There’s a new berry in the fields of southwest Missouri, and a young farm couple is selling 20 different varieties.
Brandon and Teresa Cothron started growing the honeyberry in 2015 for themselves and their children. They now grow up to 4,500 plants on their Webster County farm.
“We wanted more control over how fresh our food was and where it came from,” Teresa says. “That started our journey looking for local food choices.”
The honeyberry is easy-growing and easygoing. It grows well in a variety of soils, sun and shade. It resists disease and pests.
PRETTY PICKING: Honeyberry bushes bear their teardrop-shaped fruit early in the spring, even before strawberries.
Patrick Byers, University of Missouri Extension horticulture specialist, says southwestern Missouri’s rocky soil is perfect for honeyberry. Farmers in other states found that honeyberry plants long and strong, with a 50-year life expectancy and the ability to withstand temperatures as low as 55 below zero.
The purple-blue, teardrop-shaped berries are a half-inch to an inch long. They are the first to bear in spring, even before strawberries.
Honeyberry goes by haskap in Japan and zhimolost in Russia.
The Cothrons operate B Berry Farms, a U-pick operation in Elkland, Mo., that sells 20 different varieties of honeyberry. B Berry also grows a variety of other fruits, including blackberries, raspberries and goji berries, as well as vegetables. Value-added products include soaps, balms and lotions.
When the Cothrons decided to add honeyberries to their operation in 2015, they cleared rocks, cedar trees and briars from the rocky, clay soil to make way for berry patches. They applied sulfur and peat moss for blueberries the following year.
When they planted 3-year-old honeyberry bushes, they immediately saw some advantages over blueberries. Honeyberry bushes flower earlier than blueberry plants, and the early-ripening, thick-skinned fruit is less vulnerable to spotted wing drosophila. The berries grow under the leaves, protecting them from birds, rain and hail.
“We also found that they can thrive in soggy, oxygen-deprived soil,” Teresa says. “Despite being covered in weeds without much sunlight, the plant will still flourish, unlike other berries.”
IDEAL LANDSCAPE: Southwestern Missouri’s rocky soil is perfect for growing honeyberries. Bushes are planted with space in between to allow for berry production and ease of harvest.
Honeyberry also tolerates a wide range of soil pH. The young couple says plants do well in soil pH of 5 to 8, and sometimes even outside that range. They require little maintenance.
Teresa says honeyberries have antioxidants and potassium levels nearly three times higher than blueberries.
The Cothrons use the farm’s produce in hundreds of value-added products, such as lip balms, tea blends and natural dyes. In addition to running the farm, they both work full-time jobs off the farm.
“We knew there would be many unknown challenges ahead for our family," Teresa says. "But isn't that what life is about — just doing what needs to be done? Since we opened, we have enjoyed being able to bring friends and families together to a place where their children can run around, enjoy nature and have fun eating a healthy treat.”
Learn more about the farm at bberryfarms.com.
Geist is a senior strategic communication associate for the University of Missouri. She writes from Columbia, Mo.