Berry rakes, in the wrong hands, can be destructive

DELTA JUNCTION - In my last column I asked for reader feedback about using berry rakes. My take is that when I use one, I substantially increase my harvest. I get very little extra matter (leaves, sticks, etc.) that would make cleaning the berries difficult and I do not see damage to plants as some people claim.

Well, that was until I went picking with two other women who were using berry rakes as if they were out to save their lives. As we compared buckets, I was overwhelmed at the difference. Mine were clean and not crushed and absent of excessive plant material. Theirs contained different degrees of crushed and whole berries with a whole lot of berry juice and a good deal of plant matter.

I was shocked. I watched their technique and found that besides being overly aggressive, they oftentimes raked “against the grain” of the plant. This would sometimes result in either damaging or pulling the plant out of the ground. So now I must eat my words about how berry rakes cannot possibly be detrimental.

Jerry Domnick of Bethel seems to agree. He wrote:

I live in SW Alaska and I've got mixed feelings about berry rakes. I used them for blackberries (crowberries) and low bush cranberries. In the hands of a careful picker they're absolutely wonderful tools. I've learned that you skim lightly over the bushes and get the berries on top, resisting temptation and leaving ones on the bottom that I'd grab if I was hand picking. Part of me wants to grab those others too but if I do, I hand pick them as going after them with the rake often results in the berry plants being heavily damaged or even uprooted and destroyed. Leaving some berries is a small price for being super-efficient in getting lots of easy ones quickly.

Unfortunately, for every thoughtful, careful, respectful person there are just as many who aren't and those few can ruin it for others. Those people destroy berry patches using rakes because they “dig deep,” basically destroying the patch.

There used to be mighty blackberry patches just outside our community but many have been obliterated by people with berry rakes. I've known a few villages that try to ban their use because of the lasting damage they inflict.

I guess berry rakes are like any other thing, whether guns, ATVs or cars: In the hands of a thoughtful person they are wonderful tools but in the hands of a careless person they can inflict much damage.

Jim Sweeney of Fairbanks thinks he has found a better berry rake. He imports a couple different varieties from Finland and Norway.

Depending on the type of berry you’re going to pick, there’s a rake to go with it.

“I use the Norwegian picker (with the metal tines) for blueberries because the thin springy tines collect less leaves. For thick cranberry patches I like the large Finland picker. Anyway, these are the best pickers I have found and I know of about 10 different designs,” he wrote via email.

You can find these rakes at Alaska Feed, Cold Spot Feeds and Sentry Hardware.

Sweeney also said they are being shipped to western Alaska villages. Using the large Finland picker, Jim was able to collect five gallons of cranberries in two hours.

What's your opinion on berry pickers? Drop me an e-mail. If you want to share a picture of your berry harvest, send that too.

Brookelyn Bellinger is an independent filmmaker and author of the book “The Frozen Toe Guide to Real Alaskan Livin’.” Send questions to

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