A Homestead in Southwest Michigan

Discovering Saskatoons

Discovering Saskatoons

I am planning a small orchard. My marketing objective is to produce small scale, artisnal, value added products to sell to the summer tourists coming from Chicago. The “Foodies”. I have two major considerations that are guiding the design of the orchard – black walnut trees and spotted wing drospholia.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with black walnut trees, the roots emit juglone which can be toxic to certain species of plants. It is very ironic that my orchard is located in Southwest Michigan, one of the largest blueberry growing regions in the country, and I cannot grow blueberries due to their sensitivity to juglone.

The spotted wing drospholia, Drosophila suzukii, is an exotic pest that has been spreading across the United States. 2017 was a particularly bad year for it in Southwest Michigan. It infests soft fruits and as the growing season progresses, the more intense the infestations become. I am an organic grower, making my control options limited.

I am in search of fruit species that can produce well, given these circumstances. During the Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable Expo, I attended the sessions on novel berry types. It was there that I first learned about the Saskatoon, Amelanchier alnifolia. Saskatoons, or Juneberries, are a native plant originating from western Canada.

I currently am growing Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis. I enjoy the fruit eaten fresh, it also has many possibilities as a processed product. I was able to taste the Saskatoon berry and found it very flavorful. The taste is described as a mixture of cherries, almonds and grapes. Even though it’s appearance is similar to the blueberry, the fruit is more like a pome fruit. It ripens at the same time as the Serviceberry in early summer, so it will be harvested before the Spotted Wing Drospholia has reached high populations. My other concern is also addressed. Amelanchier sp. are tolerant of juglone. It appears to be a good choice for my orchard.

I took the plunge and ordered three plants, each of three different cultivars: ‘Northline’, ‘Smokey’ and ‘Thiessen’. All three of these cultivars grow as a shrub. ‘Northline’ grows to about 6 feet tall, ‘Thiessen’ to about 7 feet and ‘Smokey’ to about 12 feet. ‘Smokey’ is considered the most highly flavored. ‘Thiessen’ is the largest fruiting cultivar. I believe I have a good selection to start.

I am looking forward to the day I will be harvesting Saskatoons from my orchard. This fruit will be a nice addition to the pears and hazelnuts I have already planted.


Photos courtesy of the Saskatoon Berry Council of Canada

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