A Prairie Storm
By Arden Delidais, DNA
This article was written for the Calgary Horticultural Society
(Haskaps) are storming
the prairies. This new fruit
is so hardy! The blooms are
recorded to take minus seven degrees Celsius.
Odd in shape, the cylindrical fruit is long, not round and
beautiful turquoise colored. I
say "odd" shaped because I am a Canuk.
However, as one Russian visitor to the farm pointed out, round
shaped blueberries are "odd" to them since they are used to
picking wild honeyberries much like we pick saskatoons.
The Russians started
breeding and improving honeyberries from the wild about fifty
years ago. They
collected wild strains from Kamchatcha to the Ural mountains.
Presently, the Russians have many varieties that are farmed
Russian varieties have been brought to North America, in large part due to
an Oregon nurseryman, Jim Gilbert. Gilbert
routinely travels the world looking for exotic plant material.
He shared these varieties with the University of Saskatchewan to
trial and test. Of the
original four trialed, the University eliminated two and recommended Berry
Blue tm and Blue Belle tm.
Royalties are collected and sent to Gilbert who in turn, returns
revenues to Russian breeding Institutes.
Honeyberries thrive on
prairie soils that are naturally alkaline (high in pH). We are sometimes asked for blueberry plants on the farm and I
say, forget blueberries! We
can't grow them in our soils and
honeyberries make an excellent replacement.
Blueberries require a pH of 4.5 to 5.5.
Much of our soils have a pH of 7 to 8.
Honeyberries have been likened to blueberries in flavour but
without the seeds. Flavour is
hard to describe and varies from palette to palette.
You can eat them fresh or with cream and sugar.
What ever you do with a blueberry, you can do with a honeyberry.
This is the first fruit to
produce for the season. Fruit
is ready in June and what a great way to extend our fresh eating pleasure
by season-extenders like this. Once
the fruit has coloured up, throw some netting over the plants to keep the
birds off. The flavour
improves if the fruit is left longer on the bush.
I think we are picking them before they are fully ripe.
Unfortunately, because there isn't a lot of other fruit to attract
or distract the birds, they devour honeyberries.
Cross pollination is
required. This means
two-different varieties of compatible honeyberries need to be planted near
one another. It does not do
any good to have two of the same variety planted together.
Berry Blue tm and Blue Belle tm will
pollinate each other. Cinderella
is another Russian variety that is performing well for us.
Instant gratification is not
usually associated with gardening. If
there is such an animal in the fruit world, it would be honeyberries.
These precocious plants start to bloom and set fruit when only
one-year old. They are truly
amazing. Yields of six and a
half kilos have been recorded on Blue Belle, seven-year old plants growing
in Saskatoon. The plentiful
fruits can be frozen on cookie sheets, bagged, and then doled out during
the long winter season.
The bushes make attractive
ornamentals. They have yellow
blooms that attract wild bees and tame bees.
Bees like them which helps
pollination. They are broad shrubs, with no suckering.
Height ranges from four to six feet depending on the variety.
We are testing many varieties and there is a huge difference between them;
flavour differences being most notable.
Grow them in full sun. If
not possible, try and find a spot where they will receive four to six
hours of full sun a day.
The bright blue color of the
fruit brings tremendous nutriceutical value to our diet. Interestingly, the Russian literature says they
are full of Vitamin P. Olds
College School of Innovation tested berries at DNA Gardens and were
excited to find very high levels of polyphenols and anthocyanins. Dr. Anna
Bakowska-Barczak, food scientist is performing research on bioactive
substances in dark berries at OCSI. This research is sponsored by the
Alberta Ingenuity Fund in conjunction with industry partner DNA
research data indicates that Blue BelleTM has a very high
content of anthocyanins and polyphenols. Polyphenols are plant
phytochemicals with antifungal and anti-bacterial properties that defend
the plant from disease invaders. In humans, these compounds protect
the body from cancer and enhance cardio-vascular health.
Honeyberries are good
candidates for organic growing because they are easy to grow and do not
have any insect or disease pests.
Honeyberry is a name
trademarked by Jim Gilbert. They
belong to the honeysuckle family, Lonicera edulis and are native to Canada
as well as Russia. Older
varieties have been available for years and have been sold as sweet
honeysuckle. They have very
poor fruit quality compared to the Russian varieties that have over
50-years of intensive improvement. Be
aware of what you are buying. Not
all honeyberry plants are created equal so make sure to buy known, proven
The work continues.
It seems nothing stands still.
Dr. Bob Bors from the University of Saskatchewan has been
collaborating with Maxine Thompson, the only Honeyberry plant breeder in
the U.S. Maxine has an
extensive collection of Honeyberries,
native materials from Japan to Kamchatka.
Bob has been breeding these
Honeyberries to get later varieties, to extend the season of harvest,
attain larger and sturdier fruit able to stand the rigors of mechanical
cleaning and harvest. Of
course, he is selecting for great flavour and hardiness.
He has released to DNA Gardens, three of these new varieties.
One of these fruits has been specifically selected for large fruit
size and taste for home owners. These
varieties will be available in the future.
This is a wonderful application for tissue culture.
So… from one or two plants (a humble beginning), we will test the
magic of tissue culture again! Tissue
culture is a method of using old fashioned plant propagation to grow
healthy, disease free plants in test tubes in big numbers.
The Japanese are keenly
interested in honeyberries. Dr.
Bob has been helping to stoke this fire.
It seems the Japanese harvest honeyberries in the mountains and
prize them as indigenous fruit much like we do the saskatoon.
However, due to their large population, small land base and
continued industrialization, there is far greater demand for fruit than
supply. Bob has spear-headed
meetings between Japanese universities, Japanese companies and potential
Canadian growers. We had the
good fortune to meet with this Japanese contingency when they toured
Saskatchewan and Alberta in 2006. There
is an immediate call for 650-acres of this fruit.
Not to confuse the public, the Japanese know this fruit by the name
Haskap. Dr. Bob is leading the move to change the name from
Honeyberry to Haskap berry.
So… you can see, this
"odd", new fruit is
creating tremendous excitement for both home owners and commercial