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.
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.
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.
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!