Haskaps are one of my very favourite berry shrubs to grow & eat, and they are quickly gaining popularity.
Haskaps resemble an elongated blueberry and have a wide variety or flavours and textures based on type. Some are described as having complex flavours like many other berries, or a bit more tangy. In terms of texture, they also range from soft and juicy to more firm. They are very early fruit with some being ripe as early at June. This means the also flower early and a good source of pollen early in the season. The flowers are also frost resistant too, which means you don't have to worry if the cold weather lingers!
As haskaps are somewhat newer in the area, there are still a lot of ongoing breeding programs. At the University of Saskatchewan, the breeding program is creating even larger, better tasting berries, as well as larger bushes that produce later into the season. This means that if you've tried haskaps before and didn't have a good experience, you may want to try the different variations to find one you enjoy!
People sometimes ask how these breedings occur and if its “genetic engineering” or GMO. It certainly isn’t! This is old school trial and error breeding. Bushes are cross pollinated in closed conditions with bushes that have the desired traits (taste, size, disease resistance, etc) then hundreds and thousands of seedlings are planted from the seeds harvested and monitored for years to determine which ones are the best to patent and propagate for commercial use.
Since the breeding programs are so active it does lead to some issues with pollination and compatibility, which I wanted to discuss further. I will also discuss some of the varieties available.
These are the first generation or early introduced varieties. They usually have the earliest berries and smaller in size than some of the others, but by some they are considered to be the best tasting. They have many different names and it can get confusing but essential any variety that’s not listed below or any plant you bought over 8 years ago is likely one of the Russian varieties. This is good to know as they bloom very early and need a compatible pollinator.
Early Northern Selections
These were some of the first Canadian breed varieties and they started with the Canadiana naming convention including: Aurora, Borealis and Tundra. Aurora and Tundra remain very popular varieties while Borealis has been falling out of favour as a preferred variety. Personally Aurora remains one of my favourites and I find it has an intense raspberry flavour. Tundra is one of the largest and firmest of the first varieties and often used for commercial production. Honeybee was also released at this time and it is very tall for an early variety with profuse small berries. It also has a very long bloom time and considered a universal and excellent pollinator.
This series includes; Gem, Treat and Yum. This is the first big series release and very popular for the last 5 years until the introduction of the Boreal series. They have larger berries than the first releases and great flavours.
This series has been readily available for the last few years and quickly become the most popular. It includes; beast, blizzard and beauty. It boasts very large berries and tall bushes up to 6ft, thus providing exceptional harvests. They are also considered the sweetest and best tasting by many. They are extremely late blooming and fruit is ripe in late July even early August in some years. This is important to note as pollination for these varieties can take special attention and you may not be able to add just one to your existing patch.
As mentioned above, due to ongoing breeding haskaps do not always have overlapping bloom times. Also, some varieties have very similar genetics and are poor pollinators of other varieties in the same series. Since each plant is clone of themselves, two of the same variety can’t pollinate itself. It’s important to keep that in mind when selecting plants (we always also double check for customers). This can get confusing when you don’t know what variety you currently have or one with a name that doesn’t appear on most pollination charts. Tip: You can narrow it down by size or blooming time but 95% of the time it can be considered a “Russian Variety”. This is where we recommend buying Honeybee as it is considered a universal pollinator. Ifthere is a chance your current plant is honeybee than Aurora is your next best option for pollination.
For best pollinations it is recommended to plant at least a 1 to 5 ratio, so one different variety for every 5 the same. This is best achieved in a box or row with the different one in the middle. They can be planted as close as 3-5ft if you want to form a solid hedge row, otherwise usually around 10ft part. It’s said you can achieve pollination up to 50ft apart but I would personally suggest no more than 20ft between plants.
Hopefully this clarifies most of the questions I frequently get about Haskaps, any further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.