Haskap is considered a shrub, growing up to 6 feet tall. The flowers are yellowish-white, 12–16 mm long, with five equal lobes; they are produced in pairs on the shoots. The fruit is a blue coloured elongated berry about 1 cm in diameter. (ANTON STARIKOV)
There’s a new kid in town when it comes to Manitoba berries.
Haskap (also called Honeyberry, edible honeysuckle, and blue honeysuckle) is making an appearance as more growers begin to expand into the new fruit.
Phillip Ronald owns Riverbend Orchards near Portage. With a PH.D. in horticulture and extensive experience working as a consultant for Jeffries Nurseries, he also grows a variety of fruit.
His orchard is also a licensed propagator of Haskap.
But what exactly is the new berry like?
“What I like to describe it as, is a blue Kraft Dinner noodle,” he said. “That’s what it looks like.”
Berry lovers everywhere are fortunate that it doesn’t taste that way.
“It has the colour and the texture of a blueberry, so when you have if in your mouth it feels like a blueberry,” he said. “When you bite into it, it tastes like a raspberry.”
If you haven’t tasted this berry or even seen it, you aren’t alone.
“It’s a very unique fruit,” Ronald said. “It’s brand new. It was unheard of less than 15 years ago.” Ronald has two acres of haskap that have been growing for five years. In a partnership with a local honey producer, he has bee hives right beside the berries. “It needs cross pollination and you need two genetically distinct cultivars,” he said. “You need insects to carry pollen from tree to tree.”
While the berries themselves may not be well known, Ronald said they have had plenty of demand for their cultivars they develop in a 1,500 sq. ft. greenhouse.
“We’ve been doing this for about three to four years now and we’re selling plants as far away as Vermont and Alaska, and all through the Canadian prairies,” he said. “It’s been a nice market for us.”
“We’re not only picking fruit off the plants, we’re taking cuttings off the plants.”
Last summer they produced 8,000 new plants, ready for sale. Haskap is considered a shrub, growing up to 6 feet tall. The flowers are yellowish-white, 12–16 mm long, with five equal lobes; they are produced in pairs on the shoots. The fruit is a blue coloured elongated berry about 1 cm in diameter.
Even though it reminds people of blueberries, haskap is actually more closely related to tomatoes than it is blueberries.
Haskap was introduced to Canada as a new offering from the University of Saskatchewan Fruit Breeding Program.
Manitoba and the rest of the Canadian prairies are a natural fit for the fruit.
The University of Saskatchewan varieties are cold hardy to -45C, and flowers have been known to survive and set fruit after withstanding -11C temperatures. Growers in Alaska and the Northwest Territories find the haskap varieties very suited to their short season with long daylight hours.
It’s also considered a very healthy berry.
A mere two thirds of a cup contains 12 per cent of your daily fibre, 15 per cent of your Vitamin A and 60 per cent of daily Vitamin C. It also has close to 20 per cent more anti-oxidants than black currant, cranberry, and wild blueberry and more than triple the amount of red raspberry and strawberries.
Haskap is also the first berry to ripen. Pickers can enjoy the berry beginning in mid-June.
However, because they are so nutritious and the first out there, protecting the new fruit from birds is necessary. Common uses for the fruit are jams, pies and juice.
More information can be found at haskap.ca or a nursery near you.