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South Island Saskatoons is a 7 acre Saskatoon berry orchard located in Cobble Hill. I think it is probably the largest dedicated Saskatoon berry farm in BC! We figure we have 7200 trees in all! It is an absolutely beautiful piece of property and most of the year, it is pretty quiet.
But there’s a drastic change come July! I will take you through the activities that lead to the harvest starting in the fall.
September is one of the quietest months around here! The harvest and clean up are all done and that’s when we try to get some holidays in! In October/November some light pruning is done in the orchard, mostly cleaning up any branches that broke as a result of the harvest. The leaves fall off the trees and it is pretty quiet. December, January, and in February there is really nothing going on in the orchard. We take the opportunity to make some improvements inside the buildings and do some equipment repairs. March is the month to prune the trees again. We try to prune out anything bigger than our thumb, as a rule of thumb! There are some bushes, however, where if we did that, there might not be anything left, so those trees get to stay, for the time being.
In April we fertilize the trees with a granular fertilizer twice and if we are going to apply an insecticide we might do it now. We try not to use an insecticide unless there appears to be a problem in the orchard because we don’t want to kill any good bugs or bees. Saskatoon berry trees are self fertile and do not need the benefit of bees but we do not want to kill any bugs if we don’t have to, especially bees. We do spray a fungicide on the trees in about mid April. Fungicide helps to control the various fungi that Saskatoons are susceptible to, especially here in BC where it can be pretty damp and wet at times. On the prairies a fungicide might not be necessary, especially if the rows are planted far enough apart and the wind can blow through the orchard to dry it out. While all this spraying is taking place there are no berries on the trees.
In May, the trees will bloom and as soon as the blossoms fall but before berries are formed another application of fungicide may be sprayed. Then the berries begin to form and the watering begins. Nothing is sprayed on the trees while the berries are forming and filling. Saskatoons have been known to have tap roots 15 feet away from the tree and are pretty hardy, but watering helps to fill the berry out nicely while the sun helps ripen the berry from green to dark purple.
In June we check all our supplies and order anything we may need for the season. In late June the phones start to ring as our customers start to think about fresh Saskatoon berries once again! Come July, everything we have been preparing for comes together. We send out an email to those who have subscribed to let Saskatoon lovers know the berries are ready. We use a high bush cranberry harvester to get the berries off the trees but we always leave some rows for our U-pick customers so they are not getting “leftovers”! Our U-pick customers come back with some of the most beautiful berries I have ever seen! Also popular with our customers are our 9” deep dish Saskatoon berry pie, jam, jelly and syrup! Some customers like to buy a slice of pie and cup of coffee and enjoy it right here at one of our picnic tables. Some of our customers, and I would be one of them, say they’ve picked enough wild Saskatoons in their day and they just want to buy some already picked! I learned early in life not to say to my mom, “I’m bored”, or she would hand you a pail and send you to either, the wild Saskatoon berry patch, the raspberries, or the peas where you would have to spend the afternoon in the hot sun trying not to get too many mosquito bites!
We have not yet really figured out the division of labour on the farm! That’s a work in progress. During our first year we were overwhelmed! We found we needed someone at our storefront, someone to drive the harvester and someone to work on the back end of it. We needed 3 or 4 people, or maybe more to sort the berries and someone to put them away. We needed someone to stay caught up on the pie making and other bakery items! We needed someone to deliver the fresh berries to our wholesale customers. We needed someone to do all the administrative work, like billing, making labels, etc. It’s a very busy time for us!
The best selling product on the farm is saskatoon berry jam! It even outsells jelly 10 to 1! Next up, fresh or frozen saskatoons followed by ready-to-bake pies. Our baking is popular, especially while it is ongoing and u-pick customers are here! The smell of fresh baking is too enticing to ignore! Over the years we have developed a saskatoon berry filling (popular with Country Grocer bakeries) and a non-alcoholic berry bubbly that we simply cannot keep in stock! We also offer Saskatoon berry popsicles made from 100% Saskatoon berry juice and nothing else!