Joe Culbreth’s 15-acre swath of land is beautifully organized into arcing rows of flowers, berries, grapes and a wide variety of fruit trees. He always wanted to plant and grow things when he retired, so he did.
Having no experience as a farmer or grower, Culbreth attended seminars and read all the books he could about the right conditions for growing different plants.
“It is rewarding and very educational,” Culbreth said. “I have killed more trees than you can imagine.”
Though Culbreth “hasn’t made a nickel” from his farm, he is a happy grower, proud of his product and feels very successful.
Nine years since his purchase of the property, the Berry and Nut Farm is running great. Culbreth grows apples, all sorts of nuts, cherries, pears, blueberries, grapes and — most interesting — huckleberries.
Six years ago, he bought more than 1,200 huckleberry plants for his farm. Usually, when people want huckleberries, they go into to forest and pick them wild.
“I wanted something different and I love huckleberries,” he said. “I’ve been huckleberrying in Idaho since '79.”
Culbreth bought huckleberry plants from a variety of locations, one of which was from the University of Idaho’s Sandpoint Research and Extension Center where Dan Barney, head of the center, was doing research to domesticate huckleberries.
Over the years Culbreth has used Barney as a resource for information about maintaining the plants.
He learned huckleberries like partial shade. So, he planted blueberry bushes and dwarf apple trees on the west side of the huckleberries, to make that partial shade.
Unfortunately for Culbreth, Barney moved to Alaska recently, leaving Culbreth alone to tend to the huckleberries, which never grew. And year after year, they still never grew any berries. Each year, Culbreth held out hope the next year the plants would bear fruit.
Finally, in their sixth season on his property, the huckleberries are growing.
He thinks this year’s mild winter and early spring have helped the plants produce fruit. As of right now, most of the huckleberry bushes have produced fruit that looks ripe, but tastes green. One bush had good berries on it.
He said he would clone that bush by sending in a stem of leaves from it to a nursery in Oregon where they can literally clone the plant.
“You take each one of these leaves and put them in a rooting compound and that will produce 10 plants for each of those pieces,” he said, searching the plant for more berries. “I will have 10 clones, or 100 clones. So I have to mark this one, so I can propagate this guy.”
Culbreth said he can’t send the berries to be cloned because they have been cross-pollinated with other plants that might be bad or not producing fruit.
If he follows through with the cloning, it will be the first time he has done so on his farm. He’s willing to do it, he said, because he really wants to have good huckleberries.
“Next year was the year that if they didn’t produce, they were gone,” Culbreth said. “But they produced this year, so now I have to wait a few more years to see how it goes, now that I’ve got a taste of the good stuff.”
Culbreth finds huckleberries tucked away in a six-year-old bush he purchased from University of Idaho Moscow's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences program.
Joe Culbreth examines his 6-year-old huckleberry bushes for signs of berries on Thursday. The bushes bloomed for the first time this season.