset. With that said, the modern day forager can get a lot of wonderful things out of a wide variety of apps.

From navigating the backwoods to quickly saving your secret spots, we’re going to cover all the ways foragers can use apps to make the most out of their time in the field.

Before we get started, here are a few quick things to keep in mind:

Never Trust an App for Plant Identification. Apps that identify plants seem to be all the rage these days, but that doesn’t make it a good idea to use them as the foundation of your identification process. Take the time to learn how to positively identify edible plants the hard way, as it is totally worth the extra effort. Leaving your safety up to machine-learning AI is nothing but a recipe for disaster. Maybe there’s a future where apps can be trusted to greatly assist in plant identification, but we’re not there yet.

Apps are Best Used as Tools, not as Sources of Truth. Whether you’re navigating public lands or using a schedule to time the different harvests, know that you’re fully responsible for yourself while foraging. Even if the app told you that you were on public land, it’s your job to avoid trespassing on others’ land. So remember to treat your apps as merely tools to assist with your foraging.

Think Outside the Box About How Apps Can Help You Forage. There are many more functions than identifying plants that our suite of modern apps can help us with. From timing the seasons perfectly to remembering the location of your secret spot for beaked hazelnuts, the modern forager has a lot on their plate. Use apps to make the little stuff more manageable.

Different Kinds of Apps You Can Use for Foraging

Before we get to the actual apps later on in the post, I thought it would be helpful first to cover what types of functions were looking to cover with our choice of apps. The way that I see it, this breaks down into several different categories.

Navigational and Public Access Mapping Applications

First things first, most foragers will be spending a lot of time on public lands, and they’ll likely spend some time navigating the woods. There are really two parts of that statement that need to be addressed. First, any foragers should be very interested in understanding what public lands are available to them in their local area.

There’s no other way to put it: the more public land you can access, the more potential spots you have at your disposal. The second part of this is regarding navigation. If you’re going to have to travel to spots that are a good distance from your car, you’re going to want to do everything you can to ensure your safe return.

Even if you’re only navigating on trails, it’s just a good idea to have an app that you can use to navigate if you needed it in an emergency. Whether or not you need a navigational app can depend on your setting as navigating a field is very different from navigating a mature forest.

Apps for Organizing Your Spots

You might not think of this right away, but there’s a lot of utility and looking for apps that have the ability to save you time on the little things. What am I talking about here? Think about all the things that you need to successfully execute to have that perfect foraging season. From remembering the locations of all your secret spots to getting in the field, scouting out those spots at the perfect time of year, there are a lot of things that apps can help you with. Just because you don’t end up using your phone to identify the plants you’re gathering doesn’t mean that the phone’s utility ends there. From saving the GPS location and a plant’s identity with a quick snap of a photo to automating reminders about the upcoming seasons, apps can really help us stay on top of our game with little effort.

Local Habitat and Soil Information

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think it’s a good idea to use apps to identify the plants you’ll be foraging. Plant identification is complicated and best not left up to the chance that your photo is clear enough. With that said, there are a few apps that we can use in the field to help us at least get in the ballpark.

Here’s the bottom line: scientists have spent decades gathering data about a variety of aspects about the natural world. From native plant associations to soil maps to habitat ranges of all sorts of plants, we can our phone to quickly pull up the information relevant to our exact area.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we know exactly what to expect when we step onto a new piece of land, but it can help us get a better understanding of the big picture. Any forager that is looking to make the most out of their time in nature should always be looking to learn more about how everything relates to each other. With enough practice and the right information at the right time, a forager can learn to anticipate certain plants in new land.

Best Foraging Apps for Land Access and Navigation

Safely navigating the woods is one of the less-appreciated challenges of foraging. Sure, you can stick to foraging only along established trails, but we both know that eventually you’ll be drawn off-trail in search of some delicious wild edible.

Keeping that in mind, let’s allow technology to help us accomplish two main objectives when we’re out in the field. First, let’s have it help us return safely home. Ideally we won’t need to use our phone in order to navigate home, but it can easily serve as a tremendously valuable backup. Second, let’s use technology to ensure that we’re following the laws and only foraging on public lands or lands we have permission to.

OnX Maps: a Boon to the Forager

Before we dive into why I think OnX Maps can be incredible valuable to the forager, I do have to confess that this is a hunting app. It’s branded as a hunting app and the functionality is geared around what hunters need to navigate public lands. I’m a hunter that uses OnX and I understand that this might make some people comfortable, but I would like you to hear me out.

Almost every single feature on OnX Maps is equally valuable to the forager as it is to the hunter. Here’s the biggest reason why every forager that utilizes public land should consider OnX Maps: they have, by far, the cleanest way to quickly assess what public lands around you might be open to foraging. Here are some of the different types of land you can find in a single layer in OnX:

  • National Forests
  • Bureau of Land Management land (BLM)
  • State Parks
  • Land owned by State DNRs (or similar agency)
  • County and City-owned Land

Not only that, but OnX has a layer with the property boundaries of private lands available for quick access. So if you’ve got a buddy with some land and they’re cool with you foraging on it, you can easily stay within the property lines without constantly being a hassle.

From a navigation perspective, OnX covers the basics really well and it offers a clean interface. You can easily record a track, save waypoints, and it even allows you to manage your maps easily from a desktop computer.

There are many, many things that I could say about why OnX Maps is an almost necessary app for any forager that spends a serious amount of time on public lands. Here are some of the top things to keep in mind:

  • You can easily see all of the public lands from all sorts of sources
  • Information such as logging records from the U.S. Forest Service is cleanly integrated into the app
  • Get the following information about a private parcel of land: acreage, owner name, shape, etc.
  • Easily measure the distance of a trail or the size of a shape you draw
  • Quickly pull up local weather information
  • Check integrated trail maps that allow for both mileages and an approximate slope
  • Check the radar or look for active wildfires in your region

The caveat to all of this is obviously that this is a paid application with a yearly subscription. As of current writing in October 2020, the cost is pretty reasonable at $29.99 a year for one state’s data. You’re allowed access to all 50 states with a yearly fee of $99.99, but I don’t think many foragers would cover that much ground to cover the price.

With all that said, here’s an example of what kind of information you can pull up in OnX:

screenshot of the onx maps hunt app showing public land areas in northern wisconsin

The parcels that you see outlined are all publicly owned land that is almost certainly open for recreation. Each of the different color overlays represents a different type of owner (state DNR, National Forest, local city, etc.) and it’s easy to pull up the information associated with each parcel just by tapping on the screen. For example, by clicking on this parcel I can see the following information:

screenshot of the onx hunt app showing ownership information for public lands in northern wisconsin

As you can probably see, this is incredibly useful information to have when scouting for new locations to forage. The reality is that residents of the United States have hundreds of millions of acres of forestland that is open for foraging. A tool like OnX Maps does a fantastic job lowering the barrier to entry, as it effortlessly solves the main question of “where” exactly can we forage.

So while I understand that you might not have anticipated adopting a hunting app, I think it is well worth your serious consideration. It can only improve your time spent foraging, and it has the chance to make a great impact.

BackCountry Navigator TOPO GPS PRO

I like this app for a few simple reasons. First, a disclaimer: I’ve been using this app for almost a decade and I’m also a creature of habit. So I don’t necessarily know if this truly is the best pure navigational app out there, but I do like it.

The main reason I like this app so much is that it offers a rich library of map layers complemented by a powerful navigational interface. This interface isn’t as user-friendly as OnX Maps, but it offers a lot of functionality.

There are several different layers of satellite imagery available, so you can switch them up to find one that suits your needs best. The app also has a variety of topographic maps available, including custom topo maps from the U.S. Forest Service.

Also, there are a ton of options that allow you to customize your main screen, which can be really useful for those looking to make their screen just right. I’ve also found that the tracks are more accurately represented on the screen when compared to OnX.

Here’s where this app is available:

Avenza Maps: Your Best Source for Official Map Layers

While I don’t personally use Avenza Maps much for navigation, it does offer the best collection of freely available maps for use when navigating the wild.

Featuring maps from local counties, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Parks system, ATV/UTV trails, and so much more, every forager should check out what they have to offer in their local area.

Think of it this way: Avenza Maps is the best option for you to bridge the gap between that paper map with all of the detailed information you love and navigation in real life.

