Today we took another giant leap forward in our redneck berry cleaning process! A trip to the local hardware store looking for a funnel resulted in the perfect attachment for a mere $10.99 – a plumbing “boot” which funnels the berries into a bag or pail.
Then a friend dropped by and helped us some more by pounding holes into the sides with a hammer and nail and then hanging it onto a chain which we hang from the chute. Bungee chord keeps bag attached to the funnel. Chute height is adjusted so bag sits on ground. Thanks Debra!
We do a final weight adjustment and vacuum seal the 10 lb bag before popping it into the freezer.
Jim Riddle comments, “I hooked up a powerful dust collector, after removing hardware cloth screen inside the unit. We empty the dust bag after each use. Occasionally we need to remove leaves from the fan blades, but most pass thru into the bag.”
Last summer a home haskap grower in Saskatchewan, Canada, contacted us regarding sending haskap berries for analysis to a professor doing oxalate research at the University of Wyoming. The grower was interested in this research for personal health reasons. Oxalates are most commonly associated with kidney stones, but in addition, according to the “Trying Low Oxalates” listserve he directed us to, “Oxalate is a recognized anti-nutrient and toxin in food that can store in the body… By reducing oxalate levels through diet (LOD) and other means, listmates have found improvements in chronic pain and inflammation, in digestive problems, and in various skin problems…” (and more)
Here are the results:
Total oxalate: 24.2 mg oxalate/100g Soluble oxalate: 10.1 mg oxalate/100g
Total oxalate: 27.3 mg oxalate/100 g Soluble oxalate: 12.6 mg oxalate/100 g
Total oxalate: 13.1 mg oxalate/100g Soluble oxalate: 6.3 mg oxalate/100 g
So it appears that a little less than half of the total oxalate is soluble; soluble oxalate is thought to be the better absorbed form of oxalate although this has not been definitively proven.
As a frame of reference, according to suimed.edu an extremely high oxalate food is spinach at 600 mg/100 g (3.5 oz) (some site cite 700+ mg/100 g) while blueberries are rated at 15. According to uchicago.edu, for those watching their oxalates, a standard “budget” is 100 mg/day.
In the fall of 2018 I sent two samples of honeyberry fruit to a lab in Minneapolis, mainly to find out if my low sugar fruit spread was Shelf Stable – below 4.6 pH and below .85 Water Activity. The samples I sent and results: 1) Canned honeyberries: pH 2.9 2) Canned honeyberry fruit spread: pH 3.13, water activity 0.972 (low sugar between 10-20%, thickened with Pomona brand pectin/calcium)
Legal/Health implications: 1) The plain canned honeyberries without additives are legal to sell. 2) The high water activity does not allow us to sell unrefrigerated low sugar honeyberry fruit spread
Jam and jelly contain 55% sugar by weight, making these products shelf stable. So we proceeded with contracting a certified jelly-maker to make jelly for us to sell to a few local stores and online. We went with jelly instead of jam as we clean the berries that we freeze for commercial sales for beverages, removing the majority of leaves/twigs/bugs but not intensively hand-picking over every berry.
I use recycled paper for labels (PURELabels.com) and being a small producer we aren’t required to put nutritional info but https://slism.com/calorie/107104/ lists plain haskap as having: 53Cal 100g, Vitamin C,Vitamin E Alpha Tocopherol
I still don’t understand all the science, nor all the regulations, but the lab and state inspectors were very patient. Dr. Allison Larson from MarketFresh Food Testing Laboratory explained how pH and water activity play out using a common example: “water activity of peanut butter is very low, but salmonella sits there, and if it’s there it will not die as peanut butter is not acidic and so it could make someone sick.” And the state inspectors did well interpreting the FDA regulations for acidified foods: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?CFRPart=114 For more information on water activity other fruits (haskap not listed yet) see: Food Properties Handbook by M. Shafiur Rahman.
This past August I sent a couple of dead Aurora yearlings to the University of Minnesota Plant Disease Clinic for diagnosis. Planted in early June, they leafed out but died by late July.
Result: “Phoma stem canker was detected at the crown level. Consider if there are any ways that mechanical wounds could be occurring at this area of the stem; thus creating an entry point for disease.” The fee for this diagnosis was $45.
Our 2019 commercial harvesting of berries for beverages wrapped up on July 11. 3100 lbs on approx 1000 bushes planted in 2011, 2013 & 2015, harvested by a crew of between 1 and 4 guys working partial days over 2 weeks, made possible by some techniques we have learned over the years.
First of all, by planting a range of early, mid and late ripening varieties, a small crew can keep up with the ripening of the berries. Tundra and Indigo Gem ripen first, then we move on to Czech #17, Borealis, Honey Bee and Aurora. We don’t have enough late selections for commercial harvesting yet.
Secondly, the discovery of using light weight Olive Harvesters (ATRAX and Infaco) with their long “fingers” which gently shake the branches on medium speed enables a bush to be harvested in literally a minute or less.
Third, a catch system underneath, whether a tarp or bin, easily pulled out, pouring the berries into trays for transport back to the cleaning station.
Fourth, “Chute-N-Go” – down the chute into a bag or bucket for freezing, blowing the leaves off with a leaf blower.
Borealis is NOT recommended for commercial harvesting due to the amount of foliage which not only hides the berries but prevents airflow which can result in moldy berries, plus stems do not detach until berries are quite ripe. We harvested at a Brix of over 10, prior to any significant mold. Borealis can yield over 6 lbs/bush. Blowing the leaves off worked great even with more leaves than berries!
