Paul's Production Guide

Hi, I hope that you find this production manual helpful. I’ve tried to cover most of the main points to provide a good overview of what Saskatoons, under cultivation, are all about. I’m sure that there are many points that could be covered more comprehensively but this manual is intended as an introductory manual. For a more comprehensive manual we suggest you contact the Department of Horticulture, University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and ask for Richard St. Pierre’s Saskatoon Production Manual. This comprehensive manual is very detailed and contains all of the most current information. Richard St. Pierre also has available manuals on Chokecherry, Pincherry and other small fruit production. The Saskatoon Farm currently has 50 acres of Saskatoons in various stages of production. Tours are available to those who have a serious interest in Saskatoon production.

Introduction

Many people on the Prairies grew up loving the unique taste of the Saskatoon berry. However, as our population increases and wild stands dwindle, more and more people eagerly seek our easy to pick, high quality, commercially produced berries. The fact is that most families today are quite happy to pay for Saskatoons rather than brave the uncertainty of trying to pick from the wild.

The current limitation on the industry’s enormous potential has been simply that there has not been enough volume produced to even begin to satisfy demand. It was in the early 1980’s when the first Saskatoon orchards were planted. Planting is continuing still, with Saskatoons growing in every province in Canada.

A recent survey by the Brooks Research Center indicated that there are 1,000 acres of Saskatoons in Alberta, 250 of which are currently producing. There are approximately 145 acres in Saskatchewan, 60 acres in Manitoba and perhaps 30 acres outside of Western Canada. Interest elsewhere continues to grow as well. We have had many inquiries from the U.S., Czechoslovakia, Argentina, Chile, Norway, Finland and Britain.

Studies have indicated that present markets for jams, jellies, fresh fruit and the like could support 10,000 acres plus of production. More and more people across the Prairies are considering Saskatoons as a viable agricultural alternative and even as 100 or so acres are planted each year, the industry is many decades away from the saturation point.

Saskatoon Varieties

There is a remarkable difference between "wild" Saskatoons and the domestic varieties. The domestic Saskatoon has been selected solely on the basis of its superior fruit size, taste, yield, flowering time and overall productivity. Although there are good patches of wild Saskatoons still around they do not begin to compare to what can be produced by a row of domestic Saskatoons in the average farm garden. There are now numerous registered Saskatoon varieties that have been released by various institutions, individuals and private nurseries. Northline, Smoky, Thiessen and Honeywood are the varieties which are well recognized as being the best and account for more than 99% of all Saskatoons planted. Each one has been selected for a particular trait or habit that was found to be unique or of interest. All Saskatoon varieties are hardy throughout the Prairies. Growing more than one variety is advantageous, to acquire slightly different flowering, growth tendencies and berry flavour.

Below you will find summaries of the main varieties and a few comments about some others. We get asked many times which variety we prefer and it can vary depending on what the end use will be, for example, U-Pick, process market, etc. In general, I believe that all varieties should be represented in today’s orchard. They all have slightly different flowering times and varying degrees of disease and insect tolerance. Having more than one variety will balance one’s production. For example, we have a large block of Northlines which tend to flower a week later than our Smokys, consequently, they also fruit a week later. This gives us time to pick all our Smokys before it is time to pick our Northlines. It does, of course, also extend our U-Pick season.

Smoky

Released in 1952 by the Beaverlodge Research Center, this is full flavoured fruit, exceptionally sweet, large habit, reaching 8 - 10 feet in height. Consistently good yields have been recorded over the last 30 years. This is by far the most widely planted Saskatoon because it was the best known in the past, but is now planted less as other varieties have proven themselves. It’s fruit is not as large as the other varieties but it is often preferred for jam and jelly by processors because of it’s sweetness and good flavour.

Northline

From the Beaverlodge Research Center, this is a large fruited variety with excellent flavour, and grows to approximately 8 feet. It has a very upright and uniform habit of growth, which makes for easy picking. It produces abundant fruit at a young age. We appreciate the later flowering habit (a week later than Smoky). We only have good things to say about Northline and it is strongly represented in our orchards. We feel it is your number one choice .

