You will be glad to know they are many Haskap or Honeyberry harvesting options. Much of Honeyberries bad press regarding harvesting and yields is because in many cases only young two or three-year-old plants have been harvested, and everyone has based their Honeyberry harvesting solution or problems to a young plant rather than a mature one. Also, incorrect plant spacing in the rows has reduced yields in many mature orchards. The good news is that in 10-year-old Honeyberry orchards in Poland, yields of 10 pounds a plant are being achieved.
Understanding Honeyberry yields
Honeyberry yields have continued to improve thanks to plant growers research and their ability to produce new and improved varieties regarding plant size, berry taste, and yield.
In the early 2000’s yields from imported older Russian varieties offered an average of 3 to 4 pounds a plant and their taste deemed too bitter. Ten years later, yields and flavours improved thanks to the introduction of the Indigo variety series by the University of Saskatchewan and brought yields to 6 to 8 pounds per plant.
The third wave of Honeyberry varieties from the University of Saskatchewan (Aurora) and Berries Unlimited (Happy Giant family) have made further steps to improve productivity to 10 pounds plus a plant, combined with a richer and sweeter Honeyberry flavour and taste. These higher yields have also resulted in larger plants (6×5 versus 4×4 feet) and, therefore, growers need to allow greater spacing within the rows.
We have seen some orchard examples where farmers have planted these larger varieties on two feet row spacing or 2,000 plants per acre, expecting spectacular newly improved yields. However, this is not the case, as you can not hope to plant a 5-foot wide plant on a two-foot spacing and expect a full yield of over 10 pounds a plant.
Why? Firstly you have reduced the plant mass by over 50%. In simple terms, a six high by five-foot wide Honeyberry plant has a mass of 150 cubic feet. If it yields 10 pounds of berries, by reducing the plant mass by planting it on two-foot centres, you will have reduced the plant mass to 60 cubic feet and reduced your yield 60% to 4 pounds. If you improved your spacing to three-foot centres, you would have improved the reduced plant mass to 90 cubic feet and your potential yield to 6 pounds.
The second problem with tight plant spacing is the plant roots will begin to compete with its neighbours for nutrients. The Honeyberry plant will become over stressed, which it opens the plant up to disease and further lowers the quality of yields, the life of the plant and increases the maintenance cost of the orchard. The third problem of spring or summer planting is that it disturbs the natural growth of the plant with in many cases a loss of seasonal growth resulting in a poor yield after the first year of harvest.
Honeyberry flowers are hermaphrodite and are most self-incompatible. To obtain a healthy harvest, it is accepted two or more cultivars must be planted together for cross-pollination. Ideal Honeyberry pollinators include Bumblebees, Hive or Honeybees (one hive per acre) and other native or local bees.
We recommend four to six cultivars (planted in equal number) per acre depending on the size of the orchard. This creates a well balanced and diverse natural orchard, with luxury pollination, above average fruit set and excellent yields. We have also found that Brix levels tend to be higher with greater balanced varietal plantings.
In commercial orchards, we would advise planting alternate rows rather than mixing the rows and would group the rows per Honeyberry harvest groupings – Early, Mid, Late, and Very Late. For example Wojtek row and Honey Gin row, Aurora row, and Happy Giant row, and Strawberry Sensation and Boreal Beauty row.
A further advantage of many four to six varieties is that it allows you to recreate the delicious, flavoursome taste of Wild Honeyberries or create your own unique flavour with differing berry shapes tailored to your local market. This could be sold in a fresh or frozen format.
Birds and other pests?
The Honeyberry plant is resistant to many found fungus diseases of leaves and other berry plants. If you have fungus problems, the source of this trouble probably lies in the soil rather than the bush. We have seen no or very few aphids or other insect damage in our orchards.
In our minds, the only real pest of Honeyberries or any orchard is birds. In North America, the principal bird pest is Ceder Waxwings. In Russia, it is Snowbirds or Sparrows. So for your family to enjoy fresh Honeyberries. You need protection from birds at harvest time. The simplest method of protection is shaking your fist at the birds and politely tell them to ‘B*#$$@! Off’. We have tried this, and we can confirm the results are patchy. It is amazing that the Blackcurrant industry does not have to net, Sadly birds have excellent taste in berries, and a bird deterrent is strongly advisable if you want to sleep at night during harvest.