It’s hard to summarize what’s all available in Avenza Maps, because it is so specific to your local area. Either way, I suggest that you at least give it a try and check out what free maps they have available. Many of the apps for download are paid maps, but there’s still a lot of great value to be had in the free section.

Here’s where this app is available:

Best Foraging Apps for Keeping Yourself Organized

I’m assuming you are like me: you probably started foraging for something easy like blackberries and then it was only a matter of time before you had a dozen different seasons to keep track of.

This can be a lot of fun, but at some point it becomes easy to miss a season or forget to process your foraged goods in sufficient time. Here’s where we allow technology to the rescue. From scheduling alerts of upcoming seasons to tracking the exact locations of all your secret spots, there’s a lot of ways technology can benefit us.

Google Photos or Photos for iOS

Before I get into why this functionality is so helpful and so valuable, I do have to confess that I resisted this for a very long time on the creepiness factor alone. Here’s the deal: I have no social media presence, I’m quite skeptical of the ways our phones are mined for information, and I’m constantly this close to going back to a flip phone.

With all of that said: man, is it convenient for a forager when you can snap a picture of a newly found plant and have the exact GPS attached directly to your photo. Is it a bit creepy? You bet.

Find a cluster of American hazelnut bushes? Snap a quick picture. Come across serviceberry bushes but it’s a bit too early in the season? Grab a picture. It’s just so easy and so terribly useful.

The real beauty is that the convenience doesn’t have to end in the field. It’s easy enough to add that picture to an album dedicated to that plant species when you get back home. Now, with a photo stored in the correct album and the exact GPS coordinates attached to it, you can easily remember that secret spot any time in the future without any additional work.

Here’s a rundown of how I use Google Photos to keep track of my foraging spots. When I’m in the field I snap a picture of any plant that I want to remember later for foraging. Usually this plant does not have the fruit or nut ripe at this point, as I’m merely saving this location for later in the season. Once I open the app, I scroll down to the pictures that I took when out and about and then tap on the image I’m going to open:

screenshot of pictures of plants in the google photos mobile app

After the image opens up, I go up to the top of the screen and tap the ‘3 dot’ icon to get additional information:

image in google photos app with red arrow pointing to three dot icon to find more options

This then changes the screen to look like the following:

screenshot of google photos app with the button for adding a photo an album highlighted and also gps coordinates highlighted in bottom

I’m interested in two different things when I open up this screen. First, I want to confirm that GPS coordinates were attached to this image. You can see at the bottom of the screenshot that this is the case.

Second, I want to then add this picture into the appropriate album. As you might expect, I organize my foraging pictures by plant species, so I would put this image in the ‘Blackberry’ album. You can do this by clicking the ‘Add to album’ button that is highlighted on the left side of the screenshot. This will pull up a page that allows you to select an existing album or create a new album. I’m going to create a new album, and it’s as simple as clicking this button and then entering a name:

screenshot of creating new album in google photos app

I’m not actually going to create an album for wild blackberries here, as almost every trail in our area is absolutely crawling with them. To find an existing album, go back to the main menu for Google Photos and click the ‘Library’ button at the bottom of the screen:

screenshot of library tab in google photos app showing different plant species organized by album

As you can see in the above screenshot, I have a variety of albums for different species of plants. I’m happy with the simplicity of this approach from a data collection standpoint, but I am looking into better ways to utilize that data once I need it.

I’d love to see an option to pull up a map with pins for all of the different pictures found in an album, but that doesn’t seem to be possible in the Google Photos app. I think it’s possible to extract this data with code, but I think it would require working with an API.

Here’s where this app (or a similar app) is available:

Google Sheets: Free Option for Storing Data

I’ve spent a lot of time working with Google Sheets for a variety of reasons, but I haven’t used it much for foraging. Sheets has a lot of interesting capabilities, and I think it could be very valuable for a forager looking to manage their foraging data if they tend to geek out like me and take a technical approach.

Google Sheets is great for many reasons, but here is a quick summary for those that aren’t familiar with it:

  • Using Google Sheets is free and has a very user-friendly interface
  • The vast majority of people don’t need a separate application on their computer for spreadsheets: an in-browser experience is more than fine
  • A lot of things are possible once you consider integration into the Google suite of apps

Some might be concerned about giving Google too much information, and I understand that concern. However, I don’t fear Google learning about my secret spot for beaked hazelnuts, so I’m comfortable with the trade-off.

Here’s where this app is available:

Notion: an Intriguing Option Worth Exploring

I’ve used productivity and workflow apps in the past (Trello being a good example), but Notion is the first app that I’ve actually managed to use more than a week.

Before I discuss why I think it’s helpful, I think it’s important to state that, yes, Notion can be a little intimidating when you start from scratch. The best and worst part about Notion is that it is basically a blank slate, so there are a million things that you can do with it.

Here’s the deal: if you are interested in using an app to help you better stay on top of the mountain of assorted tasks that come with a great foraging season, Notion might be a great solution for you. It truly is a do-it-all app: everything from note taking to task management to data storage is possible.

I’ve only spent the last month using Notion to manage my work-related tasks and projects, so I have yet to explore how to best use it to manage my foraging headaches. I can promise you that I will be experimenting with this in the future, and I’ll report back with any interesting ideas or thoughts in a future post.

Here’s where this app is available:

Best Foraging Apps for Learning About the Local Environment

While we shouldn’t allow apps to take over our identification of the plants we forage, we can use technology to quickly get the science that we need for our specific location.

SoilWeb: Gain Insights About Your Local Soil

At first glance this app might seem a bit too technical for most people, but hang in there for a minute. The SoilWeb app was developed by the California Soil Resource Lab at UC-Davis, and it’s job is to quickly provide you information about the soil in your current location.

Why might this be useful to the average forager? One of the types of information you can find in this app is referred to as the ‘Use and Vegetation’ sections, which may explain a great amount about your local habitat.

It’s probably easiest to just get to it and show you how to use it. Fortunately, this is perhaps the simplest interface I’ve ever found. When you load the app you should see a screen like the following:

screenshot of the soilweb mobile app with an arrow pointing to the get soil data button at the top

This will come as no surprise, but we’re going to simply click the ‘Get Soil Data’ button the arrow is pointing to in the above screenshot. What this will do is pull your location data (you may need to grant the app permission before it does that) and then it will pull up a screen that may look something like this:

screenshot of possible results from soilweb app query

Let’s quickly walk through what this is saying. First, the soil in my current location consists of two different soil types: Plainfield and Watseka. Second, you can see that the dominant soil type in my location is Plainfield, as it contributes 94%.

The best thing we can do next is to explore the data associated with the soil types that contribute to the majority of our local soil. In my case this means that I’m only interested in the Plainfield soil type, but it’s very possible that you may have two (or possibly three) different soil types to look up depending on your location. Once I click the blue box towards the top of the screen that shows the soil type name and the percent, I’ll be taken to a screen that looks like this:

screenshot of the text description of the plainfield soil series in the soilweb mobile app

As you can see at the top, there are three different tabs that contain information:

  • Description
  • Details
  • Links

We’ll have some use for all three sections, but you’ll probably get the most use out of the Description and Details sections.

The majority of the Description tab will only be useful to soil scientists, but there are a few sections that we can make use of. Most important to us is the ‘Use and Vegetation’ section, which is near the bottom and looks something like this:

screenshot of the use and vegetation section of the plainfield soil series in the soilweb mobile app

If you take a minute to read over the text you’ll quickly realize why this information could be valuable to a forager. Included in the text are the following bits of information:

  • Common ways this type of soil is planted with agricultural crops
  • Approximate areas of distribution of this soil type
  • Specific trees that are commonly present with this soil type

While the screenshot above only contains trees that are commonly present, many other soil types offer a more expansive list of plant species. Needless to say, this app can be a great opportunity to get a quick understanding of what you might expect on a piece of land with only the click of a button.

The other parts of the Description tab that may be useful are the following:

  • Distribution and Extent
  • Geographic Setting
  • Introduction (just the first paragraph at the top)

We can leave everything else to the scientists. Regarding the Details tab, the most valuable information for our purposes is probably in the Forest Productivity and Soil Suitability Ratings sections, as they are the most relevant.

