Seasons of hard work are paying off for Doug Price because this year he harvested 1,000 pounds of haskap berries.
“This year was my first year of production,” Price told Lakes District News.
The semi-retired truck driver is the owner of Evan’s Creek Farm – southwest of Tchesinkut Lake – where he grows the hardy, bell-shaped berries that can tolerate temperatures as low as -11C, according to the Canada Haskap Association.
“This year was a real success for the first harvest, with people coming out and discovering the haskap berry. It’s a matter of getting people educated about the berry,” which he said tastes like a mix of huckleberries and raspberries.
Growing the berries requires an extended time commitment, and this year’s harvest is the fruits of three years of labour, after his family started with 1,000 plants in the fall of 2016, then added more each year. It takes about three years for them to reach peak growth.
He bought his first haskap bushes from High Mountain Farms in Salmon Arm that sells a variety that was cross-pollinated from Japanese and Russian strains.
“They ripen around the first of July, then you have a two to three week window to pick them. But the plants keep growing. Then the berries go dormant, then resume growing in the spring. They start to bloom in May,” Price explained.
One pound sells for $7-$11 and one acre can be worth more than $70,000 a year.
This year he opened You-Pick events to help with the berry harvest.
“People were excited and then they’d call their friends to come out. Forty to 50 people came out. Then I hired a crew to pick the rest for myself. I’ve got about 600 pounds in my deep freeze. I’ll also be making jam and syrup.”
Price grows his berries organically and doesn’t use any pesticides. The properties of the haskap bushes act as natural deterrents to any pests.
“I’ve had no problems with deer or pests. I haven’t had problems with insects or birds. There’s a chemical in the leaves that the deer don’t like. Also I think the berries ripen early enough that we don’t have the invasive birds.”
If all goes well, he expects to double or triple his production next year, and the year after that he hopes to harvest more than 10,000 pounds. By the 2021 season he expects one bush to yield five or 10 pounds of berries.
To accelerate their growth he has had some help from bee pollination.
“I had a couple who brought their bees on site and that helped with pollination. You need a pollinator to pollinate other plants. If not for the bees you wouldn’t get any production. You get peak production with bees.”
With the growth in production he has focused on selling the fresh berries in farmers markets – where they sold out fast – and selling frozen berries from his farm.
For the coming seasons he’s looking to find markets among wineries and distilleries, but so far hasn’t found any buyers.
“If a brewery came to town they could buy a large amount and then take them away,” he said. “They’re making haskap beer and it’s really taken B.C. by storm. There’s no breweries or wineries locally to purchase them. So I’m going to have to start working on marketing this winter for next year.”
Haskap is a Japanese word meaning “berry of long life and good vision.” The berries are native to Canada, Russia, Poland and Japan and are mainly found in boreal wetlands, in mountainous areas and along coasts.