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Which Haskap/Honeyberry Varieties to Plant?

So you wish to create a Haskap or Honeyberry orchard but you are wondering what varieties you should use. The choices are starting to become hugely varied with lots of new varieties showing up these past couple of years, and more coming next year. This can create some confusion, but hopefully this article will help a bit.

The plant varieties we currently have available to growers in Canada are mainly crosses of Russian varieties, and some varieties with a bit of Japanese stock mixed in. In Canada we have called all of the varieties to date Haskap. In the US they are calling the Canadian varieties Canadian Haskap, and their Russian mixes Honeyberry. Many consider that the only variety that should be considered Haskap are the Japanese varieties.

What are the differences between these varieties?

The Russian varieties bloom early, and the Japanese varieties will bloom roughly 3 weeks later. The Russian varieties can bud during brief warm spells, and this certainly happened in 2016 in NS. A cold spell will likely kill these buds, and some bud kill was observed on our plants. The Japanese varieties tend not to do this. There are some Japanese/Russian mixes that have kept the Japanese blooming traits.

Our farm is in the southern part of Nova Scotia and the main issue we have is the weather. Lets face it we get a mix of weather these days. Nova Scotia can go from a cold, snowy winter with a late spring to a winter that is mild and hardly any snow. The summers that can be varied from cool, wet to hot and dry. On top of this there are a number of micro-climates where the ocean can affect the temperatures and moisture levels by quite a bit. So why is this a problem?

The Russian varieties are a northern plant. They prefer a climate that is experienced in boreal forest areas, which is a short summer and long, cold winters. With our climate we have a much longer growing season, and quite often a much warmer winter. The Russian varieties always bloom very early in NS. Last spring (2016) they bloomed before anything else was blooming. Our observations showed that when our plants bloomed it was around one week before any bee activity was observed on the plants. Once the bee activity took place it was only queen bumble bees, and at that time of year there are not so many. However most of these varieties did continue to bloom for quite a bit of time after their first blooms.

So what does this mean to growers with a varied climate?

Basically, if there is a mild winter and the Russian varieties bloom very early (which is very likely to happen) the only pollinators that show up on the first blooms are queen bumble bees. At this time of year the queens are just starting to build their new colonies, and there will be no worker bumblebees. Our observations are that bumblebees will be happily going flower to flower at a temperature of 0°C. Honeybees will normally not leave their hive until the temperature reaches 10°C.

The good news is that a single queen bumblebee can visit up to 6000 flowers in a single day, and once they find a food source they will come back every day. However once they start nest building they make shorter trips to and from the nest. If the nest is not close to your orchard than it likely will not be visited by the queen for some time. The worker bumblebees will not be hatched and flying until 4-5 weeks have passed. By this time the early Haskap/Honeyberry plants are finished blooming. Your orchard is a good food source for bumblebee queens, and the likelihood of them trying to build a nest close by should be pretty high as long as there are areas that they prefer.

Last summer (2016)  in NS we experienced a very dry summer. The reports of Haskap/Honeyberry yields were that there were not so many berries, but the quality was very good. A lot of people attributed this to a lack of rain, and this may be true. In June of 2016 we received 72 mm of rain, and the historical average is around 100 mm of rain. So yes it was down a bit, but likely not enough to affect the amount of berries produced. It is more likely that the lack of rain affected the size of the berries, which was observed to be smaller than in 2015. The lack of berries can likely be contributed to the Russian varieties blooming too early and pollinators not being present.

Which varieties should be used in areas where the climate is so varied?

To ensure pollination and to avoid early bud growth the best varieties will likely be the late blooming varieties. These will be the Japanese and Japanese/Russian mixes that retain the Japanese blooming traits. With these varieties you should also get full growth all summer long. The Russian varieties will mostly go dormant once summer temperatures kick in (unless of course a cool, wet summer occurs).

Don’t forget that when choosing varieties for an orchard, make sure they all bloom at roughly the same time.

This spring we will hopefully be acquiring 5 Japanese varieties to put into our nursery for a year before planting them to an orchard. There are some questions about the pure Japanese stock, but at this time we are comfortable with these questions. Previous research indicates that they are a very upright growing plant with large, good tasting berries. Will they handle machine harvesting is a good question. Our thinking is that if raspberries can handle machine harvesting these varieties should be just fine.

It will be interesting to see the differences between the different varieties, and we will blog about our experiences as our farm expands.

Disclaimer:  The above article presents our views based on our observations and knowledge. We make no claims as to the accuracy of the any information contained in the above article. The article is for information only.

2 Comments

  • Gary Ralston

    I Iive on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Our zone is 7a. I purchased 128 Maxie and Solo from Spring Meadow Nurseries in Michigan last fall.
    I potted them up and put them in a greenhouse for the winter. All 128 plants sprouted in the spring – good start!
    Trying to market Honeyberry has been a little challenging. I moved some at plant sales, and on Facebook. Next year I’ve got to find a farmer’s market.
    This spring we had a few flowers and a few berries. The summer was “hot” and the plants did nothing. Can I expect some fall growth? Do I need to put them in bigger pots if I have to hold them over for another winter? They seem root-bound!
    I also purchased 32 Sugar Pie and 32 Honey Bunch.
    Any assistance or advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Gary Ralston – Bucket List

    • Chris

      Hi Gary. They could be pot bound, or they could be lacking nutrients. Probably a combination of both maybe? The main growth is always in the spring, until they bear fruit. After fruiting the plants usually will not produce much new growth. I am not familiar with Sugar Pie or Honey Bunch. I do have some of Maxine Thompson’s other varities, but not Solo and Maxie. Her plants get big, and being in small pots will restrict their growth. Chris

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