‘Hello? I said to my iPhone.
Nothing. “Hello?” I said a little more insistent, thinking it might be a butt call.
“Wait, wait. Don’t hang up, I’m calling from Alitak on a satellite phone.”
At that point I shifted gears to a familiar, slower, form of communication. I’d talked on single sideband (SSB) radios often enough while working at sea to know that long delays followed bursts of spoken words. These days, such communications would drive anyone to texting.
“I have a friend visiting me from Utah,” the female voice said, “and they want to be able to grow salmonberries there. Is this possible? Can we collect seeds?” Her question stumped me.
People seem to either revere salmonberries as a beautiful berry, a gift, to pick all summer and turn into ruby red jams and pies; or scowl at them like the Kudzu of the North in their efforts to clear their yards for a better purpose. And now this lady is asking about propagating salmonberries.
I knew that salmonberries were members of the rose family and that they are distributed up and down the West Coast, from the Aleutians to northern California. And that moist areas, along roadsides, lower mountainsides, streambanks and classic Kodiak yards, favor salmonberries. But would they live in the arid lands of Utah?
After a bit of research, I discovered a few ways to propagate muck-a-muck, another name for salmonberries, (according to Janice Schofield, author of the classic, Discovering Wild Plants). So for the lady in Alitak, this one’s for you, and your friend in the Southwest:
One source suggested taking cuttings, 4 to 8 inches long, in the fall as the plant goes dormant. Then stick the cuttings into potting soil or moist sand with two buds below the surface of the soil and two buds above. Keep the soil moist. In spring, root development will have begun; leave the cuttings in place until autumn when they can be set out into the garden.
Taking cuttings in the fall may or may not work, depending on how cold our winter ends up. My thought would be to root cuttings in fall and late winter, much like you’d do with red and black currants.
This method follows Mother Nature proven technique of spreading salmonberries hither and yon. You’ll see what I mean.
Layering is accomplished by bending a flexible branch down to the ground so that the tip and a few inches lay on top of the soil. Then secure the branch in place on the ground with U-shaped pieces of wire (like giant hairpins) pushed into the soil so the tip of the branch remains in contact with the soil. You can also place a branch, rock or piece of wood across the branch to secure it in place. When roots have developed (it may take a few months), trim off the rooted section and plant in a pot.
Collect ripe berries and place them in a sieve and squash by hand until all the berries are pulverized. Put the pulp into a jar and fill with water. Allow the mixture to settle then pour off the water; viable (healthy) seeds should remain in the bottom of the jar.
So far, it’s been quite a year for salmonberries. I bet you can think of a dozen ways to enjoy them. I’m partial to eating them fresh (and I’ll share my favorite recipe for fresh salmonberry pie in a moment) but did you know that there is such a thing as a true berry and a not-so-true one?
As far as common berries are concerned, not all can be called “berry.” Blueberries, for example, are true berries, because they are single fruits derived from the plant’s ovaries, according to Harold McGee, author of “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.”
Strawberries however, are not true berries. They are multiple fruits that develop from many ovaries set in the same flower “receptacle.” As for salmonberries (and raspberries), each little segment is a complete fruit.
Now that we know that salmonberries are a real berry, here’s a recipe for a real, fresh, salmonberry pie:
An annual favorite, shared by my friend Carol Sturgulewski.
Bake a 9-inch pie shell and cool to room temperature. Or make a no-bake crust from ginger snaps or graham crackers. In a saucepan, mix 1/4 cup sugar and 1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch and a dash of salt. Slowly stir in 1/4 cup salmonberry juice. Mix well. Add 1-1/4 cup more juice and stir. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until clear and starting to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Arrange fresh berries in the pie shell and top with warm glaze. Chill at least 1 hour. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla yogurt.
Reminder: The Kodiak Garden Club’s annual garden tour: August 1 and 2. Stay tuned for details.
• Keep hanging baskets and containers evenly watered. Try not to let them dry out, especially moss baskets. Turn them occasionally to encourage even growth.
• Clean up dead or fallen leaves under broccoli and other tall vegetable crops to discourage slugs. Hill up around potatoes with compost, kelp, dried leaves or grass. Plant more salad greens.
• Keep raspberries evenly watered for a heavier crop. Apply a mulch of compost or grass clippings plus seaweed under the bushes.
• After cutting the grass, mix clippings with dried leaves.
• Enjoy a few quiet, calm moments in the garden.