Beyond Strawberries and Raspberries—Try Currants, Honeyberries, Serviceberries and More!

Raspberries and strawberries are ubiquitous in Alaska gardens and I, for one, never tire of eating them.

But there are other lesser known types of berries that also thrive in Interior Alaska that are worth trying, and throughout Alaska. You might even find a new favorite.

Saskatoons (or serviceberries), haskaps (or honeyberries), currants and gooseberries are well adapted to Alaskan growing conditions.

red currants growing on a bush

I love the tart, unique taste of currants. There are many varieties to choose from. They are a bit seedy, but the seeds can be eaten. They make an excellent jelly.

Saskatoons and haskaps are incredibly prolific and productive. They can be eaten fresh or in baked goods or preserves.

saskatoon bushes

Saskatoon or serviceberries are prolific. To me, they don’t compare to blueberries, but they’re a berry nonetheless.

Haskaps have the added benefit that they mature earlier than other berries, which extends the time you can be eating fresh berries. I love the tart flavor of currants, which is excellent when made into syrup or jam.

Growing berries is not as straightforward as growing lettuce or carrots. But at least you don’t have to plant them every year since they are generally perennial. Most berries benefit from full sun, mulching, compost, weed control, disease prevention measures, plentiful pollinators, good drainage and consistent watering. But berries vary substantially in their day/night length requirements, fertility needs, ideal pH, cold tolerance, required pruning regime and pollination strategies. Continue reading

Blueberries—Wild and Citified

For some, blueberry* picking is a laid-back, fun activity. For my family, it’s a competitive sport—the winner being the one who picks the most and biggest berries in the least amount of time.

heavily laden blueberry bush

A little pruning goes a long ways — this heavily laden bush was in my backyard where I regularly pruned the bushes.

Picking berries is also something that brings us together. It’s something I’ve done with my grandma, mother and sisters since I was young, something my daughters do with me and something that results in a tasty reward chock-full of antioxidants. Wild or citified, learning a little about these marvelous blue pearls can help us protect and boost their production for generations to come.

First, the land may need protection. The Blueberry Preserve in Goldstream Valley exemplifies how a community coalesced to protect a popular and productive blueberry spot. On private land, protect your berries by not building or landscaping over them. Trust me, it’s easier to maintain a blueberry patch than a lawn and a lot yummier, too.

Invasive species are another looming threat to blueberries. Many people remarked on the bountiful, hefty blueberries this year. Did you notice how lush the bird vetch was too? Although there are many invasive species to weed and control, bird vetch is particularly onerous because it can invade undisturbed areas, unlike many invasive species that only thrive in disturbed areas. Continue reading