BAGLEY -- The Honeyberry Farm drew a crowd from near and far Monday for their second field tour of the season.
During the two-hour tour, the group of about 20 made their way through a small demonstration garden containing some 40 varieties of honeyberries, along with several varieties of cherries, saskatoons and currants. People came from as far as Minot, N.D., to Eveleth, Minn., to take part in the field day.
Jim and Bernis Ingvaldson are the owners and operators of The Honeyberry Farm located a few miles southeast of Bagley. They started planting in the spring of 2011 and have added new plants and more varieties every year since, focusing on about 10 varieties for commercial use and pick-your-own.
The field day Monday allowed anyone interested a chance to come and see the farm, learn about different varieties of honeyberries and hear Annie Klodd, a University of Minnesota Extension Educator for Fruit Production, speak on “Organic options for treating Spotted Wing Drosophila.”
This is the first summer the couple has held field days at their farm, beginning in June with a program focused primarily on honeyberries, with Monday's event expanding into other berry varieties.
Bernis Ingvaldson said their journey began when she went to visit a friend's farm in Saskatchewan in 2010 and tried her first honeyberry.
Originally from Saskatoon, Sask., Ingvaldson explained that she grew up around pick-your-own saskatoon berry farms, but she wanted to do honeyberry because it was something different and unique.
In order to create a source of revenue starting out, they began selling berry plants primarily online. They had success selling their first batch of plants, so they created a website, and after taking orders all spring they had enough revenue to begin making a living at it.
“One key to success for our business was having an open policy and sharing what we learned,” Ingvaldson said. “People were so good to us and freely shared what they were learning with me. So I thought this is just the way to go.”
They began picking their early varieties of honeyberries for the season June 24 and are now in the middle of picking the mid- to late-season varieties. Ingvaldson said the early blooming varieties typically take about three weeks for the berries to be fully ripe and at their sweetest. Mid- and late-season blooming varieties can vary as to how long they need to ripen.
The Ingvaldson’s favorite variety is Aurora, developed by the University of Saskatchewan. “Most people that have come through so far this summer have preferred Aurora over any other variety,” Ingvaldson said. She described it as a sweet berry that is not as high in acidity and its larger size makes it easy to pick.
For commercial production, the Ingvaldsons choose to let an entire bush ripen and harvest only once, rather than picking as the berries ripen. “We shoot for that happy medium of when a majority of the berries on a plant are ripe enough and sweet enough to be picked all at once,” she said.
They have several options for harvesting their berries beyond just picking by hand. One method demonstrated for Monday's attendees was shake and drop, where a small plastic pool cut in half, with a notch cut out of the center, is placed around the bush. Then the branches can be gently hit with a stick or by hand to cause the berries to fall off of the plant and into the pool. Once all the berries have been harvested, the pool can be slid out from under the bush and the berries poured into a container. They also use a leaf blower to blow away leaves and any debris as they pour, to speed up the cleaning process.
Tour participants were able to try out this method for themselves.
Ingvaldson said that though honeyberries are wrapping up for the season, it is peak time to get out and pick raspberries, cherries and saskatoons. They will be moving into currant season next week, with elderberries ready by mid-September.
Anyone interested in picking berries or learning more about the farm can visit www.honeyberryusa.com.