Ten years ago, Philip Ronald returned home to help his parents run Jeffries Nurseries, just east of Portage la Prairie.
Ronald, who has a PhD in native fruits from the University of Saskatchewan, never dreamed during his years of study that he would be running his own orchard in the future.
But that changed in 2009 when he and his wife Karen had the opportunity to purchase an orchard just south of Portage. While the previous owner was firm the new purchasers would continue the raspberry and saskatoon U-pick operation, the Ronalds have been planting many more unique berries, including tart cherries, gooseberries, honeyberries, aronia and cranberries.
Ronald, 45, is most passionate about developing the honeyberry, or Manitoba haskap and what he affectionately calls the Manitoba blueberry. The berry was developed at the University of Saskatchewan and is a hybrid from Russian and Japanese berries.
Each year, the Ronalds are busy making hundreds of rooted cuttings to multiply the new berry, which they also sell to other growers and to the public.
Southern Manitoba’s alkaline soil prevents traditional Manitoba blueberries from growing. However, the honeyberry blooms can withstand –7 C, doesn’t need to be sprayed and has a unique taste.
It is the family’s hope that Riverbend Orchards is a unique and diverse U-pick operation in five years. Their dream is in that time every visitor returns home with not only a bucket of saskatoons or raspberries, but also a bucket of honeyberries.
The picking season for honeyberry is late June, while picking for raspberry, saskatoon and tart cherry is winding down. However, aronia (Aug. 14) and cranberries (Aug. 28) will be available next month.
For more on U-pick operations and fruit availability in southern Manitoba, please visit the Prairie Fruit Growers Association website at www.pfga.com.