Our haskap berry bushes we planted three years ago this spring look as though they're going to present us with a (small) bushel of berries this year.
What is a haskap berry? It resembles a blueberry, a fruit with which we are all much more familiar. The plant has been grown in Russia and Japan for centuries and is just recently gaining some popularity in the United States. Some folks know it by the name of "honeyberry." My bit of research tells me it is known in Japan as the "haskap," in Russia as "zhimolost," and more frequently the "honeyberry" here in our country. We started calling ours haskap bushes and that name seems to have stuck for us.
The shape of the dark blue berry is more oval than a blueberry, measuring somewhere around 1" to 1-1/2" in length. They are touted as being delicious and very good for you.
What's the flavor of the berry? It's been described as . . . well, it's been described as hard to describe. Some say it's a zingy combination of blueberry and raspberry with a hint of elderberry. Others say it reminds them of blackberries, cherries or even grapes. (How can you miss with those flavors exploding in your mouth?)
Supposedly, the burst of the juicy flavor you experience when eating a haskap berry has been compared to the taste of a fine wine. (I'll drink to that.) Matter of fact, the berries are highly recommended for wine making because of their deep, intense color and high level of natural tannins. (Get that wine making equipment out and ready.)
The high levels of Vitamin C and potassium, plus nearly three times the number of antioxidants of an antioxidant-loaded (wild) blueberry, add to the remarkable health properties of the fruit. (They're sounding better all the time, aren't they?)
Haskap bushes seem to be happiest planted in Zones 2-4 (is this perfect for us up here near the tundra or what?), but it's possible to grow certain varieties in Zones 5-9.
They do require cross-pollination because the male and female reproductive parts develop at different times so it's recommended planting two to five different varieties together. We've started with three bushes, two are the Borealis variety and one is a Berry Smart Blue.
The bushes fruit approximately two weeks before strawberries (and quite a bit before blueberries) when all grown in the same climate. They produce for a two to three week period depending on the variety.
Most varieties grow to be an average of four to eight feet tall, so this is no little shrub we're talking about. (I'm definitely going to have to use a ladder for harvesting.) The bushes reach maturity at five to seven years and can produce berries for 30 years or more. (Now that's my kinda plant.) They can bear heavily producing five to nine pounds of delicious fruit per mature plant.
Because they seem to prefer a cooler region in which to grow, they can flower at 25 degrees Fahrenheit and are cold hardy to -55 degrees Fahrenheit. (Looking better and better for our little frozen-nine-months-of-the-year [not quite] homestead all the time.)
Weed control is essential and the shallow roots like to be mulched during the summer to prevent drying out. Bumble bees are better pollinators than honey bees. Fortunately, we do seem to have an ample amount of those big ol' bumble bees, but I'm sure our honey bees will be glad to help out in any way they can.
Haskap bushes need three to four years in the ground before producing any significant amount of fruit. And it's true that this year, the third for our bushes, is the first year ours have had more than one or two blossoms showing.
Although this photo doesn't show the blossoms very well, many have developed on all three of our plants this year.
To illustrate how far ahead the haskaps are compared to the blueberries, above is a picture of one of our blueberry bushes which isn't even leafed out nearly as much as the haskaps.
We obtained our haskap starts via an order from Honeyberry USA based in Bagley, Minnesota. If you can't find haskap bushes at a local nursery, doing a quick Internet search will pop up many plant businesses listing them.
To say the least, we're pretty excited to see our haskap bushes looking so healthy and prolific this year. Does this all make us eager to taste-test our own haskap berries? You bet!
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