Alaska Science Camps, Fairs & Experiments

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Berry Pickers

During the fall of every year, most Alaskans are very busy. One of the most important activities is picking berries to store for winter. For many decades steel berry pickers have been available.

They have several advantages:

• They pick berries very fast.
• They hold a quite a few berries before needing to be dumped into a bucket or other container.

They have disadvantages:

• They also pick leaves, sticks, and other undesirable material, making the berries dirty.
• There is also a controversy. Some people say the berry pickers damage the blueberry bushes. Other people say they do less damage than bears, and are therefore not harmful. No one says they harm lowbush cranberry bushes.

One village will allow anyone to come and pick blueberries in their area, but won't allow anyone to use steel berrypickers.

It will take time, careful observation, and measuring to do the following experiment, but a good scientific answer is possible.

 EXPERIMENT

Find several patches of blueberries. With flagging, divide the blueberry patches roughly in half. Harvest the berries on one side by hand, and the other side with a berry picker. There are three ways to measure the harvest from each section: by weight, by volume, or counting each berry. I would probably go by weight.

Record the weight, volume or number of berries from each section.

Examples: Handpicked area =1356 grams of berries. Picker area = 834 grams. The berries from the handpicked area represents 62% of the berries in the patch. Another area has 378 handpicked berries while the picker area has 276. The berries from the handpicked area thus represent 58% of the berries.

To be accurate, mark and harvest several patches in this same manner recording all data.

Considerations

There are many variables involved in a blueberry harvest:

• Amount of rain, sunshine, spring snow melt
• Timing of rain and sunshine
• First frost, etc.

Do the same measurement for two more years in exactly the same spot. Does the percentage of berries decrease in the area harvested with the berry picker?

The number of berries in one year might vary greatly from one year to another, so compare the percentage of berries picked in the two sections, metal picker and hand picked. The question you are trying to answer is: Does a berry picker help or harm the berry production? Does the percentage of berries from the area harvested with the steel picker go up, down, or stay the same from year to year?

You might want to put a sign over your berry patches asking people to leave the berries alone because you are doing a scientific experiment there.

Some scientific experiments take many years. A bear or birds harvesting in your patch one year might throw the conclusion off.

You will have to pick the berries at the same time each year. When berries are overripe, the berry picker smashes berries, and the count will be off if you are measuring by volume.

This is an important experiment that needs to be done. We want to care for our berry patches, and we don't want unnecessary conflict between people. This experiment will take the discussion from the realm of opinion into the realm of fact.

Cleaning Berries

After the berries are picked, they must be cleaned. Some people pick berries very clean and some (like me) pick like a brown bear (lots of rubble).

There are several ways of cleaning berries.

Our oldest daughter goes over every berry on the table, plucking the stems from each berry. That's too tedious for most people.

Oldtimers used to pour the berries from one container to another in a strong wind. The leaves and sticks have more surface area and less weight than the berries, and therefore blow away. The berries are heavier and drop into the bottom container. The only problem is the lack of a strong wind at the critical time of cleaning. If berries sit too long, some of them smash and the wet leaves stick to the good berries. They must be cleaned by wind soon after picking.

My wife and I had another way. I drove the boat and she poured the berries. We created our own wind. We didn't have electricity for a fan in those days.

LEAVES STAY BEHIND

Oldtimers also cleaned berries by pouring the berries down a blanket. The berries roll, and the leaves don't. They are classified by shape.

PLYWOOD UNDER BLANKET

Round rolls and flat doesn't. This works well, but the pitch of the blanket often varies. If it is too steep, the leaves tumble into the bucket too.

We put a piece of plywood under the blanket, funneling only the bottom to channel the berries into the bucket.

 EXPERIMENT

Try different methods of separating berries from the leaves and sticks by using wind. A variable-speed fan provides many opportunities to experiment. You will note that berries that fall a long ways will damage when they hit, especially those picked later in the year.

Try rolling berries down a blanket. Try different pitches of the blanket. Put a piece of plywood under the blanket. Does this help control the angle of the incline? Does the type of blanket make any difference (wool, cotton, nylon, etc.)?

What percentage of berries must be green to get the same gelling effect as the commercial pectin? 5%, 10%, 25%, etc.

Does it help to smash the green berries, making the pectin more readily available to the jam?

While commercial pectin is relatively inexpensive, the time might come when it won't be available, and we need to know the answers to these questions.

Jam

We now use commercial pectin to make jams and jellies. However, green berries contain pectin that can take the place of the commercial product.

Of course, there are more green berries available in the beginning of the season than there are at the end of the season.

 Finding and Developing a Science Fair Project Examples of "Observe and Think" Projects 200+ Ideas for Science Fairs! Traditional Lighting Firestarting Traditional Firemaking Sharpening Fishing with Lures Rabbit Snares Spearing Fish and the Refraction of Light Chill of the Campfire Solution vs Suspension Seals & Beaver, Floating & Sinking Steaming Selecting a Birch Tree Spruce & Other Roots Spruce Gum Spear Throwing Berry Pickers Drum Frames Conclusion

© 2004 Alaska Native Knowledge Network. All rights reserved.

A partner with the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0086194. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Contents

Camps as an Environment for Science & Culture

Culturally Relevant Science Fairs

Experiments

Also available in downloadable PDF

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Last modified April 12, 2011