ISU Extension Release: Yard and Garden: Grow Not-So-Ordinary Berries

(Editorial Note: Personally, I would add Aronia melanocarpa (chokeberry) to this list as the plants are native to Iowa. I believe there are plants available still at the Backyard Abundance Plant Sale)


AMES, Iowa — Home gardeners who like a tart tasting berry or just want to grow a not-so-ordinary berry might consider planting cornelian cherries, jostaberries, honeyberries or serviceberries. Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach answer questions about growing these lesser known fruit in Iowa home gardens. To have other questions answered, contact Hortline at or call 515-294-3108 .

What are serviceberries?
Serviceberries are members of the genus Amelanchier. Other common names for plants in the genus Amelanchier include juneberry, saskatoon, shadbush, sarvisberry and sugar plum.

Serviceberries are dual-purpose plants. They are planted as ornamentals for their masses of showy, white flowers in early spring and colorful fall foliage. They are also grown for their edible fruit. The blueberry-like fruit may be eaten fresh, baked in pies or other desserts, canned or made into wine, jams or preserves.

While the fruit on all Amelanchier species are edible, cultivars of Amelanchier alnifolia are the most productive and produce the best quality fruit. Available cultivars include ‘Smokey,’ ‘Northline,’ ‘Thiessen,’ ‘Regent’ and ‘Pembina.’

Serviceberries can be successfully grown in partial shade to full sun. However, plant in full sun for maximum fruit production.

What are cornelian cherries?
The cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is actually a species of dogwood. It is also referred to as cornelian cherry dogwood. The cornelian cherry dogwood is an adaptable, durable and relatively pest-free small tree. Plants commonly grow 20 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. The cornelian cherry dogwood produces small, yellow flowers in round, .75 inch-wide clusters in early spring. After flowering, oblong one-half to one inch-long berry-like fruit develop. The fruit turn cherry red in late summer and are edible. The fruit are similar in taste to tart cherries and can be used for jams, jellies, pies, syrups and wine. The fruit are high in vitamin C.
Cornelian cherry dogwoods are most commonly planted as ornamentals in home landscapes. However, several cultivars (‘Elegant,’ ‘Red Star,’ ‘Pioneer’ and others) are grown for their fruit. The cornelian cherry dogwood is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8.
What are jostaberries?
Jostaberries are a cross between black currants and gooseberries. Plants are thornless, vigorous and may grow to a height of 6 to 8 feet. Jostaberry fruit are similar in size to gooseberries and black in color. Fruit can be used in jams, jellies and pies. Plants possess excellent cold hardiness and can be successfully grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 8.

What are honeyberries?
Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea) is a species of honeysuckle native to cold regions of Europe, Asia and North America. Other common names include blue honeysuckle or haskap. Honeyberries grow 4 to 6 feet tall. Plants produce small, yellowish white, funnel-shaped flowers in early spring. After flowering, elongated fruit develop that ripen and turn dark blue in late spring. The favor of the fruit is similar to a blueberry with black currant or raspberry overtones. Honeyberries can be used for jams, juice, syrups and wine. They also make great ice cream and smoothies. Fruit are high in antioxidants (as high or higher than blueberries).
Numerous Russian/Eastern European cultivars are available; including Berry Blue®, Blue Bird®, Blue Moon®, and Blue Velvet®. In recent years, the University of Saskatchewan has introduced several new cultivars. Fruit of the Canadian introductions are purportedly larger and better tasting than the Russian/Eastern European cultivars. University of Saskatchewan cultivars include ‘Borealis,’ ‘Tundra,’ and ‘Indigo Gem.’ Honeyberries have few pest problems and are easy to grow. Plant at least two cultivars to insure good pollination and fruit set. Honeyberries can be successfully grown in partial shade to full sun. They are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 to 6.

