The Honeyberry: A Subzero Gardening Hero

Cold-hardy, tart, and sweet, with new cultivars being bred every year, the honeyberry is quickly becoming the favorite blue berry for gardeners in northern climates.

Photo by Bernis Ingvaldson

Living in northern Minnesota has afforded our family an idyllic Mother Earth News lifestyle for over 40 years — with one exception. Our long, harsh, ultracold winters have made growing fruit downright difficult. Although berry pickers from around the state rave about wild blueberry crops, climate fluctuations and prolonged drought conditions have sometimes made Minnesota’s wild fruit crops nonexistent. After conducting several expensive blueberry trials with disappointing results, I visited with a local organic gardener who asked me if I’d ever heard of haskap berries. Has … what?

According to this gardener, haskaps are easier to grow and have dependably higher yields than the state’s more familiar wild or domestic blueberries. A Zone 3, super-hardy, deep-blue berry that’s better than our state blueberry? I balked at the thought, and at the name, but I’ve never been happier to find that some things that seem too good to be true live up to expectations!

Photo by Bernis Ingvaldson

Members of the Caprifoliaceae family, haskaps (Lonicera caerulea) — also called “blue honeysuckles,” “honeyberries,” and “sweetberry honeysuckles” — are cold-hardy bushes that yield tart, antioxidant-rich berries. They grow wild throughout the colder regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The northern provinces of Japan boast many acres of haskap farms, where the delicate, delicious berries find their way into the buckets and stomachs of all who trek there to pick them. In fact, the common name “haskap” is the phonetic spelling of the 13th-century Japanese name for the plant.

A North American Novelty

At the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, Dr. Bob Bors is credited with studying and developing many of the different cultivars of honeyberries that have gained international attention and accolades, and the university’s program offers a wide variety of hardy cultivars. In the United States, several breeding programs have forged new cultivars more suited to the nation’s western climates. Dr. Maxine Thompson, a retired professor from Oregon State University, has focused on breeding plants using pure Japanese genetics to enable the haskaps to handle temperate winters without blooming too early. Additionally, Lidia Stuart, co-owner of Berries Unlimited nursery in Arkansas, has primarily focused on adapting early-blossoming Russian cultivars.



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