Honeywood

This variety is somewhat similar to the Northline variety in that it flowers late and is a shorter variety with large flavourful fruit. It’s stout formlike habit and growth and low suckering characteristics make this variety a great saskatoon to grow! We’re excited!

Thiessen

The Thiessen is a very large fruiting variety and fruit can average 1/2 inch in diameter. It’s flavour is good and the height tends to be in the 14 foot range. The flowering habit is a few days earlier than Smoky. The fruit size makes it attractive for U - Pick operations. However, commercial producers feel that the flavour is not quite as intense in the Thiessen variety and that there is little hope of harvesting this variety mechanically.To summarize, we recommend that more than one variety be represented in your typical garden or small U - Pick orchard. For large scale commercial production orchards, there is some evidence to suggest that although the fruit size of the Thiessen is large, Northline, Honeywood and Smoky varieties are preferred by commercial producers (e.g. jam/syrup producers).

Propagation Techniques

For Saskatoons there are three main propagation techniques. Plants can be propagated from seeds, suckers or cloned (tissue culture). Our farm’s orchards as well as 90% of all existing orchards today have been established using seed propagation material. Recently, the issue has been raised as to whether this is the best method. We believe that seed propagated Saskatoons should be your first choice.They have proven themselves in the marketplace, are extremely productive and have stood the test of time!

Seed Propagation

Because the Saskatoon is self fertile, there is minimal cross-pollination between flowers and plants propagated from seed; and in our experience, progeny are more or less identical to the parent. We believe STRONGLY that reports of the material being dissimilar to the parent is exaggerated, usually by a tissue culture supplier. Most deviation, we believe, comes from sloppy seed collection and handling due to growers being very casual about seed collection. A handful of berries from the wrong bush going into a pail of fruit intended for use as seed, could radically change one’s opinion about how true they are to type. We have found that if meticulous care is taken to collect only the highest quality of F1 seed, the number of seedlings that are, in fact, dissimilar is very slight. For example; from a ten acre block (10,000 seedlings) that we have here on the farm now in production, fewer than 100 of these bushes warrant culling, if at all. Other deviations, if any, are slight, and are not a problem or concern in any way. This has certainly been our experience and our seedlings establish quickly and grow aggressively. Hundreds of our customers over the years have reported first class results, low mortality rate and good consistent production.

To my knowledge, there has not been a study done to determine when using quality F1 seed, what the actual percentage of dissimilar stock will be. To summarize: there is no downside to using seedling material, and in our opinion, this cannot be said of other propagation techniques.

Suckers

Suckers are basically root divisions that are being retrieved from existing orchards; Using a shovel, the suckers are removed from the base of a mature bush. These pieces are trimmed back and are used to establish your hedgerows. In principle, this is a sound method of propagating Saskatoons, however, I have two major concerns. The first being that we have had numerous reports of high mortality up to 60%. This is probably a result of improper handling of the sucker once it has been dug. They must be kept moist at ALL times and kept cool till planting.

Unfortunately, by the time you find this out it is often too late to do anything about it till next season. You therefore have the replacement cost of the sucker and have lost a year of production. One argument for using suckers has always been that they will be the same as the parents which is of course true.

However, if the suckers are being collected from an orchard that was probably started from seed, you could possibly end up with the same finished product if you had used seedlings.The performance of suckers has been very inconsistent. Some establish readily and grow quickly as you would expect although we have had numerous reports of suckers establishing but not really growing aggressively and just sort of "sitting" there for a couple of years. Suckers can work, but this method of propagation is best utilized in-house; that is collecting suckers from known good plants on your own farm and immediately transplanting them to establish a new row. Used in this manner I think suckers are great but I would be very reluctant to buy them.