Building Local Connections

(Editors Note: I wrote this when a friend posted a call for submissions for an agricultural zine, but after reading Ann Armbrecht’s most excellent post on a vision for building local medicine systems, I thought I would share this here on the blog even though I don’t think my audience is quite the same audience I wrote this for…)

Bloodroot plant from Echollective Farm

Bloodroot plant from Echollective Farm

Spring is upon us and thoughts of sowing the seeds of sustenance span the nation. The cultivation and propagation of medicinal plants is viewed by some as a measure of historical preservation and not afforded the urgency which is often directed to the development of local food systems. This frequently confuses me as our current dependence on corporate healthcare is as much an aspect of neocolonialism is our dependence on corporate food distribution.

The fact that you don’t know how to care for illnesses and injuries with plant-based remedies is a direct result of a corporate driven witch-hunt that began in the Middle Ages and continues today. From the perspective of an activist, the practice of growing medicinal plants and teaching people how to use them properly is an act of resistance to the corporate control of wellness. Only in recreating subsistence will we create communities which fully support our ability to engage in this work. Of course food systems are a huge part of that, but the importance of creating healthy communities cannot be overlooked as a means of supporting social change.

Self-care is a vital and often overlooked component of preventing burnout, as well. Many people involved in social change neglect their own wellness. I have often found that this is because they have an aversion to the unequal power relationships inherent in modern healthcare. Additionally, the alternative healthcare industry often brings to mind the problem “green washing” of consumerism and is distasteful to those whose philosophies lean towards being opposed to conspicuous consumption.

It needn’t be this way. As a practicing healer, I have found many of my colleagues working in under served communities and approaching the practice of herbalism as their own unique form of activism. Even amongst those community herbalists who don’t view themselves as activists, there is a growing recognition that our work with clients is only palliative until societal change addresses issues of social and environmental justice.

One group which supports this work across the country is United Plant Savers. Their mission is to protect native medicinal plants of the United States and Canada and their native habitat while ensuring an abundant renewable supply of medicinal plants for generations to come.” While far from being a radical group, United Plant Savers mission includes the establishment of a network of botanical sanctuaries across the country. Requirements for membership include growing a variety of at-risk medicinal herbs and freely opening up your sanctuary to the public for educational purposes. Gaia’s Peace Garden, here in Iowa City was the first sanctuary to be established in southeast Iowa. This is particularly exciting because it is not as common for an urban garden to be granted sanctuary status. UPS has internships available in the cultivation of medicinal plants and offers grants for community replanting projects and should be utilized as a resource by farmers wanting to get into this field.

In writing this, I hope to bridge the gap between the herbalism and the farming communities because I see a growing need to create discourse between these two groups. Community herbalists often educate their individual clients with the express purpose of putting health back into the hands of the people and people back into nature. This practice creates a need for healthy food systems, locally sourced herbs and even starts for our own teaching gardens. Farmers looking for new and unique markets would do well to seek out your local healers and see how you can work together.

I see great promise in building connections between the these two groups.

Starting Seeds at Home


ISU Extension recommends equal parts of top soil, peat moss and perlite. I prefer to have less sand or perlite because you don’t have to your transplants as often if there is more organic material in the soil. I use the following combination when I make my own. It also works better with the soil block makers.

I don’t use peat moss due to the negative environmental impact. Organic Gardening ran an article that explains that all very well, if you are interested.

2 parts top soil

2 parts coco peat or compost

1 part sand or perlite

I mix a few organic additives in the mix to provide nutrients to the

If you make your own soil, it needs to be sterilized.. This is very important. Soil can be sterilized by heating it in a 180 degree oven for 30 minutes. I use a crockpot or my granny roaster depending on how much soil I need.


You can use many sorts of containers to plant the seeds. To begin with I planted them in cardboard egg cartons. Then I moved up to the peat container. I had a grasp on the environmental impact of peat. Now I use a soil block maker system. I’ve had my seed block makers for four years or five years now.

Roots air prune which means they stop growing when they encounter air. If you leave room for airspace around your cubes, the roots will NOT grow together. I have never had that problem. If the cubes are touching, the roots will continue to grow into the next.