What are the Honeyberry harvesting options? The traditional method is netting similar to that found in other berry or vineyards. The problem with this type of netting is it prevents some of the smaller harvesting machinery from being used. If you chose this option, it is best to put up the netting as soon as the berries turn blue. This is about 20 to 30 days before harvesting. Avoid draping the nets on young plants, as the early new growth or shoots will grow through the nets and become tangled. We would only recommend this for smaller options of three acres and below three acres.
The other netting option is by an overhead canopy, similar to you find in the cherry industry or vineyards. This is a very expensive option regarding upfront capital cost, although it can double up as a protective deer fence. The first problem with this system and similar to basic netting is it prevents some of the smaller harvesting machinery from being used. Secondly for orchards greater than five acres it becomes an engineering problem rather than a farming problems – weight loads, wire tension calculations, and freezing rain. Estimates range from $4,000 to $10,000 an acre. Our view is that when Krug installs one, we will follow.
What we have to accept and it’s hard to do. It is just impossible to harvest every berry in the orchard. So it’s the old 80 to 20 rule. The final 20% may cost twice as much as the first 80%. So when it comes to harvesting, take a page from the vineyard book – quality, quality and then quality rather than simply more. If your business plans depends on obtaining $5.00 a pound. They probably need to be organic and have an average Brix of 17 plus.
Our chosen bird guard solution in North America is called Birdgard. We have clients who swear by it and have tested it ourselves and agree it works very well. The trick with this system we have found is to put it on about a month before the crop is ripe. This keeps the early ‘Bird Scouts’ out of the orchard. So how does it work? Unlike harassment and hazing devices, such as cannons and pyrotechnics that attempt to startle or annoy birds into leaving, BirdGard.
So how does it work? Unlike harassment and hazing devices, such as cannons and pyrotechnics that attempt to startle or annoy birds into leaving, BirdGard agriculture bird control products use the bird’s natural instincts to make them flee. Our preferred unit is the BirdGard Super Pro, powered by a car battery/solar panels. This protects up to four acres or a circle diameter of 500 feet. We find that four speakers that creates a circle of protection works better than the cheaper two speaker unit.
BirdGard products use digital recordings of species specific distress and alarm calls, along with the sounds of their natural predators, broadcast through high fidelity weatherproof speakers to convince the birds they are under attack. The system also uses sophisticated random technology keeps birds from getting used to the sounds. The key to its success in your orchard is knowing your local bird population, including their natural predators.
The key bird pest
Please note there are two types of Waxwing Honeyberry or Haskap pest. So make sure you have both types on your sound card. If you have never have seen these birds in your area before planting Honeyberries. You will soon.
In Europe the main bird pest is the pigeon and the Birdgard is less effective than netting. So during the first three years, we recommend you experiment which system is best for your locality and bird types.
BirdGard Control Guidelines
- It is critical to fully protect your entire crop from birds. Any areas not adequately protected will allow birds to begin feeding at the fringes of the sound coverage. They will soon become bolder and learn the sounds are nothing to fear. This will cause the effectiveness to diminish. Complete BirdGard coverage forces birds to leave the area entirely.
- Install BirdGard before birds starts feeding on your berries. This is generally before they start to turn blue. It is much easier to keep birds away than it is to repel them once they have developed a feeding pattern.
- Mount the BirdGard speakers at least five feet above bushes and other obstacles for maximum coverage.
- Most birds begin feeding on the perimeter of the patch. Place BirdGard units so the sound protection covers beyond the crop edges.
- Birds will often use tall trees for roosting and observation. If birds are in bordering trees, it is important to position the units so the sound protection covers the trees as well.
BirdGard products developed in collaboration with ornithologists at leading universities and agriculture extension agencies. Numerous studies from Cornell University, the University of California, Davis and others have proven BirdGard’s effectiveness in eliminating bird damage. Through continuous research and development into the nature and habits of nuisance and dangerous birds, BirdGard has become the world leader in electronic agricultural bird control, protecting millions of acres of crops each year. The cost of this system is about $200 an acre and can run off solar power. If this system interests you, try it. Please click their banner below. If you are not satisfied, BirdGard will refund the cost of their electronic system.
A Birdgard partner?