The Links tab contains just that: links to two different soil applications that are designed to show the extent of the currently selected soil type. I’ve found some value in these mapping applications, but the outlines aren’t specific enough for us to really get a whole lot of use out of them. Also, while these browser-based applications can run on a mobile device, you’re probably going to want to switch to a desktop for a better experience.

So while the reality is that the SoilWeb app really only does one trick, it does that trick very well and is often very helpful for our purposes.

Here’s where this app is available:

Any App Featuring Satellite Imagery

I’ve covered this in greater detail in this post, but you can trust me when I say that satellite imagery is a wonderful friend to the forager. From easily finding groves of oak trees to finding a hidden ramps spot that’s just a thick carpet of greens every spring, there’s a lot you can do with the right satellite images.

There isn’t really a clear cut app that can do everything that I’m looking for in regards to satellite imagery, but my point is that you should merely leverage the satellite images on your existing apps.

Here are some of the ways you can use satellite images to benefit your foraging:

  • Finding groves of oak trees based on the fall colors late in the season
  • Locating sections of land recently clear cut
  • Finding tamarack bogs when looking for associated wild edibles

There’s a lot more that could be covered here, but just understand that understanding how use satellite imagery gives you the opportunity to make the most out of your time in the field. There are few other tools with as much potential in this modern age, so take the time to explore how it can help you most in your local environment.

Sun Position: Train Your Brain to Think About the Sun’s Patterns

While I wouldn’t call this a necessary app for a forager, I think it can be a very valuable addition. As you might guess, this app allows you to use augmented reality to show the approximate path of the sun in your current location. It also has the capability to show the sun path for any other day of the year, as the path of the sun varies highly over the different seasons.

Why might you need this? This app can easily serve as a great way to quickly remind yourself about which parts of the landscape will get the most sun throughout the day. This is undoubtedly more useful to the gardener, but a forager is certainly capable of benefiting from this knowledge.

Here’s where this app (or a similar app) is available:

Final Conclusions

I hope that you enjoyed this post and that you found a few interesting ideas that might save you some time or frustration the next time you’re in the field. While apps certainly can get in the way of our enjoyment of nature, I think when they are properly used they can really help open up this world for us.

From helping us successfully navigate our way back to the car to quickly and easily storing the location of that thicket of wild plums, apps are here to make our lives better when used correctly.

If you enjoyed this piece and you’re interested in other pieces that take a deeper look into what’s possible when we use technology to make the most out of nature, check out any of these articles:

Categories
Berries Foraging

When to Pick Wild Raspberries

A favorite mid-summer activity of mine, I’m always down to go exploring through a thicket of wild raspberries in search of that tiny, delicious fruit.

When can you pick wild raspberries? Most climates will have the season for wild raspberries peak around July. Some warmer regions may have seasons that start in June, and the latest you can expect to find a decent amount of wild raspberries is in mid-August. Different levels of light access will also impact when the fruit are ripe.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more to consider when you’re getting ready to dive into wild raspberry season.

When Can You Pick Wild Raspberries

As you might expect, the exact seasons of when you can pick wild raspberries depend on a few different variables. Not just only about which climate you live in, it’s also relevant to consider which type of spots you’re visiting.

In this post, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about figuring out when you can go picking wild raspberries.

The Start of the Season Varies Based On Your Location

The most important variable when figuring out when you’re wild raspberry picking season starts is your climate. Simply put, hotter climates that have raspberries present will tend to have earlier seasons. It’s also worth considering what types of spots you’re visiting to find your wild raspberries.

One of the most prolific plants in existence, wild raspberries, can grow just about anywhere and everywhere. Because of that, you can have plants that are growing along a trail in a mature forest just as easily as you can have a field of wild raspberries on some recently logged land.

As you may guess, the recently logged land allows for significantly more light to penetrate down to the raspberries, and you would expect them to mature quicker.

Wild Raspberries on a Single Cane Ripen Progressively

The other thing to think about is that the berries present on a single cane will ripen progressively throughout the season. This means that each time you visit a cane, it may have different berries that are just about ripe.

You can expect an individual wild raspberry cane to have fruit present on it for at least a month and potentially longer. This is one of the more enjoyable aspects of raspberry picking from my perspective, as it easily turns into something you can make a habit out of.

Weekly trips are a great option for those looking to stay on top of their local wild raspberries but don’t want to go too crazy with it.

Late June through Early August is Likely Your Best Time

All right, so what are the actual months of the year in which you’re going to be surrounded by wild raspberries ripe on the cane? This may vary slightly based on your location, but I would estimate that late June through early August is likely going to be the best time for you to be picking wild raspberries.

Most will find that July is their most productive month, as the plants can tend to stop producing once they get to the late summer heat of August. It’s worth noting that the wild raspberry season tends to run earlier than wild blackberries by about a month.

Blackberries will generally peak around late July and August. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you’re looking for buckets and buckets of wild raspberries, your best bet is to find locations with lots of sunlight that are dominated by wild raspberry plants.

Wild raspberries, unfortunately, aren’t as prolific as wild blackberries, so every blackberry plant that you see makes you walk further to the next raspberry plant.

Consider Changing Your Approach Throughout the Season

One thing to keep in mind is that you may have to look in different spots when your raspberry picking throughout the season. As we discussed earlier, different plants receive different amounts of sunlight, and the more sunlight is received, the sooner the fruit ripens.

When the season is just starting, you’ll likely have your best luck looking for raspberry canes with the best exposure to southern light. Once you get into the middle of the season, there’s no other way to put it: these things are just about everywhere, so you won’t have to worried about exact strategies.

However, at the end of the season, you can expect that the canes with the most exposure to light are now burnt out and without fruit. At this time of the season, you’ll likely have the best luck by looking in shady areas that have been protected from the summer heat.

How to Tell if a Wild Raspberry is Ripe

Now that we’ve covered when you can fix wild raspberries from a calendar perspective, it’s probably worth touching on what to look for when picking for ripe fruit. First things first, wild raspberry fruit is truly ripe when the fruit itself is soft to the touch.

Ideally, you want a fruit that feels like it might smush if you applied a modest amount of pressure. A good way to tell that a fruit is ripe when you’re picking them is that the wild raspberry fruit doesn’t have to be physically “pulled” off the cane. If you happen to be too late, you may notice that the fruit is starting to come apart on the plant, or other critters may start to eat it.

The fruit of wild raspberry plants are noticeably better when they are the right level of ripeness but understand that the clock is ticking as soon as you pick them. Soft fruits like raspberries and blackberries don’t last long, and wild raspberries are no exception to this. If anything, they may start to develop mold quicker than their domestic counterparts.

Raspberries, Black Caps, and Blackberries: What’s the Deal?

We won’t get too deep into the weeds regarding the differences between these different kinds of wild raspberries and blackberries, but it’s good to go over a couple of high-level details.

As you might expect, black cap raspberries are much more similar regarding their plant structure to a wild raspberry plant, but the fruit turns black when ripe. On the other hand, wild blackberries are much more prolific per plant and have an entirely different plant structure that you should notice in the field without much training.

And on top of that, the reality is that each of these groups has different varieties and slightly different species, which complicates things further. The good news is that they are all delicious and more than easy enough to identify.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this post and came away with a new idea or two. I always enjoy wild raspberry season and it’s always great to look forward to awesome picking in those summer months.

If you need more articles that get into the nitty-gritty details of foraging, then check these out:

Categories
Berries Foraging

When to Pick Wild Blackberries

Maybe you’ve got a hankering for a wild blackberry pie. We’ve all been there. Unlike with the giant berries you get from the grocery store, you’re going to have to be in the right place at the right time to get your fill of wild blackberries.

When can you pick wild blackberries? Most locations have wild blackberries ripe throughout July and August, although some warmer climates may have seasons starting in late June. Not all fruits on a wild blackberry plant ripen at once and varying microclimates in a location provide a long harvest duration.

Keep reading and you’ll find out everything you need to know about timing the harvest of wild blackberries perfectly. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of forgiveness in how this season plays out, so you should have plenty of opportunities.

When Can You Pick Wild Blackberries

As with many things in life, finding the best time to pick wild blackberries comes down to one thing: location, location, location.

Now, I’m not merely referring to your latitude or the severity of your climate; it also matters exactly where you get your wild blackberries. Generally speaking, wild blackberries ripen over a period of several months, and August is the best time to pick them.

