A Gardener’s Diary: Growing the fruit of longevity

Jocelyne Sewell looks at the Haskap or honey berry plant, which many people call a cross between blueberry, raspberry and black currant

Some of my old sweet pepper seeds finally germinated. The older the seeds, the longer it takes to wake up. Last year my early garden suffered but I am hoping for a much better season this year as I am back to normal (what is normal?)

This is how I do my sweet peas. On March 26, I soaked 200 seeds in water. The next day I drained the water and put a plastic bag over the jar. On the 28th, roots were already showing and I finished the germination by putting the seeds between a damp shop towel on a tray to hold them, enclosed in a plastic bag. Because I was short of time, they ended up in the fridge for a few days so the roots would not get too long. They are now potted and will be transplanted a bit later. I do that with all my peas and beans and it works very well. The lettuce seeds showed roots within two days and  so did the marigolds.

Last week a friend told me about a plant she purchased last fall: Haskap or honeyberry. I just got one which is still quite small in a four-inch pot and went on the web for more information. An interesting hardy shrub with clean foliage and delicious bluish-purple berries that are edible; dense growing habit, must have another honeyberry variety for cross pollination. Selected for better fruit production and higher yields, Haskap has a sweet tangy zing flavour that most people say is a cross between blueberry, raspberry and black currant. Haskap has long been known by the ancient Japanese as, “The fruit of Life longevity and Fruit of vision”. The fruit is high in Vitamin C and A along with high fibre and potassium and is at the top for antioxidants.

Anyone around here will be able to grow this as the hardiness is zone 2a. Berry Blue Honeyberry (this is the one I have now) has green foliage throughout the season. The narrow leaves do not develop any appreciable fall colour. It features subtle creamy white flowers along the branches in early spring. It features an abundance of magnificent blue berries in late spring, which are excellent for fresh eating and making jams and jellies. While it is considered to be somewhat self-pollinating, it tends to set heavier quantities of fruit with a different variety of the same species growing nearby. (I should have read this before and saved one more trip to the nursery). The smooth gray bark is not particularly outstanding. This shrub will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and is best pruned in late winter once the threat of extreme cold has passed. It is a good choice for attracting butterflies to your yard. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Plant Characteristics: Berry Blue Honeyberry will grow to be about five feet tall at maturity, with a spread of four feet. It tends to fill out right to the ground and therefore doesn’t necessarily require facer plants in front, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 20 years.

This shrub does best in full sun to partial shade. It prefers dry to average moisture levels with very well-drained soil, and will often die in standing water. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments.

For more information: 250-558-4556.

Jocelyne Sewell is an organic gardening enthusiast and member of Okanagan Gardens & Roses Club. Her column appears in The Morning Star every other Wednesday.

Vernon Morning Star