Using a berry picker is a lot easier than using your teeth.

Using a berry picker is a lot easier than using your teeth.


“Hey! What’re you eating?” I ask.

When you’re out on a leashless walk with your favorite dog, it’s always good to monitor what she eats, drinks, rolls in or steps on. Foreign, messy or stinky things found by Ginger on our adventures have a way of coming back to haunt me later if left unchecked.

Ginger walks to a bush, reaches under some low branches and pulls backward. What the …? She turns around chewing something, looking for approval. Well I’ll be darned, she’s found some edible berries and taken to picking her own.

“Good girl, go ahead,” I say, as she continues walking down the row picking and eating.

In our area, Saskatoon berries are quite common. The berries turn deep blue in late July and early August, looking similar to blueberries. Some years there are very few, and they are hardly worth picking. This year, the bushes are hanging heavy with them!

Being a quadriplegic, there are a few things in this world that I’m just not very good at. Take chopsticks for instance. They are great for my waistline, but for caloric intake, there are just more efficient ways for me to ingest rice. Another “for instance” would be sewing. Needles and I don’t see eye to eye. And my hands seem to develop more leakage than necessary after such encounters. Berry picking also falls into this category.

In the past, I have tried the traditional use-your-hands method. Without fingers that work, this proved to be less than efficient. I ended up with broken and squished berries all over. My hands were stained blue. My shirt was stained blue. My face was stained blue. My dog’s back was stained blue from petting. You get the idea.

I was hoping to find a way to get in on this berry-picking thing, but so far Ginger has out-produced me by about 20 to one. I even tried Ginger’s direct method of eating from the branch. I wheeled right into the bush, grabbed a branch in my teeth and wheeled backward. It seems a dog’s physiology must differ from a human’s in the mouth area, as she enjoyed a clean mouthful of berries, but I ended up with leaves, bark, spiders and other icky bugs, plus a few berries.

I needed a solution, and trusty Google was game to help. A quick search on berry pickers produced lots of units for sale with “fingers” that strip the berries off of bushes. If I was to believe the rave reviews, I would have to buy a new freezer to accommodate all of the berries I would come home with. The problem is, with three-week shipping to our area, the harvest would be finished before I could start!

About this time, my uncle calls. “Any Saskatoons at your place?”

“Yes,” I reply. “The dog has been eating them. There are lots there, come and get ’em!”

“Thanks! Be right out!”

A little while later he pulls up to the bushes. Ginger and I head over to visit, and I see he already has an ice cream pail full!

“How did you do that so fast?” I ask.

“Look at this,” he says, pulling out a berry picker — the same one I saw online.

I ask him where he got it and he says at the hardware store for five bucks.

“Here, you can have it, I’ve got enough berries already,” he says as he pulls away.

I wheel up to the bush and try the picker. My hands still don’t hold it well. So, like anything new, there is some trial and error. I try pulling the picker upright. The fingers catch a branch and I promptly drop the device on the ground.

“Oh shit,” I say. The picker might as well be on the moon. I’m thinking that my picking is done, but then Ginger prances over and stands over it. I guess one good thing about training your own dog is that she responds to your customized commands. Apparently cursing means “Dad dropped something … again.”

I laugh. “Would you pick it up please?”

Ginger sets the picker in my lap and returns to her berry picking. I’m back in business!

A new strategy is in order. I hold the picker with two hands as safely as possible, and gently rake the underside of a branch. Slowly peering inside, I’m pleasantly surprised … there are berries there! I rake a few more branches and feel the picker getting heavy. It’s working, there’s actual production! I turn back home to get a pail — this is gonna be fun! Soon I’m back raking the branches. I have a pail full in no time. Ginger has even quit picking her own and is looking for handouts.

“You didn’t share yours very well,” I say, “but then I guess you did save me when I dropped this thing.”

I pour a scoop on the ground and she readily gobbles it.

Berry picking has since become another season to look forward to. Now I watch closely to see if it is going to be a good one or not. I had never really considered it as a hobby before!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Saskatoons?
They are a species of serviceberry that grow on bushes in clusters like grapes, only smaller. They grow wild in our area, but are also planted.

What are they good for?
The berries are great for jams, pies, ice cream syrup, and some people make wine out them. Because the juice is dark blue or purple, it is said to be full of antioxidants. I love them alone or sprinkled on cereal, and they make great raisins in a dehydrator. The bushes make a perfect hedge. They produce suckers and spread well, which is good if you want them to spread. Coyotes love to eat them, and then bushes sprout from their scat.