Clonal Material ( Tissue Culture)

Clonal material is basically done under controlled conditions where a small growing bud is removed from the desired Saskatoon bush and the cells are then multiplied in the lab and ultimately divided into small growing pieces that are eventually encouraged to grow roots and a stem. They are then transplanted into a normal greenhouse environment and further grown to saleable size. The only argument that strongly favors tissue culture material is that your field will be completely uniform, meaning all plants will be 100% identical. We feel that this could be a blessing, but it could also be a curse. Should insects or disease favor this particular strain, your entire field is at equal risk. The up side would be that your entire field would flower and fruit uniformly. What mystifies me is why this is being touted so, when our own orchards, not from tissue culture, also flower and fruit uniformly.Seedlings are often misrepresented by tissue culture companies in an attempt to increase their own sales. An example, of that is by saying that seedlings do not come into production till 5 years. This statement is not true. However, this is not even my biggest area of concern. I feel that it is irresponsible touting tissue culture until some time has past and they prove to be successful in the long term. In the early 1980’s, orchards of apple trees propagated from tissue culture were planted in the Okanagan and heralded as the wave of the future - no more grafting and budding. Ten years later all these orchards were being removed because although the trees developed and grew wonderfully, it was found the flowers were in fact sterile and produced no fruit. A nurseryman I know had a similar problem with ornamental trees from tissue culture, specifically not maturing properly and retaining juvenile characteristics. The point is that when planting something like an orchard, which is a long term investment, you want to make sure your investment is secure. I’m not 100% sure that it would be with tissue culture yet. Lastly it is expensive on a per tree basis I have seen some truly dismal plant material being shipped out. Be extremely cautious if buying tissue culture material to ensure you get quality guaranteed product.To summarize, I have some strong opinions about these matters and over the years have dealt with many Saskatoon growers, producers, and nurserymen who agree with my opinions.

What To Expect

I put together here what I feel would be a realistic expectation of what the years would bring if you were a Saskatoon farmer. Obviously, the challenges would present themselves differently if you only have a few rows of Saskatoons compared to making a larger commitment.

Pre Plant Year

Ideally, we would like to see your land summer fallowed and free of perennial weeds and grasses. Obviously, anything you can do to improve the quality of your soil in this year will pay dividends for many years to follow, i.e., manures incorporated or perhaps a green manure crop worked in. TREFLAN could be applied to control weeds for the duration of your planting year. If the ideal summer fallowed field is not available, many acres of Saskatoons have been planted directly into stubble fields or hay land with a late spring planting. If you plant in the second or third week of June it will give you ample time to work the land and spray ROUNDUP prior to planting. The sooner you plant, the sooner you pick! Delaying a year can also be expensive.

Year One

Planting: Your seedlings would probably be planted in June. Although we have successfully established Saskatoon seedlings right through to October, it is important to monitor your soil moisture for this first year successfully. To ensure your seedlings root into your soil, high phosphate fertilizers are beneficial. You will probably see little top growth your first year. The plant does most of it’s work underground. By fall, you should see small shoots at the soil line as the plant prepares for next season’s growth. Ensure that they go into winter wet. Check for Root Aphids on August 1st. If found, treat accordingly. Keep the soil black, free of weeds and trash which could create rodent problems.

Year Two

You should see lots of growth this year. Those little shoots we saw last fall should develop into a small multi-branched plant 1 to 2 feet tall. We could start applying light mulches to ensure even soil moisture and weed suppression. We should again be monitoring the Saskatoons for Root Aphids August 1st and treating if required. Root Aphids can be a problem but are easily controlled and once the plant is 4 years old control will no longer be necessary.

Year Three

In the Spring of this year a pre-emergent herbicide could be applied. This would be done in the first week of April. Bushes are still too young to use CASARON. We recommend using LINORON, sold under the trade names LOROX or AFOLAN F. You should see significant growth this year; The bush should double in size yielding a three foot, well-branched little shrub by fall. You should start to see suckers developing at the base of the plant which you should encourage. You could harvest a handful or two of fruit from your bushes this year. Again, you should be monitoring for Root Aphid infestations.

Year Four

Casaron can now be used as a herbicide. It is expensive but very effective. This is another good growth year for the bushes and they should be approaching 4 - 5 feet in height, with good sucker development and hedgerows filling in nicely. They should be flowering in mid-May; Be alert for insects, and, if necessary, spray DECIS to ensure a heavy fruit set. This should be your first significant "Fruit Year", 300 - 500 pounds per acre (1/3 - 1/2 pound per bush). Continue to be alert for Root Aphids.

