Monday, 5 August 2013

Bilberry Essentials

1 Bilberry can be found growing in many parts of the moors but Blacka is probably the best place to find quantities of fruit.

2 This year, 2013, is producing the highest yield of recent times.

3 The best fruit comes where there has been little or no sheep grazing over a substantial period. Sheep and bilberry picking are not compatible because sheep nibble the plants.

4 The flowers come early in the year. Thousands of tiny red bell shaped flowers cover the shrubs.

5 The size of the fruit crop depends on the success of pollinating insects A dry and calm spell during the pollinating period tends to give ideal conditions for the insects. Often the more exposed plants higher up produce good flowers but have little fruit to show later in the summer. 2013 had a long dry spell often calm in the spring.

6 Once fruit is set the red flowers disappear and for several weeks the green developing fruit are all but invisible.

7 You first become aware of purple berries from mid to late June and they can still be found in October. They are at their sweetest and most flavoursome from August on.

8 Because pollinating insects don’t function well in stronger winds you can often find the best crops low down unlike blackberry the best of which are commonly said to be just out of reach.

9 Bilberry that has not been cropped by farm livestock grows quite tall and is good ground cover offering wildlife excellent shelter. Birds nest in it. Even large red deer can be well hidden in it and sheltered from cold winds. Grouse moor owners make spurious claims for their interventionist management, sometimes supported by certain friends at board level in Natural England. You’re unlikely to find more than the odd bilberry on those exploited moors.

10 Bracken often grows through the bilberry, hiding the fruit. But bracken comes up later than the bilberry flowers and after insects have pollinated. This means there can be large crops of bilberry under the bracken fronds. It is comparatively easy to pull up the bracken by the stems and reveal the fruit below.

11 SWT claims that its practice of spraying bracken is to aid the bilberry. This is misguided. The herbicide used has been banned by European legislation. Those clamoring for the ban to be lifted are not bilberry pickers but grouse shooters. There is no enthusiasm for pickers to eat fruit where herbicides have been used.

12 Bilberries are small and take a long time to pick a good quantity. Serious pickers use a SCOOP

With this you can harvest a decent quantity in a few minutes before the midges drive you off the moor. You can then sort out the berries from the leaves etc. at your leisure on the kitchen table.

13 Bilberry is one of the most nutritious of fruits, loaded with vitamin C and anti- oxidants. It is also delicious raw or cooked with scores of uses for desserts and preserves.It's essentially the same as the cultivated blueberry, expensively offered in supermarkets; just a bit smaller, and, I think, tastier.

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