Harvesting Haskap/Honeyberries

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.

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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!

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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.

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Netting haskap/honeyberries

Wow – over a year has passed since posting so here’s a little catch-up.

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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.

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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.

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July wind storm took down several posts (as well as many large trees in the area)

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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.

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Of honeyberries, bees and blossoms

 

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!

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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.

Additional information:

Plus, the Minnesota State Horticulture Society garden club that I belong to is building mason bee houses tomorrow!

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Haskap Time Lapse Video

What will those Crazy Canucks do next! Rob in Timmins, Ontario, couldn’t wait for spring so he placed three newly purchased haskap (honeyberry) plants under grow lights indoors in November of 2016. Watch what happens to Boreal Blizzard (top), Boreal Beauty (bottom), Honey Bee (middle) in 21 days. Rob says, “Little to no growth with no light. When I added a fan to circulate the air near the end of the video, the strawberries at right began to wilt immediately and the haskap’s growth was halved.” (ed. note: growth may have slowly down somewhat naturally – would be interesting to compare with a control group with no fan)

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Boreal Beauty, Oct. 19, 2016

Note that these small plants spent 2 weeks in the mail with no ill effects. Haskap are very vigorous and ship well, either bare root (as in this case) or potted.

From tissue culture to potted plant: Several months growth in the propagator’s greenhouse in Canada produced this vigorous little plant measuring 1 foot from top to bottom, with about 6″ of stem.

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Roots were washed for shipping. When possible we ship small plants with the peat intact, but some states and international customers may require bare root shipping.

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3-4 year old Borealis

Sturdy, shallow roots develop in older haskap plants. Sprawling roots were pruned for shipping. It’s fairly easy to dig up 3 year old plants. After that you have your work cut out for you if you’re thinking of transplanting!

And now for a few “time lapse” shots of our own orchard…

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Oct. 10, 2016 Honeyberry Farm, Bagley, Minnesota

Our initial planting of 800+ Borealis, Tundra, & Berry Smart Blue plus over 30 named variety trials of blue honeysuckle (haskap/honeyberry), plus a sampling of dwarf sour cherries, elderberries, currants, gooseberries, aronia, saskatoons, raspberries, strawberries, plums, peach, mulberry, & apples provide us and our U-Pickers with ample fruit from June through October! (We also have 5 acres of fruit in a newer plot down the road).

 

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March 19, 2016

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July 13, 2015

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Honeyberry Farm on the news

Lakeland Pulic TV paid us a visit yesterday morning and we made it onto the Tuesday night Northwoods Adventure segment at the end of the 10 o’clock news! Thanks to our neighborhood friends who “happened” to be here picking 🙂 who appear with us in this clip.

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Cherries cherries cherries

We have a bumper crop of Carmine Jewel Dwarf Sour cherries this year, overlapping with the end of haskap/honeyberry season. The early and mid honeyberries are still pickable but a few are starting to dehydrate a bit on the bushes. The late varieties are now ripe enough.

Our Crimson Passion and Romeo sour cherries  are just a few days behind Carmine Jewel. We don’t know if they will overlap like this every year but that’s how it is this year. My juicer/steamer is coming in handy for the cherries that we don’t have time to pit. We’re also running out of freezer space. So juicing is a great option right now.

This cherry juice measured 11 brix. The ripest berries run 13-15 brix. We want to pick them before the birds or other predators get them and don’t mind the fruit being a little on the tart side. I personally like the Carmine Jewel for fresh eating, I like the tartness and find the sweeter varieties lacking that zing that I’m now accustomed to from Carmine Jewel. I pitted a few fresh ones and threw them on pancakes with whipped cream this morning. Tasted so good I didn’t take time to stop for a picture. No added sugar was needed.

 

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Aurora haskap and harvesting tips

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Wow. What more can we say? Take a look for yourself at the inch long berries from Aurora planted last year compared to the Indigo Gem planted three years ago. And take our word – no compromise in flavor. They are definitely good enough to eat now but do have an extra interesting tanginess even though the berries today ran mostly between 12-15 brix. One berry hit 16 brix and they are still a little green inside. Only time will tell if that zing will mellow at all. The Indigo Gem are running 12-15 brix and have a deeper, more complex flavor. I prefer Aurora’s lighter zing but both are still winners in their own way. However, Aurora’s large berries, great flavor, and ease of picking should make it the super star of the orchard in the early to mid season ripening category.