On the other extreme, tall Czech #17 with its smaller berries yields over 10 lb if you can keep the cedar waxwings out of them!
Aurora honeyberries are the #1 favorite of most people for taste, size, ease of picking, easy to see berries on bush, easily detachable, taste good soon after turning blue, good yield. The only negativity might be uneven ripening.
Jonkheer van Tets red currants ripen at the same time as Aurora gets nicely ripe, and just as the beginning of the late bloomers are ripening here in zone 3.
Some people prefer the less acidic saskatoon over the tangy honeyberries. Most people like them both. Saskatoons are “meatier” – not so juicy, and I don’t mind the larger seeds inside which are edible. Martin in hand and JB30 on bush are two selections with nice large berries for easy picking and great taste.
We started picking our earliest ripening berries, Tundra and Indigo Gem, on June 20, 2018. An early year as we’ve had consistent, warm weather.
6 year old Indigo Gem shown above. Shake and Drop has greatly increased harvesting rate – from 3-4 lbs/hour/person to 20-40 lbs/person. We still hand pick some berries for the best quality to supply our local stores for maximum shelf life.
We look forward to harvesting more upright bushes such as Aurora but the advantage to Indigo Gem is how early it ripens, even before Berry Smart Blue (Czech #17).
Blowing the debris off with a leaf blower is sufficient cleaning for wine/juice quality berries.
We acquired a used milk truck box for freezer/refrigeration as our approx 2 acres of honeyberries are now producing a lot of berries which we are now able to harvest in a more timely fashion. And cherry season is soon upon us as well.
It was nice to have a visit from an AgWeek reporter last week who wrote us up at minnesota-its-honeyberry-pickin-time (June 30, 2018). Mikkel and his wife came to pick honeyberries and went home with a story as well!
The Honeyberry Farm is also about community – the 10 year old twin boys pictured above started picking berries for us 2 years ago to earn money to go to the fair. They ride their bikes over and help pick to supply local stores. Tundra berries are light and bulky, filling up the pint containers in 5-8 minutes each by hand. Very early ripening, they don’t bleed and have a long shelf life, compensating for their lower yield of 3-5 lbs/bush.
Wow – over a year has passed since posting so here’s a little catch-up.
17′ wide AviGard Flex Netting from Plantra.com
The 17′ wide net barely covered the mature Borealis and Tundra that are now more than 5′ wide and 4-5′ tall, and Berry Smart Blue (Czech #17) that are even taller. The bushes pictured here are at the top of the incline and are smaller than those further down the row. They are planted 5′ in-row and 10′ between row spacing, in a 1 acre plot. The waxwings did sneak under but after several of them got tangled in the net the flock decided it wasn’t worth it and moved on. For smaller plantations, securing the net to the ground is essential.
Plantra’s netting installs very smoothly, compared to some of the wiry off-the-shelf netting. Well worth the investment.
SmartNet from oesco.com
At our satellite site, planted in 2013, we installed SmartNet over several sections of the orchard. A lot of work installing the posts, especially since we had to do it twice after a severe windstorm.
July wind storm took down several posts (as well as many large trees in the area)
Stakes and wires stabilize posts
We changed from using h-frame support to a stake and wire support for the posts. Here the net covers a row of honeyberries in front and elderberries at back.
Which system is best? Each has pros and cons. The overhead netting has to be extended and rolled back each year, with c-clips to attach the net to the overhead wire. But once it’s up and secured, it’s pretty effective at keeping unwanted critters out. The on-row netting works for mature plants but needs to be suspended by a guide wire for younger plants to avoid bending the upper branches and to keep the birds from perching right on the net and pecking through the holes. On-row netting is nice as you roll back the net when you pick, easily identifying which plants have been picked.
Sorry I don’t have costs figured out but we can’t afford not to net.
Our first honeyberry blossoms appeared today – I saw one on a Berry Smart Blue (Czech #17) and another on an Indigo Gem. This is a few days earlier than last year and a month earlier than 2013.
And the bees arrived just in time!
48 honey bee hives – more will be added/stacked as summer progresses with 20K-80K female worker bees/hive!
This is the first year we will have honey bees on our land thanks to a providential encounter I had this morning with a local commercial honey producer who was setting out hives in a hay field about 3 miles from us. Larry and his son place 2200 hives, 48 hives per site, throughout a 100 mile range of woods/lakes/small fields of hay, oats and corn that thankfully sees little commercial pesticide use. Producers in the Red River Valley which starts 45 miles west of us can lose up to 60% of the bees in a season, attributed to pesticides in their huge mono-crop fields. Our producer only loses about 10% in our area. He placed a set of 48 hives a mile apart from each other at each of our orchard sites. Worker bees fly 2-3 miles from their hives in search of pollen and nectar so they should be happy to find a feast at their doorstep with 5+ acres of fruit, hay fields and pastures, creek and forest with basswood trees and other native pollinizers in the area.
Many insects, even humming birds, pollinate honeyberry blossoms. We have lots of native pollinators – bumble bees, etc., but we’re happy to have some more. Honey bees are smaller and have more difficulty than bumble bees in accessing the pollen in the deep honeyberry blossoms, plus they need warmer temperatures to fly (above 55F/13C) than bumble bees (50F/10C) but having hives in the neighborhood can be an asset to pollination by the sheer numbers of honey bees. We had 47F/8C today but it is projected to be in the high 50s this weekend. Plus we soon will have many other blossoms easier for honey bees to access – cherries, currants, gooseberries, saskatoons, etc.