When the Season Starts Depends on Your Location

For most people, wild blackberries start to ripen sometime in July. Depending on your climate, this may happen in early or late July. People in warmer climates may even experience a wild blackberry season that starts in late June.

wild blackberry fruits of varying ripeness on a cane
Note the varying degrees of ripeness found on this single plant. Some of the fruits are mostly black, but they still have a small amount of red on them.

As I mentioned earlier, you need to also consider the habitat that you are picking wild blackberries from. Blackberries growing along a trail in a mature forest will tend to take longer to ripen, as they receive less light overall.

Not All Wild Blackberries Ripen at the Same Time

Another thing to keep in mind is that single plants of wild blackberries have their berries ripen throughout a range of time. This means that for each plant that you visit, only a handful of blackberries may be ripe at the time. The nice thing is that wild blackberries are more prolific plants then wild raspberries, so you can generally expect to harvest more fruit from each plant.

Shifting away from talking about single plants, when you look at the variety of blackberry plants present in a single location, you may notice that plants are ripening at a different rate. Ultimately, this all gets back to the amount of sunlight that that individual plant has access to throughout the day.

If you’re a gardener and used to thinking about how the sun orientates itself throughout the sky, this will make sense for you. Everyone else might have a little extra work to get used to thinking about sunlight and where it is most prevalent. As you may know, plants with southern exposure and a clear path to sunlight will receive the most light and therefore ripen the quickest.

national forest land with thicket of blackberry plants and evergreen tree in background
A thicket of wild blackberry plants in the National Forest. This land was clear-cut 13 years ago after a tornado devastated the mature forest.

This is where you may notice a sharp increase in productivity from blackberry plants on disturbed land instead of plants in a mature forest. The high canopy of mature forests’ trees does a good job blocking out all of the available light, making it much more difficult for plants like blackberries to access light on the forest floor.

This is why it’s very important to think about the microclimates associated with the different plants you have access to. For example, if you’re picking at the end of summer, I wouldn’t expect blackberry plants on disturbed lands with southern exposure to have any remaining fruit. The fruit for those plants almost certainly ripened weeks ago, and the plants themselves likely look atrophied at this time.

And by disturbed lands, I’m mostly referring to lands that have been clear-cut logged in the last twenty years. In that case, the surrounding trees likely haven’t grown tall enough to block sunlight from reaching the blackberry plants.

July and August are Peak Wild Blackberry Picking Months

You probably already know this, but July and August are truly the best possible months for wild blackberry picking. Depending on where you live and what kind of wild blackberry patches you have access to, the exact timing of your big hauls may be shifted around by a couple of weeks, but you can expect this to be your best time.

Needless to say, get out all the buckets and containers you have, load them into your car, and make the most out of each great picking day you have.

If you are looking to make the most out of this year’s wild blackberry harvest, but you don’t want to be there every day, weekly visits during the peak season should serve you well. You may want to be less picky about the types of wild blackberries that you take home with you, as there’s no guarantee that that’s slightly unripe blackberry is anywhere to be found in one week.

How to Tell if a Wild Blackberry is Ripe

Alright, so we’ve identified the best time of year for you to be doing your wild blackberry picking; how exactly do you know when the fruit is ripe? Most people will already intuitively understand this, but here’s how it works: you’re looking for the fruit to be entirely black with a reasonable amount of softness to it.

Any sign of red or even a slightly purplish color indicates that the fruit is just not quite ready. You’re also looking for the blackberry to be somewhat soft and not on the firm side. As you probably can figure out, there’s a sweet spot here. Left just a bit too long on the plant, wild blackberries tend almost to liquefy and burst at the slightest touch.

Needless to say that you’re going to have some minor staining on your hands when you’re out picking. Don’t worry; this is all totally worth it.

How Long it Takes for Wild Blackberries to Ripen

This depends on where you live and what kind of sunlight the plant has access to, but you can expect fruit to begin to form on blackberry plants sometime in May or June.

unripe wild blackberry fruits on a cane in the national forest
This is what you may expect wild blackberries to look like approximately a month before they are ready to harvest.

It may take at least two months or more for the fruit to ripen, but you’ll be able to identify the blackberry plants even with the unripe fruit easily. This allows you to plan and find your best blackberry picking spots before the crunch time of peak blackberry picking season.

If you come early enough, the fruits will be green like in the picture above. As they ripen they’ll turn a bright red color and then a purple-ish color before they turn black.

Concluding Thoughts

I’m hoping that you enjoyed reading this article and got some value out of it. Picking wild blackberries is not a time of the year to miss, and some of my best memories involve this time of year.

If you liked this article, you may find these related articles to be an interesting read:

Categories
Foraging National Forests

How to Find Forests That Were Recently Logged

Admittedly, this probably isn’t a topic on the forefront of most people’s minds. Why would you want to find public land that was recently logged? Seems a bit odd at first.

I’ll get right to it: this is for nature lovers with a bit of a long game. Land that’s undergone logging does require some time to heal, but the healing happens fast. And with that healing comes all kinds of opportunities to watch how nature works over a relatively short time frame. From colonizing blackberries to fruit and nut bushes that have a hard time existing in a mature forest, there’s plenty of interesting things happening in young forests.

Our job here is to find the young forests that you’ll enjoy in the years to come. How can we find locations where logging has occurred or is ongoing? This post will cover a few different methods, and we’ll use all of the tools at our disposal.

Different Methods to Find Recently Logged Land

Before we get into the finer details about how to find recently logged land, I think it would be helpful to briefly discuss why this knowledge would even be valuable. I’ll go into greater detail at the end of the post, but here are a few reasons why a forest lover should be interested:

  • Finding areas with differently aged forests often creates the greatest opportunities for wildlife
  • Younger forests allow for different plant species than more mature forests
  • All forests age with time, so being aware of newly logged land may help you greatly in the near future

With all of that said, let’s get into the details of how to find logged land, then we can later discuss the why in more detail.

Accessing Forest Service Logging Records for National Forests

There’s a mapping application provided by the U.S. Forest Service that I’m going to be using a lot in this post. The application’s name is ForWarn II and it serves a wide variety of purposes, but it’s mostly used to scientifically measure the changes in our forests over time.

The ForWarn II application has many, many data layers available, and one of the most useful layers is the Forest Service logging records. These records go back 20 years and they provide the following types of details on historical logging activity:

  • The specific parcel that was logged, including an outline on the map
  • The total acreage logged
  • When the logging occurred
  • What type of logging was done (clear-cut, commercial thinning, etc.)

Before we get into step-by-step instructions on how this works, there is one caveat about this method: you’ll only be able to find logging activity on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. So if the logging took place on National Forest land, you’ll be able to find information on it. But all other lands are not covered by this method.

Alright, now onto the actual tutorial. The ForWarn application allows users to share their exact map with a custom URL, so I’m going to save you unnecessary work by sharing my map I’m starting with: here’s the link.

screenshot of the home page of the forwarn ii application
Upon opening the link, this is about what you should see.

There’s admittedly a lot going on here, but here are the key points to understand:

  • The menu on the left is for the Map Layers, this is where we toggle data layers
  • The menu on the right contains the Legend for the visible data layers
  • You can see specs of color throughout the map, these are locations with U.S. Forest Service logging activity (more on that later)
  • The base layer for the map is set to ‘Imagery’

First, we’re going to want to navigate the ‘Map Layers’ menu to find the layers that we’re most interested in. Go over to the left menu and scroll up until you see the following:

screenshot of the map layers menu for the real-time change maps in forwarn ii application
By default, ForWarn II opens up to the ‘ForWarn II Near-Real-Time Change Maps’ layer group

You can see that we’re in the layer group as highlighted above. This isn’t where the logging activity is stored, so we’re going to want find a different layer group. To do so, click on the highlighted ‘ForWarn II Near-Real-Time Change Maps’ toggle and then the menu should be updated into the following:

screenshot highlighting the additional assessment maps for the forwarn ii application

See the ‘Additional Assessment Maps’ layer group the arrow is pointing at in the screenshot? That’s the layer with the Forest Service logging activity. Click on that option and then scroll down until you find the ‘USFS Logging Activity’ sub-group, which should look like this:

screenshot of the us forest service logging activity data layer in forwarn ii application

There are two things that you’ll notice:

  • The ‘2000-2021 Combined (FS)’ data layer is toggled on
  • The rest of the data layers correspond logging activity for individual years

As you may have guessed, the data layer that is toggled on corresponds to the specs of color that you see throughout the map. What these specs of color indicate is that this piece of land had logging activity by the U.S. Forest Service at some point in time.