Year Five

Hedgerows are now quite significant with excellent fruit potential with 500 -1,000 pounds per acre. Now you must start to develop your market. Signage and advertising become important if you want to capitalize on U-Pick, Farmer’s Markets, and selling jams and jellies etc.

Year Six

Hedges could be six feet tall with yields of 2,000 - 3,000 pounds per acre. Growers must be well organized to harvest and market significant crop yields.

Year Eight

Full maturity. Light pruning may be required to keep Saskatoons healthy. Yields of 8,000 - 10,000 pounds per acre is quite possible, however the average is in the 4,000 pound range. Your biggest challenge may be to pick and harvest all the fruit. Mechanical harvesting may be an option at this time. If this is done successfully, the market for Saskatoons is truly vast.

Year Fifteen

Continuing good productivity. Moderate to heavy pruning may be required to keep orchard vigorous and healthy. By now, an established market should be absorbing your fruit crop every year.

Year Seventy

You have died and gone to heaven (you hope!) and another generation has taken over the farm. Thousands of people have enjoyed Saskatoon pie over the years from the fruits of your labour!

Orchard Establishment

There are many factors to consider when establishing an orchard. The following information will provide guidelines to the grower to assist in setting up a suitable location. Saskatoons can be found growing on a broad range of soil types, however their preferred location appears to be on deep sandy to medium loam soils which are well drained. Soils with high organic matter have the additional benefit of increasing the avail-able nutrients and maintaining soil moisture.

Plant Spacing

Plant spacing is based on space requirements for mechanical harvesting in the future; Recommended plant spacing is in the range of 16 - 20 feet between the rows and 1 - 3 feet between the plants. This will ultimately provide a solid hedge of Saskatoons which can be efficiently harvested with mechanical harvesters. Your existing field equipment may have a bearing on what exact row width you decide upon. If your orchard is to remain small and be primarily used for a U-Pick or hand pick market, you may have different spacing requirements. Row width may be reduced to as narrow as 12 feet between the rows, 1 - 3 feet between plants within the row. This would not allow mechanical harvesting or even a pick-up truck between your rows in the future. We also believe that wide row spacings allow air circulation between hedgerows which greatly minimizes potential fungus problems and wet field conditions. A general rule of thumb is 1,000 plants per acre.

Shelterbeds

Shelterbeds will protect your crop from dry and desiccating winds in both summer and winter. A shelterbelt could be established to protect the orchard from prevailing north and west winds. In large fields you may find it necessary to plant a shelterbelt in the middle of the orchard as well; Care must be taken so that the fields natural air flow patterns will allow air drainage. Openings in low areas will allow are established and would mature as the orchard matures.

Location

Future accessibility for U-Pick parking, water, power, roads and many other things may all play a part in selecting a site. Normally a North/South row direction is favored to allow maximum light to hedge-rows, and favors drifting of snow and at 16 - 20 foot row spacing they should not be starved for light. Rolling land or sloped land is not a problem for growing Saskatoons, but may, if slope is steep enough, give a harvesting machine a difficult time. Generally speaking, we don’t feel that slope and row direction are all that significant.

Mulching

Our Saskatoon orchards are not irrigated. We feel that we are able to do this largely because of our extensive mulching program. Mulching basically involves the use of woodchips or some other organic material spread on the surface of the soil around the trees or along the row which in turn suppresses weeds and retains a large amount of soil moisture. Be cautious not to use a mulch that is too fine and restricts the flow of oxygen to the soil. Peat moss or grass clippings for example, are unacceptable. Our favorite mulch would be a course woodchip and we are now also using compost, which we manufacture in large quantities (50/50 manure woodchip mix composted for six months). We apply this to our orchard on a yearly basis with great success. Compost provides nutrition as well and we feel does wonders for the "life of the soil". We use a side discharge manure spreader to apply mulches to our rows and consider mulching to be a viable alternative in some areas to expensive irrigation systems.

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