If you use egg cartons, you will need to transplant into a larger container eventually as they are not larger enough to support a seedling. You can save larger containers for transplanting. It important to make sure that you have cleaned and sterilized these containers.

If you make your own newspaper pots, they need to be a minimum of 2 ½ inches high by 2 inches in diameter. Paper pots may disintegrate within five weeks.

To fill any of the containers:

Pack them with potting soil, moisten the soil with warm water and tamp it down a bit. Allow the soil to drain and repeat as necessary to fill your containers.


Before you plant your seeds it is good to know which seeds are cold germinators and which seeds need a warmer start so that they can be placed in different spots. A kale seed will germinate at 55 degrees, while tomatoes need for it to be 75 degees. Watermelon may not successfully germinate until it is 85 degrees. Additionally some seeds germinate overnight while others take weeks. As containers need to be covered until germination, it is good to group them accordingly. Most of your vegetable seeds will germinate within 7 – 14 days. Some herb and flower seeds need a period of cold stratification before they will germinate. The best guide on how to germinate seeds I have found is available on the Internet at     The Seed Site is also a  great site, but I find his germination charts to be confusing.

1. Plant seeds. It is not necessary to plant seeds deeply. If you think about how seeds self-sow in nature, you realize that they are just lying on the surface of the soil. Thick and thin is the best motto when planting seeds.

Fine seeds simply be sprinkled on the surface or you can use the paint brush trick.

Medium seeds can be covered to a depth that no greater than the thickness of the seed. It is always better to cover the seed with too little dirt than to bury it too deeply.

Large seeds can simply be pressed into the surface and covered lightly.

2. Cover the top of your container with transparent material such as plastic film or a plastic lid to keep moisture in. Remove this cover as SOON as you see germination.


Your seedlings should be receiving at the very least eight solid hours of light per day. A 12 hour light-dark cycle is more desirable. You will likely need to use artificial light to accomplish this. It doesn’t have to be a fancy set up. You can use a shop light with one warm bulb and one cool bulb on a timer. The lights should hang between 6-8 inches above the top of the seedlings, which may mean raising the lights, as the seedlings grow. If they are trying to grow too quickly to “reach” the light, they become long and leggy. Putting your seedlings in a window will work but you will probably find that the plant grows toward the light and gets a little leggy.


It is best to keep the soil moist by lightly misting it with a spray bottle or a pump sprayer, rather than actually pouring water on top of the seedlings. This causes seeds to drift and may result in fungal problems. I like to bottom water my larger soil blocks but I wouldn’t do this with my small blocks.

Air Circulation

Once your seedlings are growing it helps to have air circulating above them. This discourages fungal growth and simulates the wind triggering thigmomorphogenesis. This is beneficial to the plant because it results in shorter sturdier stems. (Stern: Introduction to Plant Biology – 198). If you don’t have a fan, you can just ruffle your hand gently across your seedlings. For plants that need to be started at warmer temperatures such as peppers, tomatoes and basil, you can use one of those heater fans to heat the air around the trays. I have found this to be more effective than bottom heat.


If you need to transplant seedlings to a larger container this can be done any time after the first true set of leaves appears but I like to wait until the second set appears.

Hardening Off

Seedlings grown inside need to be hardened off by gradually exposing them to daylight and outdoor growing conditions. 7-10 days before you are going to plant them in the ground, set your seedlings in a protected shady place. Every day after this put them in the sunlight for successively longer periods, until they are ready to put out.

Planting Out
I like to try to plant my starts out on a cloudy day which is usually easy to accomplish in the spring. Don’t hurry the plants be sure to wait until temperatures are appropriate and soil crumbles easily in your hands. If you work damp soil too soon in the spring, you are likely to create compaction and other problems.

ISU News Release: Plants Affected by Frigid Temperatures

By Richard Jauron, Willy Klein

Iowa gardeners should expect poor crops on peaches and sweet cherries this summer. It also is possible that the trees themselves may have been damaged.

