Aurora haskap and harvesting tips

2016-07-04AuroraIndigoGem

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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Haskap / Honeyberry Wine

This weekend we indulged in our first haskap/honeyberry wine comparison taste test. Our friends, Al & Ruth Rasmussen, neighbors here at Bagley, MN, were happy to oblige.

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After a simple supper from produce all off our farm – crock pot lamb roast, potatoes, green beans, and roast beets, we served a sweet desert wine made from elderberries. We like our elderberry wine, but what we were really waiting for was to find out which of our four varieties of haskap/honeyberries would produce the best tasting wine.

Results:

#1 Tundra: very smooth, good aftertaste, a good wine, not a sweet dessert wine

#2 Indigo Gem: very good as well, a lot of different flavors, more complex than any of the others

#3 Borealis: good, but not as good as Tundra and Indigo Gem (except one person really liked the extra fruity flavor)

#4 Czech #17 (Berry Smart Blue): 3 people did not like it at all. “Nope, not smooth. Bad aftertaste that grabs you right away. Violated my taste buds.” BUT one person liked it as much as Tundra. Go figure. This is the only pure Russian variety. The others all contain some Kuril Island genetics, closer to the Japanese varieties, which gets away from the strong and sometimes bitter characteristic of many Russian selections. The Russian varieties seem to be fine baking, jams & jellies, and we eat them fresh as well, but beware of the wine!

Mixture of all 4: Not as bad as Czech #17, some good flavors came through.

Conclusion: All of the University of Saskatchewan selections of haskap produced a very fine wine, appealing to the majority. As new varieties of haskap / honeyberries are coming out every year, most of them with some Japanese genetics, we presume they will turn out some great wines as well.

My recipe:

In glass gallon jar mix:
2 lbs 10 oz frozen berries (about 6 cups)
1 lb 12 oz sugar (evaporated cane sugar) (about 3 1/2 cups)
add enough cold water to fill the gallon jar

After a few days, remove the berries and drain, add the drained juice back to the container, and add 1/2 tsp Lalvin 71B yeast per gallon. Transfer into a jug which can be plugged with a topper to continue the fermentation process for 6-8 weeks prior to bottling.

We plan to “rack” the wine for a few weeks prior to bottling, which means transferring the wine from one jug to another, leaving the thick, cloudy “dregs” at the bottom.

The temperature for this batch hovered around 75F but was by no means constant.

Our first haskap wine making experience gave us enough confidence to continue on with larger batches in the future. We like to keep things simple, and discovered that simple worked just fine for us (see more at staircase winery procedures and observations). For more detailed/complicated info on making haskap wine see the University of Saskatchewan’s winemaking notes and Edible Blue Honeysuckle blog’s notes.

More new videos:

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Fall elderberries and late taste of Aurora haskap/honeyberry

Summer has flown by with the ripening of dwarf sour cherries, currants, and gooseberries in our fledgling orchard. We escaped a September frost, giving the Sambucus canadensis elderberries a chance to ripen. A few late planted Auroa haskap (honeyberries) surprised us with a few berries this fall as well. We have a volunteer from wwoof.org who agreed to share his first impression of a fresh honeyberry.

While we’re finding it chancy to get elderberries to ripen, we are discovering many great uses for elder blossoms. We’re trying our hand at non-alcoholic elder blossom cordial, tea, dried berries, and wine. More recipes and great info on the uses of elder to combat the flu virus can be found at The Wellness Mama‘s site.

The blossom season runs from July through September. First year shoots blossom later than older stalks. The blossoms smell terrific and are a pleasure to handle. We dried as well as froze many, many cymes (blossom heads).

Elder blossom July 30, 2015

Elder blossom July 30, 2015

Elder blossom preparation for freezing July 31, 2015

Elder blossom preparation for freezing July 31, 2015

Elder blossom vacuum sealed 8 oz July 31, 2015

Elder blossom vacuum sealed 8 oz July 31, 2015

We were also delighted to find our first goji blossoms and little green berries beginning in late August and still blossoming.

Goji blossoms

Goji blossoms July 21, 2015

Mid to late July brought us delicious cherries.

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July 11, 2015 – Crimson Passion dwarf sour cherries

Our harvest was somewhat diminished by cedar waxwings and robins. We’ll have to check more into Full Overhead Bird Netting Instructions, complements of Bob Thaden, Tongue River Vineyard & Winery, Miles City, MT. Bob says, “If you do it right, you’ll never regret it, and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!!”

For the home gardener, netting from Plantra, draped over a frame surrounding the fruit bush, is a good option.

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Netting from plantra.com (stock foto)

Red, white, pink and black currants ripened throughout July as well.

2015-07-18 currant Gloire des Sablons

Gloire des sablons pink currants July 18, 2015

Enough for now – you’ll just have to come see for yourself someday how blessed we are!

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Canada Day visitors at The Honeyberry Farm Pick-Your-Own berries

Borealis haskap berries (honeyberries)

Borealis haskap berries (honeyberries)

We opened up for Pick-Your-Own honeyberries this week and it is always a pleasure to meet the people who come out to enjoy some time in the orchard.

