Sunday, 29 July 2012

Saskatoon Fruit Growing


Saskatoon fruit grows on the Amelanchier alnifolia bush, a member of the rose family, which grows wild in North West America and Canada from New Mexico to Alaska. Over time superior fruit has been selected to produce bigger and better fruiting varieties which are now very commercial. The industry is growing very fast to meet demand for this fruit, which is very high in nutrients and antioxidants.
They look similar to Blueberries, but have a different, sweeter flavour and are much easier to grow.

History of the Saskatoon
Native American Indians have been using the fruit for hundreds of years, eating it fresh, using it in soups and cakes, and mixing it with dried grated buffalo meat and fat to make pemmican. This is dried and stored for use throughout winter. Settlers in America soon realised the value of this fruit and started to gather it from the wild, then selecting the best bushes to cultivate.
The Saskatoon bush was also used medicinally for numerous ailments, the leaves were brewed for tea and the wood used for arrows, basket making and in the construction of canoes.
Saskatoons were growing prolifically along the banks of the Saskatchewan River and when the town grew up at this location it was named Saskatoon after the anglicized version of the Cree name, Mis-sask-a-too-mina for the fruit.
At present demand for the fruit far exceeds supply and it is estimated that soon over 4000 hectares will be under cultivation. Harvesting is done by machine, hand pickers and nearly half the crop by pick your own, as people love a day in the country picking native fruit.
The first variety, Success appeared in 1878, but it was not until 1952 that the first selections produced the superior varieties Smoky and Pembina. Smoky was the main variety used in the first orchards established about forty years ago. However with micropropagation techniques other varieties including Thiessen (this one has the largest fruit size), Northline, Martin and Honeywood were mass planted.

Nutritional value and use
The fruit is high in iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium and very high in anthocyanins. These antioxidants may help prevent heart disease, strokes, cancer, cataracts and other chronic illnesses associated with ageing.
They can be eaten fresh during the picking season of nearly one month and used in jams, jellies, compote, pie fillings, yoghurt, smoothies and wine. They make excellent fruit compote mixed with other soft fruit or rhubarb and used with breakfast cereals, dessert or a topping or filling with sponge cake. The berries freeze well for future use.
The bushes are quite dense with a strong root system, making them perfect for landscape planting in shelterbelts, hedges, urban and edible landscapes and on slopes viable to soil erosion. They are very attractive in May when they are covered in white flowers and are beneficial for bees, birds and other wildlife. Many varieties of Amelanchier have excellent autumn colour.

Saskatoons tolerate a wide range of soils from acidic to those with a high pH, clay, sandy, loams and peat provided drainage is reasonable. They are very hardy down to -50 centigrade, (they grow in Alaska), though a late frost or severe wind can affect young foliage and flowers. I have not experienced any severe Scottish weather that affects mature bushes, but have had some damage on young plants in the May gales last year.
For garden cultivations plant single bushes about 6 to 8 feet apart, or 3 feet apart for hedgerows.
Without pruning they could reach about 15 feet. They do not need pruning for fruit production, but do need height management for picking. Cut out a few tall shoots right down to ground level in winter. These will regenerate with fresh new shoots which keeps the bush young and wont need pruning for another five years.
They will produce 6 to 10 lbs fruit per mature bush from the middle of July to early August.
Young bushes start cropping about three years old and continue for over thirty years.
Birds just love the fruit so they will need netting or grown in a fruit cage.
Visitors are very welcome to inspect and sample a few berries from my crop of bushes, now 7 years old at the City Road Allotment site Open day on Sunday 5th August from 10.30am to 2pm.

Plant of the week

Lavatera is grown in gardens both as an annual and a permanent perennial. Both types prefer poor dry soil and full sun for prolific flowering. The pink and white flowers can be very bold.
Perennial Lavatera should be pruned in late winter quite hard and it will still grow up to six foot tall.


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