I had posted about the first strawberries of the season but they weren’t the first fruit of the season. In fact, while our strawberries do have fruit on them, they are still some time from being ripe. Today I harvested the first fruit of the season – haskap and honeyberry aka edible blue honeysuckle.
These are varieties of edible blue honeysuckle. In 2008, when we were putting together an order from T&T Seeds, I noticed something called a “polar honeysuckle collection” which included plants called Polar Night and Polar Jewel. The description said that they were hardy to -40ºC. For $14.95 for the pair, it seemed like a low-risk idea. We didn’t really have a home for them because the garden was in its early days and thus in a constant state of change as good ideas turned out to be less so in practice. Nonetheless, that first year we got one or two berries that had an interesting blueberry-ish taste. They weren’t sweet but they weren’t tart either. And they were juicy.
My interested was piqued and I started googling to see exactly what it was that we had bought. That led me to the University of Saskatechewan’s haskap. I was intrigued by what I found. Not only were the plants hardy to -40ºC but the flowers were hardy to -7ºC which meant that a late frost would not wipe out the crop. And they ripened it early June ahead of strawberries. In 2009, we ordered from DNAGardens and Prairie Plant Systems. We still didn’t have a home for them but we had some spots in our raised beds and stuck them here and there. In some of the plants, the growth was almost instant upon planting so I decided to take some cuttings. I had six of the eight take and in 2010, some of these plants fruited. In the fall of 2009, we built 40′ long raised beds and the haskap and honeyberry had permanent homes.
This year has been spectacular for these plants – lots of flowers led to lots of fruit – 3½ pints picked today with perhaps twice that still to ripen. We’ll freeze each picking and make jam with the total harvest. And from what I understand, this is only the beginning: while haskap and honeyberry start to produce fruit quite early, it’s not until around year 5 that they are fully productive and we might see 5-7 kilos (11-15 lb) per plant!!! While there are a number of sellers in Canada, prices have more than doubled since we purchased our plants two years ago as it appears that supply is having a difficult time keeping up with demand. And demand is likely to explode if this plants make it to super-food status. So buy early or search for someone who is willing to start cuttings for you.