For example, I’ve zoomed into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and this is what I see:

screenshot of the data from the us forest service logging activity layer with all years turned on in forwarn ii application

Each of the different colors present represents a different year of logging activity. There are two ways to find out which year the color represents. First, you can go to the ‘Map Tools’ menu on the right and expand the ‘Legend’ option. Upon doing that, this is what you would see:

screenshot of the legend for the us forest service logging activity data layer in forwarn ii application
Each year has it’s own color on the map

You would then match up the color on the map with the color in the legend. This can work, but the major issue is that some of the colors look too similar for my tastes. This doesn’t seem to be an issue at first glance, but if you scroll down you can see how similar the 2004 and 2019 colors are.

Instead, I prefer to find which year the data represents by using the ‘Information’ button in the top toolbar. Turn on this setting by navigating to the top menu and click the highlighted button:

screenshot with a red arrow pointing to the information button in the toolbar for the forwarn ii application
If it is difficult to see, the button is the text bubble with an ‘i’ in it

What this allows us to do is click anywhere on the map and pull up all of the information associated with that part of the map. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: when I click on the location represented by the yellow dot below, you can see it pulled up a window with information:

screenshot showing the information bubble showing information on the year of timber harvests for the usfs data for a specific location in forwarn ii application

Take a look at the information highlighted in the above screenshot. As you can probably guess, what this is telling us is that the logging activity associated with this piece of land took place in 2019.

Unfortunately, this screenshot also highlights two main deficiencies associated with this data layer:

  • We have access to very limited information about this logging, only the year is available
  • The outline of the area on the map is pixelated, and therefore not accurate to the land actually logged

So, what can we do to get a better idea of what happened here? All we need to do is find the appropriate layer in the Map Layers menu. To do that, first toggle off the ‘2000-2021 Combined (FS)’ data layer. Then, scroll down to the ‘2019 (FS)’ data layer and toggle that on. After completing that, my map changed to the following:

screenshot of the vector layer depicting the individual year logging activity data for the us forest service data layer in forwarn ii application

As you can see, the outline for this data layer is much more accurate, and it represents the actual land that had logging activity in 2019. If I want to learn more about what happened, I simply click anywhere on one of the pieces and I’m presented with an information window like so:

screenshot showing data records for a shape in the us forest service logging activity data layer in forwarn ii application

While I certainly didn’t plan it, here’s a great opportunity to point out the one major caveat I have with these Forest Service data layers: not all of the information fields have accurate data.

This is not a deal breaker, it just means that there may be some years where you don’t have access to the finer details of what logging activity occurred.

Here’s an example of what a complete information set looks like for a single year data layer:

screenshot showing data records for a shape in us forest service individual year logging activity data layer in forwarn ii application

Here you can see that this parcel of land was clear-cut in 2009, and the logging completed on September 22nd, 2009. It also indicates that this parcel is part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Looking for parcels of land that have been clear-cut? You may be having a bit of a difficult time, depending on where you are searching. In my experience (based in the Upper Midwest), little of the logging performed by the U.S. Forest Service is clear-cutting. Most is either single-tree selection cutting or commercial thinning operations.

While the screenshot above does indicate a clear-cutting operation, understand that this logging occurred once a tornado devastated this patch of forest. So this might be more accurately considered a salvage operation.

Everything considered, I still believe that these data layers showing the logging activity of the Forest Service to be very relevant, they just have a few limitations.

For the Nerds: Severe Drops in Vegetative Productivity

I’m not going to lie to you: while incredibly useful, this next method may appear a little overwhelming at first glance.

While there is a lot of science that goes into this method, understand that we only need a rudimentary understanding of the science in order to employ this effectively.

With that being said, I think it would be most helpful for your to check out this post explaining the ForWarn II application if you would like to use this method.

Brief Explanation of How This Process Works

Before we get into the mechanics of how this works, I think it’s valuable to have a high-level discussion on the method itself.

What we’re trying to accomplish can be essentially broken down into two steps:

  • Identify land with a large drop in the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)
  • Confirm whether or not that area has been logged with recent satellite imagery

What on earth is an NDVI? You might want to check out this post if you want a more detailed explanation, but here’s the gist of it:

The NDVI is more or less a measurement of the level of photosynthesis occurring on a unit of land at that time. A mature forest in early summer has a high NDVI, while land recently logged has a very low NDVI.

As you can probably guess, the NDVI patterns for mature forests are very predictable year over year. This means that the act of clear-cut logging land produces a steep drop in NDVI, when compared to the expected values of the former forest.

Finding Areas with Drastic Drops in NDVI Values

Alright, let’s get to it. Here’s how we can use ForWarn II to find land that has been recently clear-cut. Unlike the previous method, this works for all lands monitored by the ForWarn system.

Like the last method, I’ll give you a head start by providing a link to the exact map that I’m viewing. There’s only one caveat here: the data layer featured is updated every 8 days and is a measure of the current NDVI levels. Therefore, the map you’ll load should be different, as my view is specific to the time of my writing this (late September 2020).

Given all that, here’s about what you can expect to see:

home screen with ndvi results shown in the forwarn ii mapping application

Regardless of when you load this map, the reality is that there’s a lot going on here. Let’s break it down, piece by piece. First, the colored dots you see represent how the current NDVI levels change from the 90th percentile levels over the last ten years. As you can probably guess, the dark red color represents a large drop in vegetative productivity.

It’s important to note that a large drop in vegetative productivity can occur for many reasons, and this is why the ForWarn tool is so useful to so many different people. Not just indicative of logging, the red areas can be in response to any of the following activities or events occurring in a forest:

  • Damage from a storm or tornado
  • Excessive flooding affecting tree growth
  • Wildfires burning

And so on. Here’s a great example of this: at the time of this writing wildfires are currently ravaging large areas of California’s forests. As you’re reading this in the future, I don’t know how this all turned out. What I can say is that this data layer does an incredible job mapping out the extent of the damage done. Here’s a screenshot of the Bay Area, which is being hit particularly hard:

close up screenshot of ndvi damage mapping for california wildfires in the forwarn ii mapping application
Notice the dark red areas south of San Jose: these forests have an almost 80% drop in NDVI values when compared to past years.

Okay, now back to logging. If you live in a forested area that isn’t currently being greatly impacted by a natural disaster, we can use this map to find some possibly logged areas.

On my map I’ve zoomed into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and this is what I see:

ndvi damage map of northern michigan with a red arrow pointing to cluster of red pixels indicating heavy damage

I’m going to focus on the cluster of red pixels the arrow in the above screenshot is pointing at. Now that I’ve located a piece of land that I’m interested in checking out, I’m going to perform the following moves:

  1. Zoom in close to the red cluster of pixels
  2. Toggle off the NDVI data layer
  3. Observe the satellite imagery from the base map
  4. Toggle on a layer showing recent satellite imagery

Here’s how this looks, step-by-step. First, I’m zooming well into the cluster of red pixels:

up close ndvi pixel values overlayed over a satellite image
Each pixel covers more land than you might think, so you’ll probably want to zoom in closer than expected.

Next, I go over to the ‘Map Layers’ menu and toggle off the highlighted data layer, which can be found in the ‘ForWarn II Near-Real-Time Change Maps’ data layer group:

screenshot of the 10 year 90th percentile ndvi drop toggled on in forwarn ii application

Confirming Logging Activity By Comparison of Satellite Imagery

Once that data layer is toggled off, I observe what the satellite imagery of the base map looks like. Here’s what I see:

screenshot of satellite image of forest prior to logging

I know that this satellite imagery is from a colder time of year where deciduous trees don’t have their leaves, so I can see that this is likely a plantation of pines or some other evergreens.

Now that I understand what this area looked like in the past, I want to see how this compares to the near-present satellite images we can access in ForWarn.

