Honeyberries: The New Fruit in Town

….Is it a blueberry? ….Is it a grape? Neither! The honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea L.), also known as “haskap” in Japan, is native to Russia and up until recently was seen primarily in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Canada. It is part of the edible honeysuckle family, which contains mostly shrubs and vines. Generally grown in temperate regions, it is a cold hardy shrub to -54 degrees fahrenheit. Several varieties are viable for USDA climate zones 1-8. Ideal for farmers in New England, honeyberries can be harvested in the spring, earlier than nearly all other fruit in the area. Additionaly, the honeyberry grows well in a range of soil types. It is a wonder they aren’t being sold at every farmers market in the Northeast! The berries have a distinctive taste- with their outer skin being sour and a tangly flavor inside. They are often described as tasting like a combination between a blueberry and a raspberry.  It’s common to see the berry used in jams, pies, ice cream, or just eaten right off the bush! Yield and taste are dependent on a variety of environmental factors such as: climate, variety, soil condition, and insect population for pollination.

     Cultivation of the honeyberry is through cross pollination. Moreover, it requires two unrelated varieties of honeyberries planted in close proximity for pollination to take place. Dormant stem cuttings (placed in water or in the ground) allows the plant to root easily. A soilless mixture is ideal until the roots have developed. If you have purchased a non-dormant plant, an acclimation period is imperative to minimize environmental stress. It’s important to watch out for factors that may cause damage, including excessively high or low temperatures, wind, direct sunlight, or frost snaps.
      Once transplanted into prepared beds, the plants have shown to do best in a moderately moist soil, with a pH around 6.5 and organically amended mixtures. Space transplants 4 to 6 apart, in an area of your garden with good sunlight. Mulching approximately 5 feet in diameter is advised. Watering frequently in the first couple years is required, but much less is needed once fruiting occurs. In fact, honeyberries are exceptionally drought-tolerant. It generally takes 3-4 years for significant amounts of berries to be seen. The plants average at 3 to 5 feet tall. Like with any fruit crop, there will most likely be critters that will want to feed on either the bush or the berries themselves. Some of these include birds, deer, chipmunks, rabbits, voles, etc. Putting a fence or bird netting around your bushes may be helpful to reduce or eliminate the problem.
       In a time where loss of biodiversity is so prevalent, nothing is more exciting that introducing a new species into the area! This crop is ideal for small to medium scale farmers in the northeast for a variety of reasons. Little attention is required, high yields on relatively small sized bushes, and high value are just some of them. Scientists are using selective breeding to further promote high-yielding plants. Because they are so new to the area, insect pest pressures should be relatively low. Furthermore, honeyberries are a great option for organic growers or no-spray growers, who are looking to avoid pesticides. Being the first farmer in your area to have honeyberries could mean great success for your business! Now ask yourself, why on earth wouldn’t you grow honeyberries?!
Ingvaldson, Bernis. “Move Over, Blueberries?” Acres USA Feb. 2016: 33-35. Print.

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