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Aronia - Viking and McKenzie


aka Black Chokeberry -- Aronia melanocarpa

Aronia berries ripe on bush 2022

Four decades of Growing Good Food in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Down to Earth Information, Experiences, Thought


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Aronia is native to the Great Lakes region and I have seen a few in a nearby wetlands. It has only relatively recently gained attention as a commercial fruit so not a lot of breeding or selecting has been done in this country, much more in the Eastern European countries. It isn't a typical fresh eating sweet juicy fruit, but somewhat dry and astringent until very ripe when it is not a bad minor nibble in the orchard but one probably not often eaten fresh. But its berries are full of healthy attractive nutrients (very dark ones!) and the juice has become more common in commercial products. It is a plant that makes sense to grow here. It's hardy, easy, healthy, insect loving bloom machine, edible and attractive. I appreciate it for all of that. I'm growing two varieties:

Viking is the most common, readily available from online nurseries, a European variety that it is said is not pure A.melanocarpa but crossed with Sorbus aucparia - European Mountainash. I don't think that matters much as there is little genetic diversity amongst all of the current varieties, whether selections or hybrids. They are all similar.

McKenzie was collected in the former Soviet Union and introduced by Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Materials Center, Bismarck ND. I got mine as little starts from a North Dakota GrowingFruit forum member. It is a smaller plant than Viking but the fruit is very similar.

2023 - All plants did fine with little attention and little watering (record hot, dry May and June). Harvested most late and dried for tea and to put in applesauce later. Tied large McKenzie up to stake  in center to keep fruit off ground; worked well. May 15 grafted a dormant L'Anse scion onto a fairly sturdy north cane (leaves already growing); took and grew nicely about 6". Interesting experiment!

McKenzie ripe fruit on  bush 20222022 - McKenzie (right photo) had first nice crop on #1 (main orchard) plant. Looking great. Smaller (but it's younger) than Viking which had a bumper crop with branches hanging to the ground with the weight (photo at top of page). I put a stake in the center and roughly tied around the branches getting the fruit off ground.

We had a bumper crop of heavy bodied insects in the thick blooms of Viking in early June, and a lesser number in McKenzie [as well as in rhubarb blooms]. Looked like some kind of weevil so I figured I should clear them out. I patiently picked and knocked them into jar of soapy water. A few days later I found more and again removed them. I couldn't find an ID online and finally checked with a very knowledgeable GrowingFruit forum member. He suggested that they were "scarab beetles, probably one of the fruit and flower chafers. All scarabs are built like tanks Hoplia trifasciata Scarab Beetleand have short, comb-like antennae. Could be Hoplia trifasciata. Black males, brown females like your photo." I finally had something to search for and found this from Michigan State University - "“The warm weather over the past few weeks has brought out one of the earliest scarab beetles we find in Michigan blueberry fields. This species is a Hoplia flower beetle (Hoplia trifasciata) and the adults feed on young buds and can also feed on flowers…They prefer flower buds and leave ragged feeding on the buds and on the flowers from their feeding.” My generous GF source added "At Bugguide, they have them in a Genus of “Monkey Beetles”, specifically the “3-lined Hoplia”, ...They are evidently called Monkey Beetles because they have a tendency to hang by their hind feet from things and sometimes do a sort of somersault." Which those that I had did. I stopped fussing about them and left the rest be. The early crowd was certainly too many and it was good to clear them out, but a small population is no concern. Apparently they really liked the aronia blossoms though, with rhubarb a close second. I didn't see any anywhere else. Always something new in the orchard!

But back to fruit. It was a great year. Early September I picked 4 quarts off the two plants, more off the older larger Viking. They are so wonderfully easy to pick, if one doesn't mind dark purple stained hands! I simmered the fruit, strained, put some in apple vinegar I was making and canned the rest - 7 half pints - to add to applesauce later. It adds nice color, nutrients and flavor.

Next year I'll leave more on the plants to put in sauce as I make it. The berries that I had left hanging this year did just fine late into the season.

2021 - McKenzie - Looking good, outer #2 plant smaller but nice growth on both. 

Viking - Beautiful dark purple-black berries on #1 plant, harvested 3 cups August 19. Cooked and canned, added later to applesauce. Intense color! Definitely darkens sauce, adds a bit of flavor. A few berries on #2, too. 

2020 -McKenzie - Though small I planted them out in the orchard spots 4/28. One inside fence in main orchard between BlOx and Honeyc. Other in outer NEOrchard between heartnuts.

Viking - Both looking good, #1 larger but then it gets more care and attention.   

2019 - McKenzie - received small rooted cuttings from a North Dakota Growing Fruit forum member in the fall. Seeds from the initial evaluation planting site in North Dakota where the original plants were established in 1976 by the USDA. Prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade and still fruit. Put little plants in greenhouse, potting up once over winter. Had some issues but planted in nursery outside in spring. Recovered nicely, 6" and 8" growth.

Viking - Purchased #1 plant from IndianaBerry, planted inside fence NE corner. Purchased #2 from HoneyberryUSA, planted in NEOrchard, east edge.

Copyright Susan Robishaw

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