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Will and Jackie Atkinson of Angora, MN picking Borealis haskap (honeyberries)

 Will and Jackie Atkinson and their summer apprentice drove all the way over from the Iron Range to pick some berries and visit with us. Will and Jackie live in northeastern Minnesota where it gets even colder than where we are. Lifetime homesteaders, they stumbled into the seed saving business, and you can read more about them and their business at www.seedtreasures.com. Jackie is also well known for her Backwoods Home column “Ask Jackie” (about anything and everything to do with homesteading!) as well as her blog, cookbooks, novels, and animal care books. You can imagine we had a lot to talk about and the afternoon passed by very pleasantly. Jim had to duck out early to help a neighbor bale hay while we continued on with the zone 3 cold hardy orchard tour.

2015-07-01BernisCherryOrchard Carmine Jewel

Carmine Jewel dwarf sour cherries planted 2013

Jackie often jokes about showing folks how not to do things, and the picture below is definitely one of those cases! Do NOT let the grass crowd out your cherries – the difference is dramatic. The best scenario we have found is to plant into plastic for weed control as well as till in between the rows.

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Jackie compares Carmine Jewel cherries in quack grass and weeds to younger but taller ones planted in plastic.

One other thing we noticed was the frost line – cherry blossoms at the top of the hill survived 26 F frost and are producing a nice little first crop (planted in 2013) while those further down the hill did not. Do not plant cherries in frost pockets or where they will get wet feet – even though our low spot does not have standing water, they still do not grow well there.

The other excitement happened when FedEx delivered Romeo and Juliet – the long awaited dwarf sour cherries newly available in the USA from the University of Saskatchewan breeding program.

2015-07-01Romeo and Juliet (1) delivery

While later than normal in the season to plant, it’s only in the 70’s and 80’s these days, and we have our rows laid out in plastic and drip tape. We plan to grow out most of the plants for shipping bareroot our customers.

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Romeo and Juliet dwarf sour cherries

I’ll also mention that earlier in the week we had a visit from Joe and Steve, owners and founders of Plantra. They stopped by with some samples of their netting, which is much easier to handle than what I tried from local big box hardware stores. We also like their grow tubes which protect our nursery plants from rabbits and rodents, and also provide a little extra boost of heat. The also have wider tubes for garden vegetables like tomatoes and melons. Check ’em out!

Grow Tubes

Plantra grow tubes on young cherries

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Honeyberry cream puffs

What a delightful surprise to be invited to a neighbor’s for lunch yesterday and be served bite-sized honeyberry cream puffs! Nancy was one of our U-Pick customers last year, and said she added just a bit of lemon to the honeyberry sauce made from frozen berries. They tasted just as good as they look in the picture below.

Cream puffs with honeyberry topping

Honeyberry cream puffs

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Haskap wine keeps on winning

Our friends over at Dakota Sun Gardens Winery at Carrington, North Dakota, won their second award recently for their haskap wine. The Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Tournament, held November 20 and 21, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri, awarded them a “Medal of American Merit” in the dessert category. They also won a Double Gold award this spring in the Taster’s Guild competition in Michigan.

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Dakota Sun Garden’s haskap wine

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Aronia vies honeyberries for color but not texture

Aronia milkshake

Viking Aronia smoothie

This is the first year we had enough aronia to do a decent evaluation. Last year we had a few berries to sample from our first bushes and we were not impressed. I’m sorry, but we have been spoiled by the fantastic fresh flavor of the haskap/honeyberry. The aronia taste somewhat like chokecherries to me, but a drier berry, and leave the mouth feeling dry. But I’ve heard that many people put aronia into smoothies, so this morning I threw a small cluster into the blender with some milk and voilà – I liked it! Not overbearing with any particular flavor, but pleasantly “berry-ish”. I thought it could use just a bit of sweetening so added a very light dash of  stevia powder and that perked up the flavor even more. I noticed some chewy pieces of skin and a few grapeseed sized seeds which I ate, and it reminded me that the honeyberry skin and seeds are usually unnoticeable. Never-the-less, I am glad to report that after today’s sampling, the aronia gets to stay in the orchard.

Honeyberry smoothie

Honeyberry smoothie

Starting with honeyberries in June, followed by strawberries, raspberries, saskatoons and cherries in July and August, overlapping with currants and then plums and apples into September, and finally winding up the fall with grapes, elderberries and aronia, we are very thankful for close to four months of non-stop fresh fruit here in zone 3. OK, I confess the cherries, apples and plums were light this year, but that’s one reason very good reason to diversify. Our goji, kiwi and seaberry bushes need to get a bit older to start producing, but there are wild American highbush cranberries along our driveway if anyone wants to come pick! And I almost forgot the ground cherries and garden huckleberries from neighbors’ gardens. These are annual fruits you can grow in a single season, while you wait for the perennial bushes to mature. I eat the former, Physalis pruinosa, like candy, while the latter, the Solanum melanocerasum, need a little work to make them palatable, like the aronia.

Fall shipping starts in a couple of weeks when the plants are dormant and prior to freeze-up, then maybe I’ll have some time to try some more recipes, and different combinations. Frankly, just eating the honeyberries right out of the freezer is good enough for us most of the time, a delicious and healthy dessert, but now I look forward to a winter of trying different kinds of smoothies as well.

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