When it comes down to finding recent satellite images in ForWarn, there are really three different options. Here are the options, in order of quality from worst clarity to best:

  • Medium-Resolution Landsat 8 Imagery
  • High-Resolution Sentinel Imagery
  • Planet.com Imagery

I should note that the ‘Planet.com Imagery’ data layer is only available to the following states: IL, IA, IN, KS, NE, OH, WI, ND, and SD. If you live in an area that does not have the Planet.com layer, check out the Sentinel layer next.

As the location I’m checking out is in Michigan, I’ll be using the Sentinel imagery. Here’s what I find when I toggle that layer on and let it load:

recent satellite image of forest after clearcut logging

Would you look at that! While I haven’t been able to physically confirm that this area has been logged, I can confirm that this is consistent with other logged areas I’ve visited.

As cool as all of this is, it does come with one major caveat. Please understand that simply finding logged land does not mean that you have public access to check out that land. That’s an entirely different question, and you’ll have to do the research to determine if you have access.

With that being said, I hope that you found this as valuable as I believe it can be.

Be on the Lookout for Logged Land While Out and About

While this isn’t necessarily a separate method, I do think it’s important to park this idea away in the back of your mind. If you live in a forested area and you start to notice logging trucks hauling away trees, it may be worth looking into.

Obviously, I would never recommend that you drive around chasing logging trucks, but keep the thought in mind. It’s always helpful to understand how the forests around you are changing.

You also can look out for the impact of logging on the land, not necessarily for the logging trucks themselves. To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about, I’ve included some photos of recently logged land.

This land was logged earlier in the year, as you can tell that plants have yet to come back from the machinery’s impact:

On the other hand, this is what some National Forest land looks like after healing for a year:

The Benefits of Finding Recently Clear-Cut Land

You’ll notice that the land from the last picture is much greener. I believe that is primarily wild raspberry plants, in the form of first-year canes. I look forward to confirming that classification next year, possibly in the form of buckets and buckets of raspberries.

I hope this point illustrates why I’ve generally taken a neutral stance on logging in this piece. Regardless of how I feel about logging, if the land is to remain wild then nature will begin it’s reclamation process in no time. So in my mind it’s not necessarily about good or bad, but instead about making the best of the situation.

Habitat Diversity Can Really Benefit Local Species

It may sound counter-intuitive, but have a your forests be of diverse ages can do wonders for the local wildlife.

For example, the ruffed grouse is dependent on the existence of aspen trees. More than that, they thrive when they have access to aspen groves of differing age classes. As aspen grows so vigorously on recently cleared land that is the right habitat, logging has the opportunity to provide the young habitat the ruffed grouse needs. There are many other animals with similar relationships to diverse habitats, such as deer and turkey.

Great Opportunities for Foragers

There’s no other way to put it: recently logged land has the potential to be a forager’s paradise with time. From that first bumper crop of blackberries to the fruit and nut shrubs that can thrive with the increased light, a lot of good things can come from logged lands.

It’s even better when the logged lands are intermingled with mature forests in the area. This mixing of differently aged habitats produces a wonderful opportunity for plants and wildlife. For as much as it makes sense to love and appreciate a mature forest, not many things can thrive in a habitat that consists of miles and miles of a single tree species.

Categories
Berries Foraging

Where to Find Wild Raspberries

There’s no other way to put it: the first time you taste a wild raspberry you’ll be hooked. Small but packing a mighty punch, wild raspberries are a joy to pick.

So, where can you find wild raspberries? Wild raspberries thrive on disturbed lands with adequate access to light. Trails running through established forests tend to have raspberry plants along the side. Land that has been clear-cut in the last 15 years is often dominated by wild raspberries.

Keep reading and you’ll find out exactly how to go about finding wild raspberries. From the trail-side nibble to the secret spots producing buckets of berries, this post has you covered.

Locations Where You Can Find Wild Raspberries

The entire time you’re reading this section I think it would be most helpful if you always keep the following two ideas in mind:

  • How much light does this area get?
  • Is this area maintained by humans in a way that eliminates plant competition?

Why are these ideas important? This is to help you waste less time on your journey to find your raspberry honey hole. Yes, a mature woodland with a narrow trail cutting through it may have raspberries, but it’ll likely be only enough for a nibble.

Also, if you’re looking for a more in-depth discussion on finding disturbed landscapes, you can read our companion piece on finding wild blackberries. That post goes into more details on how to use tools like Google Maps to find areas most likely to be loaded with wild berries, and almost everything in that post applies to wild raspberries.

Alongside Trails Through Established Woods With Adequate Light

Most people are going to be best served by searching for wild raspberries alongside trails that run through established forests. This doesn’t mean that these are the best spots necessarily, just that they are good spots that almost everybody has access to.

When you’re trying to find great raspberry picking spots in established forests, you really have to be constantly thinking about how much light is available in each spot.

For example, a narrow trail cutting through a dense forest of maple trees will have little to no light available, thus making it very difficult for wild raspberry plants to grow, let alone produce fruit.

On the other hand, a trail that features a clearing attached to one side may be a good opportunity, as it’s very possible that the clearing is filled with bramble.

Whether you’re hiking along the trail or scouting remotely with Google Maps, always be certain to keep in mind your direction. Remember, areas facing south will have the best access to light, so a clearing attached to the North side of a trail should get great light. The above screenshot is a great example of such a place, as the top of the picture is orientated north.

Overall, trails running through established woods are great if you’re looking to pick a small amount of berries while hiking through the forest. However, the unfortunate truth is that they usually don’t have enough light to produce a large amount of berries without hiking miles and miles.

Land Clear-Cut in the Last 15 Years With a Network of Trails

If you have access to land that has been clear-cut sometime in the last 15 years or so, you really have a great opportunity to enjoy some amazing wild raspberry picking.

Regardless of how the land was clear-cut – be it planned logging, tornado salvage or anything else – there’s a good chance that raspberries established themselves aggressively after the land was cleared.

small immature wild raspberries forming on a cane

So taking the time to find land that has been cleared is a great step towards finding a super productive berry spot. Now, what you really want to see is a network of established trails running through that disturbed land. This is crucial as it saves you from wandering through thorny bramble while angering wasps.

The off-trail bramble may not look so bad the first few years, but after awhile it might look super intimidating.

The off-trail bramble may not look so bad the first few years, but after awhile it might look super intimidating.

The upper-right half of this screenshot is a great example of what a semi-recently clear-cut land looks like in a satellite image.

Needless to say, these kinds of lands are a great opportunity to pick a lot of berries at once. The reason for this gets back to the two ideas that we discussed earlier in the post:

  • In this location sunlight is everywhere, as the large trees were removed
  • When the land was clear-cut, people mechanically eliminated much of the plant competition

So if you can find a spot like this, you have a really great opportunity to pick a lot of wild raspberries in a much more efficient manner.

Be on the Lookout for Freshly Clear-Cut Land

This strategy is a little different than the ones discussed above, but over the long haul it will make a big difference.

The simple reality is that most forested spots great for raspberry picking will eventually lose their productivity. This is because raspberries are amazing at establishing themselves immediately after the land is disturbed and all of the tall trees are eliminated. However, with enough time the new crop of trees will eventually grow to shade out the raspberry plants.

So, what’s a long-term thinking raspberry picker to do? Always be on the lookout for land that has been freshly clear-cut.

You can think of this as developing a pipeline of great raspberry picking for the long term. Sure, that freshly cut land won’t have anything the first year, but there’s a real opportunity for an absolute bumper crop of wild raspberries in the second or third year following the clear cutting event (depending on the season in which the land was cut, I believe).

Maybe give the freshly cut land a year and then see what starts coming up in the early part of summer. If you see bramble but no fruit forming, you should come back the next year.

Tips and Tricks to Keep in Mind While Picking Wild Raspberries

Here are some other things to keep in mind when you’re picking wild raspberries or searching for that perfect spot.

Might Take Awhile to Find Your Secret Spot

One thing to keep in mind if you’re on the lookout for a super awesome wild raspberry spot: it may take both time and a lot of miles to find what you’re looking for.

While raspberries are a very common plant in many parts of the country, they don’t grown in every habitat. I can think of plenty of areas of the forest I most often frequent where I can’t ever recall seeing raspberries, no matter how much light the spot got.

As such, your best policy when looking for a raspberry spot is cover a lot of ground. Explore and try a variety of different looking habitats, as the worst case scenario is that get some exercise. The more time you spend hiking and observing the different habitats, the better you’ll get at anticipating the plants you’ll find.