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So far there are only a few berries on our two-year-old Aurora (2 oz/bush) which is typical since the bushes are still young and need to put out more branches to bear fruit. But look at all that vigorous, upright new growth which will produce fruit next year – a delight to pick, versus Indigo Gem’s ground hugging nature! Both Aurora and Indigo Gem detached fairly easily and have similar thickness of skins – not as tough at Tundra, but tougher than Borealis. A few berries “bled” in the bucket but not too bad.

 

Indigo Gem drops very nicely and the lid of large tote worked well to catch the carefully “wacked/slapped” branches. A child’s paddling pool split in two also works, but the berries tend to slide out towards the middle where it is split if you’re not careful, whereas the tote has a berry catching “lip” all around.

My favorite berry catcher so far is “The Basket” from Family Dollar. Its curved sides fit well under the bushes, and the sides are tall enough to blow the debris out without losing the berries. The flexible plastic sides bend easily for pouring out of the container. I recommend only doing a couple pounds at a time and then leaf blowing, then transferring the berries into a salad spinner basket or colander for washing, draining, bagging, and freezing, if you’re not going to use them fresh. The deeper you pile your berries and the longer you leave them, the more difficult it is to clean.

Indigo Gem is definitely the most popular pick for taste so far by our U-Pickers who are looking for sweetness (compared to Czech #17, Tundra, Borealis, & Honey Bee). It is early ripening with a rich, sweet flavor that increases with time as do all the berries. Indigo Gem is now starting to naturally dehydrate a bit on the bushes, but still pickable. So while its size is lacking, its early ripening provides a good option for extending the season. Borealis comes in close behind for the sweeter taste and ripens a few days to a week after Indigo Gem where we are. Once Aurora ripens fully it will be in line for the favorite taste.

The leaf blower is critical to the wack and drop method, as a lot of leaves and debris is shaken off the bush as well. We are getting up to three pounds per four year old Indigo Gem but some of the less vigorous bushes only yield 1/2 a lb.

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Honey Bee planted spring 2013 yielded 2 lbs on July 5, 2016

The key to Honey Bee is patience patience patience. Like Aurora, it is a little later variety that needs time to ripen. These berries dropped just fine with a few stems attached but not as many as Borealis. Skin was about as tough as Indigo Gem, maybe a little tougher. Minimal bleeding. And it’s tasting very good as well, on the lighter zingier side, like Aurora. At least I thought so, until some U-Pickers came and told me how tart it was. So I got out the refractometer and had to agree – 10-12 brix is still pretty tart.

It took 10 minutes to wack down these berries (2 lbs) with my hand, slapping each branch as I bent it over the lid. So we could feasibly harvest 10 lbs/hour leaving 10 minutes for leaf blowing and washing.

But many people come for the peaceful experience they find in the orchard with the sun shining and the birds singing, and don’t want to be pressured by productivity concerns. There’s definitely something very therapeutic for the soul in taking one’s time, gently hand picking each individual berry that is going to end up nourishing the body as well as the soul.

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5-year-old Borealis bush hides its berries well

Yes, there are berries in there! Borealis berries can mold if left on the bushes too long in wet weather, but we have had dry weather. These bushes were planted in 2011 and now five years later are yielding 1 1/2 – 2 lbs. per bush. Borealis has yielded more (5-7 lbs) under controlled conditions at the University of Minnesota High Tunnel trial. We irrigated and weeded the first couple of years, but haven’t done any serious fertilization and don’t pump our berries full of water. We like the natural intense flavor of a more naturally grown berry. Higher yields would be nice, and we plan on doing some more natural soil amendments as we get more experience (and time to do it!) but for now, the pickers for home use are happy with the size and flavor of the berries, and don’t seem to mind diving into the bushes in search of blue treasure!

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