How we set up our first Blue Honeysuckle plantation

Recently, the Blue Honeysuckle has become popular in Poland thanks to its early fruiting (its fruits ripen as the first ones in season) and healthful properties. It arouses interests among berry growers because a many year-long breeding has resulted in developing delicious table fruits which are big, juicy and sweet, and ideal to be enjoyed raw.

Wild Blue Honeysuckle berries
Berries of the Blue Honeysuckle cultivar

When we started our first Blue Honeysuckle plantation, we were forced to partly experiment with it since Poland did not have, and still does not have, precisely elaborated growing methods of this plant. We drew on the experience of our trusted breeders from Russia and Canada, where the Blue Honeysuckle is grown commercially. We also supported our efforts by accessible literature on the subject and research reports on growing this plant.
This is just to share some information with you on setting up and running the Blue Honeysuckle plantation. These are not rigid guidelines but only our suggestions which may become useful when you decide to produce these berries.
Our first Blue Honeysuckle plantation was set up on soils class II, III and IV in the area of 5 ha in Sosnówka, a place several kilometres away from Krakow.

In spring 2015, we sowed the fields with pre-cropping plants (soya, field beans and cereal in one field) in order to prepare the soil for planting. After harvesting, they were ploughed with the stubble field aggregate.
The next stage consisted in eradicating the plough pan with the deep loosener which worked at a depth of 60 cm.

The deep loosener worked at a depth of 60 cm

Then the fields were worked with the stubble field aggregate consisting of ridging ploughs, a disc harrow and the Packer furrow press.

The stubble field aggregate consisting of ridging ploughs, a disc harrow and the Packer furrow press

Later, rows were marked out at a distance of four meters. Such spacing was determined by the size of our fields; however, based on our experience, we can say that the optimum spacing between rows should be between 4.0 and 4.20 m.
After that, acidic peat (pH 3.8) was scattered in rows to correct the soil reaction and improve the soil structure, which in our case is heavy and impermeable. The amount of 20 litres of peat (with 20-40 mm granulation) was used per one linear metre of the row.

The soil was improved with peat (20 l/1 linear metre in the row)

After improving the soil with peat, the fields were dug up 30-35 cm deep with the agricultural spader.

Agricultural spader

Several days later, when the loosened soil slightly settled, raised beds (70 cm wide by 15 cm high) were made and covered with the 90 g/m2 black agrotextile fabric.

Forming beds and covering them with the agrotextile fabric

The fabric was marked for incisions for planting holes by means of a wheel which was run along the bed. The wheel additionally made a small depression in the bed for the irrigation system to come.

Then the H-letter incisions were made in places for planting holes. The 50cm spacing between plants in the row was assumed, which gave the planting density of five thousand shrubs per one hectare in 4.0 m by 0.5 m spacing. The above spacing was deliberately made smaller, hoping that when grown more densely shrubs would develop in a fan-like shape and would not be too overcrowded in spaces between rows. Overcrowded shrubs make mechanical harvesting more difficult and some of their shoots get destroyed during the harvest. The above idea was taken from the blackcurrant breeders who had adopted such strategies. However, if you decide that such spacing is not convenient, you can always make distances between shrubs greater and reduce the number of plants to be grown by half.

Then holes in the agrotextile fabric were made with a PTO digger or an 18 cm PTO auger.

Making planting holes with a hole-digger

The Honeysuckles were planted 1-2cm deeper than they grew in pots. They were planted manually because our soils are heavy and impermeable, which does not allow us to use specialist machinery and equipment.

Manual planting

Annual seedlings grown in square 3.5l pots were used as planting stock. We were aware of the fact that their rather big size made planting a little more difficult, but it was the price which we had to pay for speeding up the first harvest.

Planting stock (in 3.5 l pots)