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Saskatoon berries are relatively easy to grow in a wide variety of soils. Submitted photo

Rediscovering the "Saskatoon berry"

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columns Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The Saskatoon berry is a very tasty fruit that is very hardy even to our neighbors in Canada.

Some say the flavor is somewhat similar to the blueberry, which it resembles, with a slight almond flavor. It is native to Canada and parts of the Northern United States. It is a cultivar of the serviceberry (also called Juneberries at times), which many people in our region are more likely to recognize.

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One of the pleasant aspects of the Saskatoon berry is that they are relatively easy to grow in a wide variety of soils. Saskatoons can survive virtually any cold weather thrown at them here in northern Minnesota, and they can withstand a mild drought. Additionally, they are generally not bothered by diseases in a home or small garden.

Bernice Ingvaldson, who runs Honeyberry Farms and raises a wide variety of fruiting bushes with her husband Jim in Bagley, Minn., says Saskatoon berries tend to grow better in lighter soils than in the heavier soils in parts of North Dakota. Bernice said she likes all of the varieties of berries that Honeyberry Farms makes available in our area. She likes the Honeyberries that her farm specializes in, but she said that the Saskatoon berry is a little more firm, and can be readily be used in virtually any recipe that calls for blueberries. There are three small seeds in Saskatoons (perhaps slightly smaller than a sesame seed) that are easily eaten by most people.

If you do plant some Saskatoon berry plants, the first year or two will probably produce little or no fruit. The second year after planting Saskatoons, your plants will likely produce some berries. Please keep in mind that birds love eating berries, and to protect your berries from the birds -- unless your intent is to feed the birds with them -- you should probably put some kind of netting over the plants.

I am not sure how others will fare on growing these tasty treats, but my wife and I planted six plants four years ago, and in their fourth year, they are now about 3 feet tall. Last year, those six plants were very productive, and we ate quite of few of them fresh in a variety of ways, and then froze 20 pounds of them to eat over the winter.

Saskatoon berries are an unusually healthy fruit to eat, being very high in antioxidants. Saskatoons also supply a substantial amount of calcium, iron and manganese according to Canadasfoods.com.

The Saskatoon berry or the serviceberry can be planted either in the spring or in the fall. According to Bernice at Honeyberry Farms, they should be pruned fairly early in their growth so that they can bush out a little more with a multi stemmed top which helps prevent them from becoming tall and spindly. Additionally, it is recommended that the older leader stems be pruned out about every four years.

These multi-service plants can serve not only as a source of a tasty fruit during the summer, but can also develop into a colorful fall shrub or hedge. Depending on the variety, soil and available light, these multi-dimensional plants will grow between 6 and 15 feet tall.

For more information, reference the University Of Minnesota Extension Service websitewww.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/ for more information on horticultural topics. In addition, local Master Gardeners will again answer your questions on home horticulture. Call (218) 444-7916, leave your name, number, and question and you will get a call.

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