You may want to mix Birdgard with Whirlybird Repeller to help solve pest bird problems in your orchard. Using the wind, sunlight, and a little ingenuity, the WhirlyBird Repeller’s always changing patterns offer a simple, safe, and effective combination of methods to scare birds away. Shaped like a peregrine falcon, the WhirlyBird Repeller catches prevailing wind, and its motion, sounds, and reflections work to keep pest birds away and change birds’ roosting and perching habits. The testimonial from Irvin House Vineyards recommends it
The use of the WhirlyBird Repeller resulted in a dramatic increase in production, with an overall 15 to 20% greater yield during the summer of 2006 and an even greater yield during the summer of 2007. In fact, our yield for the past two summers with the WhirlyBirds has exceeded our capacity, allowing us to sell our remaining crop to home winemakers. The WhirlyBird Repeller works so well, Irvin-House Vineyards actually includes a discussion of this device during its wine tasting tours. After we had picked all the grapes we could use, we removed the WhirlyBirds from the vineyard. Within three days of this removal, the crows and blackbirds were back and helped clear out the bad and leftover fruit and proceeded to clean up the vineyard.
Take a look at the YouTube video.
On the topic of deer and other animals – we have heard out West coyotes are partial to the berries! The best answer to this problem is local knowledge is best. We have found that deer in the summer months prefer the grass in the orchard rows rather than the plants. The key deer problem window is during March and April if there is still snow on the ground and they tend to graze the top buds that are starting to form.
How long will a Honeyberry remain productive?
The simple answer to this question is a very long time! A Blackcurrant has a life span of 4 to 5 years, Red Currant 15 years; a Raspberry fruit years are considered 2 to 4 years and a Strawberry is most productive up to 3 years of age. In Russia, Honeyberries remain highly productive until the age of 25 to 40 years old. There are some cases where 150-year-old plants are still laden with berries. In Russia, the plant is considered a plant that you will be able to enjoy not only by your children but by your grandchildren and even by your great-grandchildren.
Late fall flowering?
In some of the native and newer growing regions Honeyberries well-formed terminal buds on seasoned new wood can flower sporadically. Please note these berries in nearly all occasions taste horrible!
There was the belief that this event negatively impacted the following year’s harvest. However, Vladimir Feflov, Head of the Department of Botany and Plant Physiology NGSKHA, has shown this is not true. Also, he has demonstrated many varieties where this late flowering does not occur.
Vladimir Feflov – Head of the Department of Botany and Plant Physiology NGSKHA, Associate Professor, Ph.D. A scientist-breeder, of sixteen varieties included in the State Register of the Russian Federation, fruit crops, of which two varieties – honeysuckle “Nizhny Novgorod early”, “Gourmand”. V.A. Fefelov – winner of the silver medal of the Exhibition Center.
Please click the banner below to find out more information on Vladimir Feflov.
When to harvest Honeyberries?
The timing of your harvest depends on your location; varieties were chosen and the weather. We have created a general guide table to help growers determine when to expect blooms, first green berry and when to harvest. These times are based on Polish and North American averages. In colder location you would expect this timeline to shorten and in warmer locations you would expect it to be longer.
However, local and seasonal weather patterns can play havoc with our best estimates! It would appear that a general fresh Honeyberry harvest period using varieties from ‘Early to Very Late’ could stretch from early to mid-June to mid to late July. Quebec, Scotland, and Poland have been used as a general harvesting benchmark. The problem of stretching the harvest into Late July or August in warmer regions would be the soaring summer temperatures. The earliest Honeyberries we have tasted are those produce in the gardens of Berries Unlimited – around mid-May. Regarding Brix, we begin to advise looking to harvest on a Brix of 15 or higher. However, this depends on the variety and their end use. If you are looking to produce wine, you will want to hit Brix’s of 20 plus.
Different cultivar harvesting groupings
We have broken down the four varieties from our four growers into to blooming or harvesting categories – Early, Mid, Late and very late. Each one lags the other by a week or two and timings may differ in warmer or colder regions. Also, larger berries in some areas take longer to ripen than smaller ones. The accepted theory is the Russian varieties are first to bloom, a mix of Russian and Japanese are next to bloom and the Japanese are the last to bloom or harvest. This keeps things simple rather than breaking the list down further into Kamstchatika is later than Turchaninowii, Kuril is later than Japanese ones, etc.
Differing regional ripening periods
In warmer climates (Oregon), we find that the berries take longer to ripen 80 to 90 days versus in colder climates 50 to 60 days. It is to do with fruit plant’s ethylene production and how it controls fruit ripening. Recent studies show that specialized receptors in plant cells bind to the ethylene. The first known plant genes involved in this process, ETR1 and CTR1, were identified in 1993. They keep the fruit ripening genes from activating until ethylene is produced.
