Honeyberry Fruit
 

Honeyberry Farm Profile

The Honeyberry Farm's webstore, HoneyberryUSA, was launched in the fall of 2010 from the log cabin of Jim & Bernis Ingvaldson, located 25 miles west of Bemidji, MN, and 25 miles north of the headwaters of the Mississippi River. With our international connections, (Bernis originated in Canada, Jim in the USA!) we aspire to provide the best selection of cold hardy fruit trees to our customers. We are also enjoying the process of establishing an organic honeyberry and dwarf sour cherry orchard. You are welcome to view this venture at The Honeyberry Farm blog.

How it all began

I (Bernis) first noticed honeyberry plants during the winter of 2010 as I dreamily browsed through one of my garden catalogues. Daunted by the task of growing blueberries, which depend on acidic soil, a cold hardy blue berry that would grow in any type of soil seemed too good to be true. So I put in my order for two bare root honeyberry plants and excitedly stuck the dead looking sticks into the ground when they arrived.

Later that spring after getting the rest of the garden in the ground, I made my annual pilgrimage back to Saskatchewan to visit family and friends. While there, I typed something like "cold hardy fruit Canada" into Google and started reading about something called haskap – a berry plant that was cold hardy to –54F and other features that sounded very familiar. I quickly realized that this must be very similar to the honeyberry plants I had put in my garden, but the University of Saskatchewan was claiming that the selections from their breeding program were of such quality as to be competitive in the Japanese market, calling them "haskap" after the Japanese name. My curiosity was piqued. Obviously, I would need to do some research on this topic, but before I got very far, I unexpectedly had my first personal encounter with the plant right there on the prairie.

While visiting friends on their farm I began telling them about my discovery of honeyberry/haskap plants and lo and behold – they took me out to see a row of bushes in their garden! Picked up the year before at an auction sale, now in mid-June the shrubs were thigh-high, indicating they were probably a couple of years old, and the fruit was starting to turn a deep purplish blue color. We found a few of the strangely shaped oblong berries ripe enough to sample. My lips puckered as I thought, "this is sour", but before I knew it the thin-skinned berry melted away and a sweet sensation lingered in my mouth. Later that summer I asked my friend what they had made with the berries, and she said, "Nothing. My son ate them all – right off the bush!"

Thus began my journey into the world of Honeyberry/Haskap/Edible Blue Honeysuckle. First of all I had to try and figure out the nomenclature. Jim Gilbert of Northwoods Nursery in Oregon was one of the early pioneers in bringing Russian plants to the USA and he dubbed his varieties "honeyberries".  Probably a good idea since "edible blue honeysuckle berry" is quite a mouthful, and the Russian word "zhimolost" would just draw a blank to the English speaker! But the Canadians wanted to maintain their international profile so I would become bilingual and research "haskap" as well. I visited a propagation nursery right there in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, seeing how they clone the mother plant by snipping off the tips of new growth and nurturing them in a special solution until roots develop for planting into peat containers. I learned that a non-related variety was needed for pollination and that one of these pollinizer shrubs serves up to eight other plants. Production and taste is dependent on variety, climate, bee population for pollination, and soil condition. Select varieties are viable for zones 2-8, grow from 3-8 feet tall, and 4-7 feet in diameter. And should they make it past the mouth, I have been told that the sweet/tart fruit works great fresh or frozen in any blueberry recipe – pies, jam, jelly, muffins, pancakes, cobblers, even in home-made ice cream!

I saw the market for haskap was taking off like wildfire across the prairies, and indeed all across Canada. A lot of information and first hand experience is available in western Canada largely due to the cooperation of the University of Saskatchewan with local growers both of who have been testing their cultivars for several years. Some farmers are going commercial, planning to use cranberry pickers to harvest the berries, while others are focusing on U-pick operations. Precautions do need to be taken against birds, deer, and weeds, and it has been interesting to talk to people who are exploring organic ways to combat these pests, such as netting, guard dogs and geese! So when do the bushes start bearing? While honeyberries bear fruit on year old wood, it takes 2-3 years for any significant amount of berries after planting. After five years, one grower's waist-high bushes were loaded with approximately ten pounds of beautiful blue berries. She took off about 1¼ ice-cream pails per plant, and that was after a terrible windstorm had swept through her orchard.

Upon returning to Minnesota I eagerly checked on my fledgling honeyberry plants. A few leaves sprouted out of one of the stems, but the other variety still looked like a dead stick, and remained so for the rest of the summer. Having found many good reasons for trying the Canadian plants, I started taking orders from some other gardening enthusiasts and nurseries and ended up importing 700 plants in September of 2010. I had 120 bushes left over that went into our garden plot. While initially quite a skeptic, a few months later my husband surprised me by saying we should bring some more plants down for sale in the spring, and that we have finally discovered how to make good use of that empty acre of land - just right for a little U-Pick operation!

WWOOFers


We enjoy having guest helpers on the farm. Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms is a great way to connect farmers with volunteers. Read more about our experiences here.

Deer Control

 

We put up 7 1/2' woven wire (sheep netting). Deer like to nibble fresh growth on the honeyberries, but they totally prune the cherries. Rain diminished the effect of Plantskyd (blood repellent). Maybe we didn't apply enough. We heard that a liquid mixture of shaved Irish Spring and water applied after each rain is very effective for all nibblers, including rabbits. We personally haven't had much trouble with rabbits but this Garden Web forum has an interesting discussion, from Irish Spring soap on a rope to egg sprays to scented toilet tank cleaners.


Bird Control

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It seems like netting is the safest method of bird control. Bird Control on Grape and Tender Fruit Farms from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture gives a comprehensive overview and mentions that "robins and cedar waxwings are hardly repelled at all" by scare-eye balloons. The more indepth report EVALUATION OF THE EFFICACY OF PRODUCTS AND TECHNIQUES FOR AIRPORT BIRD CONTROL from Transport Canada reports that lasers are not especially effective and may be harmful to humans. (Bailer netting strung from wire was effective at one U-Pick. Shower curtain hooks clamped the netting to the wire.)


Rodent Control

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Gardeners in Alaska personally recommended Lowe's Arbor Edge #92700 for both mouse and weed control. The 27" plastic shield apparently deters mice from tunneling towards the tree trunk. But this wouldn't deter the rabbits. (Young Borealis chewed by mice winter 2010, but bounced back with new shoots)


Weed Control

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Jim acquired a weed badger to go on his new 38 hp Kubota tractor. Our first year we used a heavy duty rototiller along the edges of the 3' strips, and a light rototiller shallow closer to the plants, and a lot of hand pulling on the 700 plants. Lowe's Arbor Edge at $7.98 each is a bit spendy for an orchard, but for the home gardener, that is another option. We have also heard tell that once the plants are well established, geese love to eat dandelions and other young weeds.


Wind and Rain

Heavy wind and rain can take down berries.

Fertilization

Foliar Spraying Tips


Honeyberry Berry Picking

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It takes at least 15 minutes to pick a quart of berries so that's over an hour for a 5 quart ice cream pail. Shake & drop is a lot faster, but then you have to pick debris (leaves and twigs) out of the berries. So it all depends if you want to enjoy the great outdoors and pick the berries clean, or get in out of the sun and pick off the debris in the shade! (Berry Blue pictured at left)