The huckleberry is the most widely distributed wild fruit of the Northern and Southern States. In nearly all parts of the Union it is gathered for local use and sent to distant markets. In its season the receipts of the fruit exceeds 2000 bushels per day, and as far west as Wisconsin, an annual crop of 20,000 bushels is gathered and shipped to Chicago, Milwaukee, and as far west as Des Moines and Omaha. Aside from the wild cranberry it is the leading commercial wild fruit of this country. But as yet it is not cultivated anywhere, except in a small way by amateurs and for trial at some of the experiment stations. In Wisconsin the area in which the wild plant thrives is gradually growing less, mainly by the extension of stock-growing with its tramping and pasturing, and the same is true at the East to greater or less extent. The time has come when special efforts should be made to bring it under cultivation and improve it by culture, selection, and possibly by crossing. As yet so little has been done that we have no reliable printed instruction relative to its propagation, culture, selection of soils, or management. So far the experience at the West and the East seems to favor the belief that the high-bush varieties are most valuable for cultivation. The low-bushed species, such as Vaccinium Canadense, V. Penn-sylvanicum, and V. vacillans, grow on sandy soil and do not seem to thrive or bear well on common cultivated land.
The species that are grown on low rich land, and even in swamps, so far seem to best adapt themselves to new conditions under culture. The Vaccinium Canadense is a Northern species and exceedingly variable, as it is found in the Eastern, Central, and Northwestern States. As obtained from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains it has thriven better in Iowa under culture with some mulching than other species tested at that time.
The high-bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) grows naturally on good soil and is exceedingly variable in bush and fruit. These two species are probably the best for improvement and culture. Without doubt, seedling production and selection will give the most speedy results in adapting varieties to special soils and to improve the fruit in size and quality.
Jackson Dawson has been widely quoted as saying: The growing of huckleberries and blueberries from seed requires close attention and can hardly be carried on successfully without a greenhouse or frame."
The writer's observation and experience has been quite different. If the berries are rubbed apart in sand soon after they are gathered and stratified (5. Seed-stratification) in box buried outside to retain moisture, they grow as readily as seeds of the currant, grape, or strawberry. Plant in boxes of sandy earth on the surface, pressing them down with a piece of board and coyer with heavy paper like verbena seed (11. Seeds in Shallow Boxes, or "Flats."). Remove the paper when growth starts, but keep in the shade and out of the wind, and mulch between the rows with fine moss. When the plants have formed true leaves the plants should be potted in thumb pots in sandy earth and later as they make growth in four-inch pots. With Iowa-grown seed of the V. Canadense stratified and frozen we have had no more trouble than with strawberry-seed, but the huckleberry-seed is a month slower in germination. The selected varieties may be propagated by cuttings of the subterranean stems (49. Propagation by Suckers) or by layering by twisting the shoots (53. Spring Layering).
A. S. Fuller says: "The huckleberry is one of those fruits which have been always neglected. Why this neglect I am at a loss to understand, for it possesses naturally better qualities than the currant or gooseberry. All the Northern species are hardy, producing no thorns, and the berries are more firm than the raspberry, blackberry, or strawberry; consequently they will bear carriage well and are suitable for market. Thousands of bushels are annually gathered from the woods and fields, but these sources of supply will not always be available ; besides, we should not be content with depending wholly upon nature for either the necessaries or the luxuries of life while a helping hand would not only increase the quantity but improve the quality."
At this time some of the experiment stations are taking up this desirable work of adapting varieties to soil variations and the size and quality by seedling production, and in the near future it is hoped valuable results will be published.