Observe the Balance Between Wild Raspberries and Blackberries

In my experience, most spots that have wild raspberries will also have wild blackberries. This is great and I have nothing against bumbleberry anything, but if you’re looking to pick a lot of raspberries you’ll need a lot of raspberry plants.

This makes sense if you think about it: wild raspberry canes have their fruit ripen progressively over time, so each cane may only have a few ripe fruits. As wild raspberries are quite small, the sheer quantity of raspberries you’ll have to pick to have even a gallon of berries is astounding (and somewhat intimidating).

thicket of wild blackberries in national forest with mature evergreen forest in background
Thicket of mostly wild blackberries in the National Forest. While wild raspberries were present, they weren’t present in any considerable volume.

So, long story short: you may want to find an area that is absolutely dominated by raspberry plants. Every blackberry plant present takes up space that a raspberry plant could have used, and therefore you need to walk further to pick those extra raspberries.

How you go about this doesn’t have to be an exact science, but it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind as you check spots out.

Concluding Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and that you found a few tidbits of information to help take your raspberry picking up to the next level. There are few things that bring me more joy than picking wild berries, and I believe that sharing what works for me can only bring good.

If you liked this article, you may find these related articles to be an interesting read:

Categories
Foraging National Forests

Can You Forage in National Forests?

From picking blackberries to harvesting delicious ramps to finding wild ginseng: there are plenty of opportunities for foraging in National Forests.

Can you forage in National Forests? Foraging is generally allowed but rules and regulations are highly specific to each National Forest. Paid or free permits may be required for harvesting, and many plants have restrictions on quantity harvested or areas allowing harvest.

Keep reading and you’ll find out just what you need to know make the most out of your nearby National Forest, while following the rules and regulations established by the U.S. Forest Service.

How to Determine What You Can Forage in Your National Forest

Before we dive into the nitty gritty details of foraging on National Forests, it would help to spell out where to find the info you need.

First, go to the U.S. Forest Service website and find your National Forest in the drop-down menu on the right side of the screen (you should probably use a desktop or laptop, as unfortunately the U.S. Forest Service website isn’t terribly mobile friendly as of this writing). Click the ‘Go’ button and you’ll end up on the site devoted to your National Forest.

Next, we need to find the part of the site that discusses foraging and any rules that may apply. Fortunately it appears that all of the National Forests keep that information in the same location. To get this information, click on the ‘Passes & Permits’ link in the navigational menu located on the left side. Then you’ll want to click on the ‘Forest Products Permits’ option in this section, as highlighted below:

This will bring you to the page that will store all of the information on foraging in that National Forest, as wild edibles are considered a product of the forest.

Rules on Foraging are Unique to Each National Forest

This likely won’t be a surprise to you, but the rules and regulations surrounding foraging for wild edibles are highly specific to each National Forest. This makes sense if you think about it: no two National Forests have the same species present, nor do they receive the same level of pressure from foragers.

Like it or not, a National Forest within a short drive of a large urban area will always have more rules and regulations than another location that is in a much more rural area. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: Olympic National Forest is a short drive from Seattle. Mushroom foraging is allowed, but a paid permit with restrictions on the volume and duration of the harvest is required. On the other hand, the harvest of wild berries is allowed without a permit, but there are daily harvest limits and an overall limit for the season.

In other words, the way that a National Forest regulated foraging is not consistent and the structure of those regulations varies from one location to another.

But, there’s one more thing: not every National Forest specifies the rules on foraging on their site. You may have call or visit a local office of your National Forest in order to determine what rules may or may not apply to your foraging.

Different Plant Species Will Likely Have Different Rules

A thing to always keep in mind is that how a National Forest regulates foraging is often specific to the individual species you’re interested in.

For example, the National Forests of North Carolina allow for foragers to harvest both ginseng and wild ramps. However, each plant has their own unique rules to follow and even their own areas of the National Forests that allow harvesting. In addition to the limited areas that allow for the harvest of ginseng, North Carolina utilizes a permitting process that includes a lottery.

While the rules are different for each National Forest, there are some general trends you can observe.

First, think about the level of disruption that occurs when you harvest that plant. Picking some ripe wild blackberries? There’s hardly any disruption that occurs in that case and you can generally expect berry foraging to have less restrictions.

floor of national forest with wild ramps growing in may

Digging up wild ramps and taking the whole bulb? As that action is killing a rather slow-spreading plant, you can almost always expect to face certain restrictions and need a permit in order to proceed.

Harvesting for Commercial Use Treated Differently Than Personal Use

I think this is a rather obvious statement but it’s still well worth stating: if you’re planning on harvesting plants for commercial purposes you can expect permits. I don’t think many people reading this are foraging for commercial purposes, but still.

The simple reality is that any commercial operation (big or small) harvesting plants from a National Forest should focus greatly on compliance. Maintaining a good relationship with the Forest Service is key to the longevity of your operation. Like it or not, these rules are here for a reason, and their main objective is to ensure that their native plants aren’t over harvested into oblivion.

Tips and Tricks for Foraging in National Forests

Now that we’re a bit more familiar with the rules and regulations we might expect when foraging in National Forests, here are some quick tips and tricks to get the most out of your experience.

Get to Know the Forest Service Road System

I’m not going to pretend that most of the people interested in foraging have the high-clearance trucks or ATVs needed to navigate the full extent of the Forest Service road system. That’s totally OK, as Subarus can park on the side of the road just as easily as most other cars.

With that being said, a little bit of familiarity with how Forest Service roads operate can go a long way towards making foraging in a National Forest a much less intimidating adventure. The reality is that even if you don’t have the vehicle neccessary to drive down a deeply rutted dirt road, this network of roads still offers the best access to the most land.

In case you’re interested in learning more, you can check out any of the following articles on the Forest Service road system:

Be Careful to Verify You’re Never Trespassing

This may go without saying, but it’s really important that you always know that you are foraging on public lands.

In certain National Forests this will be easier than others. Many times you’ll be in an area where all the land you can see in every direction belongs to the National Forest. Great! Have a good time exploring and maybe not worry so much about this part.

However, many National Forests contain parts that have private parcels of land that are interspersed throughout the National Forest land. In this case you’ll have to be much more careful about thinking about where you’re standing. Nobody ever wants to be in the position of accidentally harvesting plants off of someone’s private land, whether they see you or not.

So take care to well research the ownership details of the areas you’re interested in. It’s ultimately your responsibility and there are many solutions available in our modern times.

Stick to the Trails and Logging Roads When Starting Out

Last but not least, it’s a good idea to stick to the network of roads and logging trails when you’re first foraging in National Forests.

looking down a forest service road in national forest with mix of mature and young trees

Yeah, I understand the appeal of navigating the woods off-trail and finding that real gem of a spot that few others have ever found, but it’s best to take it slow. The reality is that navigating off-trail requires great skill and comes with even greater risks. No one ever wants to get lost in the woods, and that’s always a possibility in a National Forest. This is especially true once the leaves come out, as the forest grows shadier with even less visibility.

It’s a better idea to keep your foraging limited to within a close distance of the Forest Services roads. This will help keep you safe when wandering around. And honestly, due to increase light penetration it is very likely that the trails are a better foraging opportunity anyways.

Concluding Thoughts

I want to thank you for reading this and I hope you learned a thing or two along the way. I’m always excited to share things that I love, and foraging in National Forests combines two of my absolute favorite things.

If you need more articles that get into the nitty-gritty details of foraging, then check these out:

Categories
Berries Foraging

Where to Find Wild Blackberries

It’s hard to think of a better introduction to foraging than the search for the wild blackberry. Widely available and easy for all to identify, wild blackberries are a real treat.

So where can you find wild blackberries? Look for disturbed areas with adequate access to light. Trails, roadsides, and lands recently cleared from logging or natural disasters like tornadoes are all great starting points.

While it might be easy to find a trail with blackberries, there are some nuances to take into account if you’re looking for buckets of berries. Continue reading to find exactly what you need to be on the lookout for.