Iowa gardeners should expect poor crops on peaches and sweet cherries this summer. It also is possible that the trees themselves may have been damaged.

AMES, Iowa — Winter can be tough on Iowa’s trees and shrubs. Low temperatures, rapid temperature changes, winter desiccation and the weight of ice and snow can damage vulnerable trees and shrubs. Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach answer questions about the effect this winter’s frigid temperatures will have on landscape plants. To have additional questions answered, contact Hortline at 515-294-3108 or

This winter temperatures have dropped to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. What effects will the cold temperatures have on my fruit trees?

The cold temperatures may have damaged peach and sweet cherry trees. Peach trees are not reliably cold hardy in much of Iowa. Temperatures below -18 F will destroy the flower buds on peach trees. Temperatures of -25 F or below may damage or destroy the peach trees themselves. The flower buds on sweet cherries are slightly more cold-hardy than those on peaches. The flower buds on some sweet cherry cultivars can survive temperatures of -20 F. Iowa gardeners should expect poor crops on peaches and sweet cherries this summer. It also is possible that the trees themselves may have been damaged. Damage may vary from dieback of twigs and branches to complete death. On a brighter note, the cold winter temperatures should not have damaged apples, pears and sour (tart) cherries.

What effects will this winter’s cold temperatures have on my trees and shrubs?

Iowa gardeners should expect poor crops on peaches and sweet cherries this summer. It also is possible that the trees themselves may have been damaged.

Iowa gardeners should expect poor crops on peaches and sweet cherries this summer. It also is possible that the trees themselves may have been damaged.

Trees and shrubs that are native to Iowa (or similar regions of the world) are well adapted to our climate and should have suffered little or no damage. However, marginally hardy plants, such as Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata) may have sustained damage. (The maximum cold hardiness of most Japanese maple, flowering dogwood and Japanese flowering cherry cultivars is -20 F.) Damage may vary from the dieback of twigs and branches to complete death of the tree.

This winter’s cold temperatures also may have destroyed the flower buds on flowering quince (Chaenomeles spp.) and some forsythia cultivars. Temperatures of -20 F or below likely destroyed the flower buds on flowering quince and ‘Lynwood Gold’ and ‘Spring Glory’ (two popular forsythia cultivars). As a result, these shrubs likely will produce few, if any, flowers in spring. Fortunately, the cold temperatures should not have any long term effects on the shrubs. The leaf buds on flowering quince and forsythia are hardier than their flower buds. The shrubs should leaf out normally in spring.

This winter’s cold temperatures should have little impact on the flowering of forsythia cultivars ‘Meadowlark’ and ‘Northern Sun.’ The flower buds of ‘Meadowlark and ‘Northern Sun’ can tolerate temperatures to -30 F.

Deer have eaten all the foliage on the bottom portions of several arborvitae. Will the bare areas green back up in spring?

This winter’s prolonged period of snow cover has deprived deer of food on the ground. As a result, deer have been feeding on trees and shrubs in woodlands, windbreaks and home landscapes. Among evergreens, arborvitae and yews are most susceptible to browsing by deer in winter.

The extent of damage to the lower portions of the arborvitae will be determined by the presence or absence of buds (growing points). If buds are present, the lower branches will produce new growth in spring. The new growth should be apparent by early summer. The lower portions of the arborvitae will remain bare and likely never develop new growth if no buds are present.


Support for Seasonal Ilnesses

As always I refer readers back to my Caring for the Ill post for a primer on how to take care of sick family or friends. Last year’s flu post offered many additional ideas.  Please check those out.

