When one mentions fruit in Alberta, we automatically think of B.C.
We don’t think of what we Albertans grow best, berries: saskatoons, raspberries, haskaps, or honey berries, currants, strawberries and cherries.
All are easy to grow and produce a mouth-watering crop.
The problem comes with perception and demand. If there was more consumer demand, there would be more viable businesses.
It is possible to purchase fresh Alberta fruit is some select stores, farmers’ markets or at you-picks.
But finding selling locations can be difficult. While some advertise in local papers, others are found by word of mouth. Googling brings up the following websites that may or may not have up to date information: http://www.pickyourown.org/canadaal.htm, http://albertafarmfresh.com/
Growing your own fruit is an option. Saskatoons take up the most room. Spacing recommendations range from two feet (60 cm) for a shelterbelt to three feet (about one metre) for machine harvesting.
For best results, plant saskatoon berries in soil with high organic mater and good drainage. They are rarely seen in the wild in heavy clay or where their roots will be wet. Expect to start picking a few berries a few years after planting with bigger crops appearing at about six years. Saskatoons fruit on wood that is over one year old.
There are different varieties of saskatoons available, meaning that the plants differ in size and growing habits. The berries differ in taste and fruiting times.
Haskap, also known as honey berry or blue honeysuckle, are relatively new on the Prairies. The fruit turns blue long before it is truly ripe. Pick the fruit too early and expect a tangy favour. Leave the berries on the plant until they are ready to fall off to get a much sweeter berry. Fruit does not ripen evenly on the plant and it can be hard to determine which berry to pick and which to leave. You-picks have solved this problem by having people shake the plant into a container like an umbrella.
Haskap plants that are now being sold originated from the University of Saskatoon’s breeding program.
These are much improved over the original stock that was brought into Beaver Lodge and can still be found in Northern Alberta.
When purchasing haskap plants, make sure that pollinator plants are also purchased.
Raspberry varieties abound. Older varieties are tangy while the newer hybrids are larger and sweeter. Most people think of raspberries as red but they are also available in yellow and black.
Yellow raspberries, honey gold, are part of many gardens around Leslieville as they were hybridized by resident Bob Erskine, who loved to share his plants. The sweet berries are a shade of orange when they are ripe.
Black raspberries are smaller berries that taste a bit like a grape. These canes will spread outward from the crown but do not sucker. The disadvantage is that the thorns are larger than the average raspberry plant.
All raspberries, with the exception of primo canes and black raspberries, fruit on second-year wood.
Primo cane produces on first year wood.
There are numerous currant varieties available but are usually divided into red, white and black. The fruit makes wonderful jelly or can used as opposed to blueberries in cooking.
Strawberries are everyone’s favourites. There are three types of berries: June bearing, which produce most of their berries at the end of June or the first of July; ever-bearing have smaller berries but produce all season; and day-neutral produce a crop in June and another in the fall.
Strawberry plants are at their most productive in their second to fourth year of life.
Cherries in Alberta have been revolutionized by the breeding program at the University of Saskatoon. They are tasty eaten fresh or make fantastic pies.
Phone before heading out to a you-pick. Not all orchards ripen at the same time and it is best to go when the fruit is plentiful.
Ask if you need to take a picking bucket. Some places supply buckets and others do not. Likewise, you might need a container to take your fruit home.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at www.igardencanada.com or email@example.com