The reason for differing ripening periods, we suspect relates to the CO2 levels in the fruit. CO2 can be used to reduce ethylene to increase shelf life and improve food storage. So the colder countries like Poland would have less biological activity (and hence less CO2 – their byproduct). Warmer regions like Oregon would have higher biological activity in warmer soils and hence more CO2, which reduces ethylene production and slows ripening.
GAPs and Good Handling Practices
Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Handling Practices (GHPs) are voluntary programs that you may wish to consider for your Honeyberry orchard operation. The idea behind these programs is to ensure a safer food system by reducing the chances for foodborne illnesses resulting from contaminated products reaching consumers. Most major food distribution chains or supermarkets are beginning to require GAP- and GHP certified products from their agricultural suppliers. These programs set standards for worker hygiene, use of manure, and water supply quality.
These practices require an inspection by a designated third party, and there are fees associated with the inspection. Before it, you will need to develop and implement a food safety plan and designate someone in your operation to oversee this project. You will need to have any water supply used by your workers or for crop irrigation, and pesticide application checked at least twice each year. A checklist of the questions needing answering during the inspection can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/fv/gapghp.
Honeyberry harvesting basics
Up until the 1970’s or in some cases the 1980’s the majority of berries were picked by hand into buckets which were then transferred into trays in the field, loaded onto pallets and then onto open sided lorries. Handpicking a large acreage (some growers even then were harvesting between 50 and 100 acres) was challenging. At around 100 buckets per ton and 3 tons per acre equating to 15,000 to 20,000 buckets – a logistical nightmare for 1200 disorganized casual seasonal workers. As berry plantations expanded and the picking community declined in the countryside mechanical harvesters were developed.
Orchard Harvesting practice considerations
- Expected Honeyberry yield timeline and plant lifetime.
- Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices
- When to harvest and ripening?
- Brix levels?
- Bird netting or Birdgard system?
- Mechanical harvesting
- Picking for the fresh market
- Harvest logistics in and out of the orchard
Orchard post-harvests and managing the ‘Cold Chain’ considerations
- Honeyberry plan – Growing berries or bottles of wine?
- Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices
- Time is your enemy
- Removing the field heat
- Processing – fresh or frozen?
What are the Harvesting options?
These harvesters based on the Easy Harvester concept and tweaked for picking Honeyberries. Operated by two pickers and collects around 600 to 1,600 pounds of berries in a day. The mark one model below was designed by Manuel Gosselin from the Quebec. He is currently working on the mark two version which should be ready for the 2016 season. We look forward to test-driving it. If you would like further information, please click the photo below to be taken to his impressive honeyberry or Camarise website – indigo Superfruit.
A perfect harvester if you operate a small orchard of one to three acres, and your business plan calls for perfect organic berries for the fresh market. Regarding frozen, cold-chain of harvesting to freezer should be about 45 to 60 minutes.
The Russian’s have always advised us to look to the Blackcurrant industry for harvesting solutions and that is exacting what the Poles did (see YouTube video below). Given their experience of growing Blackcurrants and Straddle harvesters, they have adapted very well to harvesting this new fruit. They started out with the Joanna three but found it broke more branches than it picked berries. The newer Straddle harvesters picking ‘V’ is less steep, which helps ensure that more berries are picked and no broken branches. Please note you can not use these machines with bird netting posts in the rows.
A grower can harvest about four acres over 10 hours or about 20 tons. You can attach a cleaning station on the back of this harvester, and you would need a crew of four people. The added advantage of these half harvesters is they can easily harvest younger plants. Their drawback is that to have to harvest the mature plants in two passes each side, rather than one with an over the row harvester. There are many Straddle brands and but our favorite ones are by the Polish companies – Karmasz or Weremczuk. These harvesters are perfect for orchards of 50 acres or less.
Over the row harvesters
If we continue with the Russian’s Blackcurrant advice, the Poles will soon be using over the row Blackcurrant harvesters, as shown below. From a distance, the rows of Blackcurrants look very similar to rows of mature Honeyberry plants. These machines are considerably more expensive than the Straddle harvester. However, it is more efficient, and it is both a harvesting and cleaning platform in the orchard. These harvesters can pick about 10 to 15 acres in a day.
GPS drone guided harvesters
Sadly these have not been invented yet, but we dream of that day often.