Haskaps: The New Berry
The Haskap (Canadian Honeyberry or Blue Honeysuckle) is the newest berry on the market for home and commercial gardening. The name Haskap is Japanese for Lonicera caerulea (Edible Blue Honeysuckle). Health benefits of the haskap have earned it the ancient phrase "the berry of long life and good vision". A number of nutritional benefits include high vitamin C and A, high fiber and potassium. They also have high levels of antioxidants, anthocyanins, poly phenols and bioflavonoids. The flavor of haskap berries has been described as a cross between a raspberry and blueberry with the texture of a kiwi.
Growing Conditions, Habit and Zone
Haskap bushes prefer a sheltered site with a pH level between 5 - 7 which is slightly acidic to slightly alkaline soil which makes them an extremely versatile berry plant. They prefer being planted in full sun but will grow in partial sun as well. Bushes are rapidly growing should be planted 4.5 - 6 feet apart and will grow 4.5- 8 feet tall. It is a cool season fruiting shrub with early flowers which when pollinated mature into fruit mid to late June, making it one of the earliest fruiting berry plants. Berries are produced on one year old woody stems, by year 3 you should be able to harvest. After year 5 you should be yielding 7-10 lbs. If you wish to fertilize your Haskap plants use one designed for tomatoes such as a liquid 4-3-3 or 2-3-1, or use a powder such as 4-8-4. They are more closely related to tomato and potatoes than other fruit crops. Fertilize prior to planting an in following years only in the spring so growth can harden off before fall frosts. They are a hardy shrub when it comes to cold winter temperatures being able to withstand -40 C (Zone 2) and have infrequent winter damage.
The Haskap originated in Siberia with further research was preformed by the University of Saskatchewan to improve on these varieties and create strains that grow well in Canada and warmer Zones. Five strains have been created Tundra, Borealis, the Indigo series, Aurora and Honeybee.
- Tundra Has firm fruit which makes it an excellent choice for commercial production and heavy handling. Firmness is an uncommon characteristic for large Haskaps, and this one also has an excellent flavor. It also does not bleed when picked making it an ideal fruit for frozen storage. Matures at 4-5 feet tall.
- Borealis The largest Haskap berry that prefers to be hand picked due to softness of the berry. Also the best tasting variety an excellent selection for homeowners or U-pick operations. The berries will not tolerate shaking methods of harvest. Matures at 4 feet tall.
- Indigo Gem A long flowering season which is beneficial since it is has fertile pollen and can cross pollinate other varieties of Haskap plants. It is a taller variety which is late maturing and the berry is able to withstand handling making it a good selection for homeowners or commercial growers. The flavor of the berry is similar to a plum.
Cross pollination is required for Haskap plants, as mentioned before the Indigo Gem will cross pollinate the Tundra or Borealis. It is a good idea to plant at least 3 bushes close to each other. Alternatively planting a Berry Blue Haskap (P-17) bush for every 3 fruit producing bushes will cross pollinate the others. The P-17 will produce abundant flowers that are present for a long period of time but not fruit.
Season of Harvest
After 3 years the Haskap plants will produce great yields. Keep in mind that the berries will look ripe about 10 days before they are actually ripe they should be completely purple on the inside and outside before harvesting. All the berries on the same bush will ripen at the exact same time, some will fall onto the ground when they are ripe. Depending on the firmness of that type of plant's berries they can either be harvested by shaking (put a catch basin or large umbrella underneath before shaking) or handpicking.
Should be completed in late winter or early spring with the objective of letting more light into the branches that will bear fruit. Keep in mind that berries are borne on one year old wood and you need a continuous supply of these branches from year to year to produce fruit. Never remove more than 25% of the bush at a time. It will not sucker and can be pruned like high bush blueberries, dwarf sour cherries and Saskatoon berry.
Common Pests and Diseases
Birds are a major pest feeding on the berries and netting may need to be placed over the bushes to prevent them from eating your crop. According to the University of Saskatchewan the deer have not been seen feeding on the Haskap plants in their fields but there have been some reports of deer feeding on them in other wild areas. Powdery mildew is the only disease that can effects Haskaps and begins in July after the harvest of the berries when the heat of the summer sets in. Some varieties are more affected than others while some seem immune.