This is (hopefully) the year for juneberries

Columnist Ryan Taylor writes about life in rural America.

By Ryan M. Taylor

For the Capital Press

Published on May 30, 2014 12:42PM

TOWNER, N.D. — The seed is in the ground, the grass is growing, our mare had her colt and the calves have all stood up and gotten their first meal at the momma cow cafe. It’s a hopeful time here on the prairie.

Along with all those prospects, I rode through a thicket of poplar trees a couple weeks ago while checking the cows and came across some of those little bushes with the pretty white flowers at the tips of their branches. Juneberries!

I’m no meteorologist but when I saw those juneberry blossoms I could only think of one thing — there must be another killing frost in the forecast. After years of berry blossom hope crushed by years of predictably unpredictable weather conditions, I’ve become jaded about juneberries.

It’s for the kids

I really want to see another nice crop of those sweet, purple wild berries, not just for me, but for our kids.

It’s like the old jokes about the rancher and his family living out in the chronically droughty country. “I’d sure like to see it rain,” the rancher says, “but not for me, I’ve seen it rain before. But little Suzy here, she turns twelve this year, and she’s never seen it rain. It just don’t seem fair.”

Or the one where the rancher’s driving down the dusty road with his kids, and, miracle of miracles, rain comes out of the sky and hits the windshield. He turns on the windshield wipers and his half-grown children shriek with fear and delight because they’d never seen the windshield wipers work.

OK, the humor in those two stories is probably about as dry as the climate they described, but there’s a point to be made with my juneberry aspirations.

I’d really like to see another good juneberry crop out in our pastures, not just for me, but for our kids. They’ll be 10-, 8- and 6-years-old this summer, and it seems like they’ve never seen juneberries grow on those bushes.

And if I’d set a big bowl of juneberries and cream in front of them at the breakfast table they’d be about as surprised and bewildered at the sight as those kids watching the windshield wipers for the first time.

‘Berry’ special treat

We don’t have a lot of wild berry varieties that are sweet and good to eat in our locale, so the juneberries are pretty special. Hiking around the hills and picking them was one of my mother’s favorite pastimes. Eating the juneberry pies and sauce she made with them was one of my favorite pastimes. But best of all was always just eating them fresh as you picked them or with a little cream and sugar.

The last few years, it seems like a late frost usually does them in before the blossoms can turn to berries.

Last year, it didn’t freeze but it rained all the time. I thought that would make for some nice, plump berries. But there was hardly a berry.

Someone I talked to with a little knowledge of the situation figured it was too rainy for too many days during pollination time. They said the bees weren’t able to get out and do their work. Guess they needed some little bee umbrellas so they could venture out of their hives and fly to the blossoms. You just can’t win.

Luckily, we have other things that’ll grow and feed us. The grass grows and makes beef. My neighbors strategically place kernels of wheat and corn in the ground that sprout up and yield a multitude of foodstuffs.

Stay optimistic

Generations ago, the Mandan and Hidatsa would plant their corn, squash and beans in the soil along the Missouri River to supplement the protein that populated the grasslands as bison.

When all the magic and agronomy and knowledge comes together, we get to eat. And, in an exceptional year, we get to have juneberry pie for dessert.

I’m going to stay optimistic, ward away the frost, watch for the pollinators, and get ready to pick some berries with our kids. This is the year.


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