“True North” Edibles for Canadian Gardens
Why long to grow peaches, when you can grow a good Saskatoon?
Canadian gardeners with a passion for producing an edible harvest often lament the short growing season and bitterly cold winters that limit the pallet of food plants that will thrive in their gardens. If you limit your imagination to the peaches, figs, mandarins and other fruits typically found on grocery store shelves, it's easy to feel that way. But if you open the door to the many edible trees, shrubs and vines that hail from cold climates, which have always been grown on a limited scale by northern farmers and gardeners, it's a different story altogether. To get initiated into the exciting world of cold climate fruits, try planting a few of the following varieties this spring.
Frequently grown as an ornamental small tree or large shrub—you may know them by their alternative names, serviceberries and juneberries—saskatoons are also cultivated as a commercial crop in Saskatchewan and other provinces for their dark-purple fruit, which bursts with blueberry-like flavor. The white flowers in early spring are a bonus, while the half-inch berries ripen in early to mid summer. Hardy to -50° Celsius.
A relative of honeysuckle, which is grown for its fragrant flowers in more southerly latitudes, honeyberry is grown for its inch-long purplish fruits. Honeyberries are deciduous shrubs growing 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, with attractive foliage and tiny white flowers in early spring. The oblong berries, which have a flavor often described as a cross between blackberries, cherries, and grapes, ripen in early summer. Hardy to -50° Celsius.
Gooseberries have a sweet-tart flavor that bursts in your mouth, which most people find extremely refreshing. The berries dangle from thorny cane-like branches that arc out from a central clump, following dainty spring flowers. Depending on the variety, the fruit is either green or red when fully ripe. Hardy to -40° Celsius.
Currants are closely related to gooseberries (and altogether different from the dried currants found in grocery stores, which are actually a type of raisin), except they lack thorns and have a slightly different flavor. While gooseberries are fairly sweet and good for eating fresh, currants are more often used in jams and baking. White, black, and red fruiting varieties are available. Hardy to -40° Celsius.
The fuzzy kiwis commonly found in grocery stores are a warm climate fruit, but they have several more cold tolerant relatives. The most cold tolerant of them all is the kolomikta, also known as the “Arctic Beauty" kiwi. It is sometimes grown as an ornamental in Canada for its triple-variegated green, white, and pink foliage. However, if you plant both a male and female kolomikta together, you will be rewarded with a small, fuzzless kiwis. The 15 to 20 foot deciduous vines are hardy to -40° Celsius.