by David Fried
It is now possible to grow delicious and nutritious berries in Vermont that people in other countries have been raving about for years.
In Sweden in the 1970’s, I worked on a farm where wooden clogs were worn in the kitchen where we enjoyed a meal of flatbread and a yogurt topped with “lingonsylt.” This is lingonberry preserves, the national fruit of Sweden. Related to our American cranberry and blueberry, we can grow them here easily, provided the right conditions are met. Like blueberries, they require an acid soil (low pH) and lots of organic matter. We grow them as an understory for blueberries in a not too hot exposure. They have streams of lightly colored spring flowers and make an evergreen ground cover. A lingonberry is to the Swedish as an apple pie is to an American. They bring up warm feelings.
Whenever someone from England comes to our nursery, I show them our black currants. Most Americans do not love the strong flavor of the black currant, but people from England cannot get enough of it. It grows easily here and is the most resistant of any of the currants to insects or diseases. We grow some of the traditional cultivars and also some that were given to us to try many years ago by the late and great fruit aficionado, Lewis Hill, of Greensboro, Vermont. Black currants like well-drained earth and lots of organic matter and deep mulch. The leaves, roots and fruit all have a strong musky wild aroma, so you know you are working in the black currant patch whenever you are there. We like to mix them with apples for drinks, sauces, jams, ice cream toppings, etc.
Haskaps have been growing in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Japan for many years but are new to the United States. They look like a football-shaped blueberry. They are probably the earliest berry, ripening in late June or early July. Birds returning from the south are delighted to find them. I have seen cedar waxwings covering a haskap bush chirping with delight. The haskap is an edible honeysuckle medium-sized bush and is not invasive. You need two different cultivars for pollination. They often begin fruiting in two or three years, preferring well-drained earth to grow in. Friends returning from Japan have reported that dried haskaps are popular there and are found in many stores, selling for $12 for four ounces.
In Denmark they have holidays where the elderberry queen is waited for and all her entourage is seen in a parade on midsummer’s eve. We have the native elderberry in Vermont which is easier and more productive to grow here. Elderberries can be planted on marginal wetter areas of land, where other crops will not grow. The elderberry has proven to be a berry that keeps colds away or shortens healing time by half or more. I think there will be a high demand for these berries one day, and many of us may be able to pay our land taxes with the profits from 30 bushes or so.
Gooseberries are common in Denmark and Holland. I used to stop on my bicycle at the grocery stores in the flat lands of Holland to buy a drink in the dairy case made of oatmeal, raisins and gooseberries. I wish I knew how to find or make it now! Gooseberries come in purple, red, yellow and green. They prefer well-drained earth, lots of organic matter and deep mulch. They are self-fruitful and grow to five feet tall. They have thorns, but the berries are so good you will not mind the adventure of harvesting them. They are great fresh, amazing in pies and very nice in jams and syrups.
Aroniaberries are the “acai of the north”. Why import berries with healing qualities from Brazil or Peru when you can grow something just as good right here in your backyard? Aronia is a Vermont native bush, super easy to grow and the berries contain 10 times the nutriceuticals of broccoli. The leaves turn orange and red in the fall. This tough bush can be grown in moist or well-drained earth, on top of hills or in valleys.
No need to travel all over the world to taste these berries. You can grow them right here in Vermont. We have 37 years of success, and we are happy to share that you too can grow these tasty healthful berries.
David Fried is the propagator, grower and writer at Elmore Roots Nursery in Elmore Vermont.