Influenza 2014

As there are many reports of H1N1 circulating, I thought I should mention that elderberry is especially effective against the H1N1 virus. Elderberry is a traditional antiflu remedy which seems to work through the mechanism of binding with viruses before penetrating into the walls of cells, consequently preventing the their spread.. The authors of a study published in the journal Phytochemistry concluded that “the H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu; 0.32lM) and Amantadine (27lM).” (Bill Roschek, 2007, p. 1255)

Interestingly enough, the CDC did in fact formulate this year’s vaccine for the H1N1 strain, along with an H3N2 strain and a Influenza B strain with the Yamagata lineage.  It is pretty close to last year’s vaccine only the B strain is different and some people got a quadrivalent vaccine which included a  B strain of the Victoria lineage.   But the H1N1 strain still seems to rearing its ugly head this year, even amongst the vaccinated.


RSV is considered a seasonal epidemic and that is what our family got hit with this year.   I have to say I prefer this one to last year’s norovirus, but it is still no fun, especially for very little children.    Steve and I managed to pump the fire cider and the Vitamin D and avoid becoming ill but it hit our poor kids before we knew they had been exposed.  Respiratory Synctial Virus (RSV) exhibits symptoms similar to a cold.  It does not respond to antibiotics and unlike influenza, there is no vaccine, so this one is one we have to learn to deal with.   Symptoms are similar to those of a cold- runny nose, sore throat, cough, earache.    Having been around it before,  I will say that this seems to be a particularly wicked strain causing significant symptoms in older kids and hospitalizing babies around here.     I found that the boys really experienced the most relief from their symptoms when they were kept in a steamy environment and given frequent lymphatic massages with our aromatic chest rub.

Today,   I would really like to offer you a few additional tricks other than those I’ve mentioned in the aforementioned articles, that can be made with ingredients you can buy at the grocery store .

As you may  recall I  really prefer warm broths, for hydration.  Here is another  tasty broth that can be used to make soups for the convalescence period so you might want to double the recipe.

Onion Broth

1 chopped onion and 2leeks
1/2 cup barley or steel cut oats
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried shitake mushrooms
coarsely ground sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 quarts wsater

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over really low heat. Stir in the chopped onion and leeks. Cook until the chopped vegetables are translucent and soft, but don’t let them brown. Pour in water and add barley, spices and dried mushrooms. Simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Turn off heat and let the mixture infuse for as long as you want. I usually make mine at night and let it sit overnight. Strain and serve in a mug.

1656072_10151910988946860_522004123_nFor  sore throats…

The boys complained of a lot more of a sore throat than usually I’ve experienced with RSV, in the past,   but that could be because of pressure from swollen lymph, too.    Still it can’t hurt to mention that sage tea with lemon can be soothing to sore throat. 

You can also bake a lemon, spread it with honey and give it to someone to suck on.

Horehound candies are a traditional remedy for relieving inflammation of sore throats.

Another trick for fevers…

Finally I thought I would mention one last idea for fever support.  As I mentioned frequently in the past, I don’t suppress fever. I think I recently read that the immune system actually functions most effectively at about 102 degrees. In addition to using cool compresses, another traditional practice can be used to pull the heat away from the head and upper body, is a calf wrap.    I would use rose vinegar or lemon juice for this.   You can make a quick rose vinegar substitute by mixing 1/4 cup rose water with 1/4 cup vinegar.  This is an old anthroposophical medicine trick that I learned possibly from the book You are Your Child’s First Teacher or one of the other Waldorf books I read when the girls were little.   

Calf Wrap

1.  Add 1/2 cup rose vinegar or lemon juice to a basin of warm water.

2.  Soak two long strips of cotton in the solution These should be long enough that you calf wrap them from the knee to the foot

3. Wring the strips of cotton until water no longer drips from them and wrap the foot and the leg up to the knee.

4.  Take long strips of wool and wrap the feet and legs again. This is another good use for old sweaters. For children you can just cut the arms off the sweaters and pull them over like a sock.   

5.  Position your feverish “patient” comfortably in bed and change the cotton strips out when they get cold.  If you would like you can lay something under the patient to protect the bedding from getting wet, but honestly the wool keeps most of the damp from seeping out.


Bill Roschek, R. F. (2007). Elderberry Flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry, 1255-1261