What Kinds of Disturbed Landscapes have Wild Blackberries

Before we dive into the fine details of finding a good blackberry spot, understand this important point: while wild blackberries are very prevalent, they do not exist in every kind of soil or habitat. It’s possible that you may need to try a few different areas before you find your first wild blackberries.

ripe blackberries mixed in with almost ripe blackberries along a trail in national forest

Also, I’ll be spending most of this post going over satellite images from Google Maps. I’ll include some photos from the field, but I find that a little scouting in advance with satellite images can payoff in a big way, if you know what you’re doing. This type of scouting can save you a lot of time and effort by eliminating sub-optimal locations without having to hike as much.

Trails Through Established Woods with Enough Light Access

While established forests won’t typically have the volume of wild blackberries that a recently cleared land has, there are still many good opportunities. The main reason I want to cover trails through established woods first is this: ease of access. Almost everybody has access to trails that run through a mature forest; not everybody will be “lucky” enough to find land that has recently been cleared.

So, we’re just looking for trails that run through the woods? Sounds easy, right?

Somewhat. There are some nuances to keep in mind, and these can save you a lot of wasted effort. When you’re looking for wild blackberries in a mature forest, you should always be thinking about light availability, as that will have the largest impact on your search. Wild blackberries need a good amount of light to thrive, and if they’re completely blocked out by a thick canopy with only a narrow trail, they won’t stand a chance.

close up image of unripe blackberries along trail in national forest

One of the factors that can have the largest impact is the species of trees dominating the forest canopy. Blackberries need sunlight during the summer months to produce fruit, and certain trees produce especially dense shade. Anyone that’s walked through a forest with a canopy dominated by maple trees can appreciate how densely shaded the forest floor can be in mid-summer. As little light makes it down, blackberries likely wouldn’t have enough light in that forest, trail or not.

The other main factor to consider is the width of the trail. Generally speaking, wider trails and trails with openings will allow more light to hit the forest edge, and wild blackberries thrive on disturbed edges. It’s easiest to demonstrate this with screenshots of satellite images from Google Maps. I’ve kept the zoom at the same level for all of the screenshots in this post.

Here’s a trail running through a mature forest with a decently wide opening:

satellite image of trail through mature woods

You can see that the opening isn’t always very wide, but there are spots where a good amount of sunlight could reach the South-facing side of the trail (all of the screenshots have North on the top). If I recall correctly, this part of the trail had blackberries consistently on the North edge.

On the other hand, the trail in the screenshot below is rather narrow:

satellite image of narrow trail through woods

I don’t recall having much luck when I hiked through this section of the forest. The trail opening is simply too narrow to allow a decent amount of light to hit that North edge of the trail.

The other thing to look for when checking out satellite photos of trails is for there to be clear openings alongside the trail. The below screenshot is a great example of what you should be looking for:

satellite image of trail with opening attached

Notice the large opening alongside the trail devoid of large trees. This was a great spot to pick wild blackberries, as you can see that the opening gets plenty of sunlight.

Trails Through Recently Disturbed Lands

For most berry-pickers, finding trails that run through recently disturbed lands is a real sweet spot. First things first, finding disturbed land means that there’s sunlight everywhere where blackberries need it most. Secondly, finding trails that run through disturbed lands means that there likely will be easy picking all up and down the trail.

For quick reference, here’s a great example of a recently disturbed land with a trail:

satellite image of trail with mature woods on one side and cleared land on another side

The North-edge of that trail is completely clear of large trees, and has great access to sunlight. Picking a large amount of wild blackberries was as simple as walking along the trail.

The real jackpot is when you can find trails that cut through the middle of a patch of disturbed land. Here’s why this is valuable: if both sides of the trail are lacking tall trees and there are wild blackberries present, then there is a good chance that you’ll be able to pick from both sides of the trail.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: both sides of this trail is land that was cleared around 13 years ago.

satellite image of trail running through cleared land

There are barely any mature trees present, and therefore sunlight and blackberries are in every direction. The other benefit from this is that this trail has a noticeably longer harvest duration.

This makes sense if you think about it: there are blackberries along this trail with a variety of levels of light access. The plants with the best light (the plants on the North-edge of the trail) will ripen soonest, but the plants with less life will still ripen, only a bit later. This in some ways extends the harvest, as not all of the blackberries are ripening at the same time.

That might sound complicated, but it isn’t too bad once you get used to thinking about things like the orientation of the sun.

Going Off Trail Through Disturbed Lands

For the truly adventurous, searching for blackberries while wandering through recently disturbed lands without trails always guarantees an interesting time.

First, it’s entirely possible that once you get off-trail you’ll be literally surrounded by delicious wild blackberries. Here’s a screenshot of an area I found that had blackberries growing in every direction:

satellite image of disturbed lands that had been cleared

Everywhere I walked, I had wild blackberries popping up all over. The tiny dark dots you see are small pine trees that were established after this land was leveled by a tornado.

While picking was fun in this spot, there are two key things to keep in mind:

  • walking through dense 4 to 5 foot tall thorny bramble can be a nightmare
  • you’re absolutely begging to the stung by bees or wasps

It didn’t take me more than 15 minutes wandering through thick bramble to learn both of those lessons. Still fun though. Just proceed with caution if you decide to wander off trail.

How to Find Disturbed Lands

Alright, so we’ve established that finding forests recently disturbed by logging or natural disasters is the key to finding the best wild blackberry spots.

What’s the best way to go about finding these disturbed lands? For most people, the easiest thing will be to look over satellite imagery of nearby areas with a lot of accessible public land. This can be a helpful approach when looking at close-up images, as well as zoomed out imagery.

For example, by zooming out far enough we can clearly see the scar that a tornado left more than a decade ago in Northern Wisconsin:

satellite image of tornado damage from 2009 tornado in northeastern wisconsin
The red arrow is pointing out the approximately 1-mile wide section of land that was cleared by a tornado.

Not all of this screenshot is public land, but enough of it is the Nicolet National Forest and this gives me a great starting point.

Another option is to use an app like OnXMaps, which is a mapping application that is designed to show which parcels of land are publicly owned and therefore potentially open to activities like foraging. While the app is primarily meant for hunters, there are a million ways foragers could use this tool.

Their tool has many available layers of information, but one of the most helpful is the layer that shows where the Forest Service has logged in the last 15 years or so. Not all logging activity is equally interesting for us, but the app provides information on when the logging occurred and the extent of the logging.

Things to Keep In Mind While Picking Blackberries

Before we wrap up this post, I think it would be helpful to quickly cover a few things to think about before you head out to the woods to start picking wild blackberries.

Dress Appropriately for the Weather

As much as I love blackberry picking, one of the downfalls is the fact that it peaks in the hottest months of the year. This shouldn’t stop you from getting your fill of free and delicious blackberries, but you may want to make a few adjustments before heading out.

First, it may be a good idea to do most of your collecting in the early morning or the evening. At these times the sun will be lower in the sky but there still will be enough light to get a good haul.

Second, if you easily burn it might be a good idea to use any or all of the following ideas:

  • Find a wide-brimmed hat that casts shade on as much of your face as possible
  • Wear long-sleeves and pants
  • Apply sunblock to any exposed skin

Yes, wearing these layers in the peak of summer will heat you up, but it may well be worth it if it saves your skin from any additional exposure.

Related to that and equally important: remember to bring lots of water along on your trip. I try to fill up our stainless water bottles before we head out, and I generally prefer to have a spare gallon of water in the trunk just in case.

Protect Yourself from the Thorns

Unfortunately, the thorns on wild blackberries are no joke. Take them seriously, and this is yet another reason why it’s a good idea to wear long sleeve shirts and pants when out picking. The layer of clothing will help limit how many thorns contact your skin.

It’s difficult to imagine a day picking wild blackberries when you don’t come home with a few new cuts, but covering your skin with clothing helps. I find that materials like denim and cotton do a better job against thorns than synthetic fabrics, but anything is better than nothing.

And don’t wear anything that can’t take a little abuse, as the thorns will likely do some minor damage to your clothes. As such, this is a great opportunity to visit a local thrift store to pick up some gently used clothing that’s great for foraging.

Concluding Thoughts

I hope that you managed to pick up a few interesting facts or ideas when reading this article. I’ve always loved picking berries and it’s been such an interesting journey when trying to find these hidden gems in the wild.

If you got value from this article and want to learn more, you can check out this article: When to Pick Wild Blackberries. In this piece I go into greater depth about timing the wild blackberry picking season just right.