Aronia Berry

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Ariona Berry growing in South Africa

In recent years Aronia started to gain more and more popularity for its health benefits, ornamental value and low maintenance. Although Aronia is native to the Eastern US where it grows in the wild, most of the cultivated plants were developed in Russia and Northern European countries.

Aronia berry is relatively new to South Africa, but as our market also tends to start focussing more on organic and healthier products, the market for this highly valued and nutritional berry is increasingly growing.

Due to more research and findings and to the fact that the aronia berry also being labelled as one of the world’s super fruits, it is becoming a very attractive addition to other fruit crops.

Description

Aronia or also called, chokeberries are easy plants to grow and being self-pollinated can be grown as individual plants and can be grown on wide varieties of locations and soil types. They can also be grown in small gardens and even balconies. They are very resilient plants which are very resistant to drought, insects and diseases and can be grown even in the shade or half-shade of other trees. If grown for the fruits, consider positions with full sunlight. Being very resilient, they require little to no attention; they require a bit of water during summer and organic mulch to protect the soil from sun heat, pruning of dead branches which is about all that is needed for this versatile berry plant. In return they provide gardener with plenty of tasty and very healthy berries that can be consumed raw or processed. Wild berries have an extremely tart and astringent taste which is why another name for Aronia is chokeberry. The berries of cultivated plants have a sweet, tart and slightly astringent taste and could be eaten fresh. Like a persimmon, the aronia berry will sweeten up after a freeze. Aronia berry bushes (Aronia melanocarpa) are native to North America. The aronia plant was introduced to Russia and to Eastern Europe in the early 1900s where they gained popularity.

As with raspberries, Aronia is often named after fruit color e.g. Red-, Black- or Purple Aronia berry.

Red chokeberry (Aronia Arbutifolia)

Is native to eastern Canada and to the eastern and central United States. Red chokeberry plant is a thick shrub – stems grow from the roots. When grown in backyard garden, regular pruning is required to keep the plant under control. Red chokeberry grows up to 2–4 m tall and 1-2 m wide, flowers are pale pink, often fully white, with the red, 5-10 mm wide fruits, persisting into winter.

Black chokeberry  (Aronia Melanocarpa)

Is very similar to red chokeberry. It is also native to eastern Canada and to the eastern and central United States and plants grow in similar manner. Black chokeberries tend to be smaller than red chokeberries – they are rarely taller than 1 m, but as they spread by root sprouts, individual plants can be 3 m or more wide. The 1.5 cm wide flowers are white. The black chokeberries are black, 6–9 mm wide and not persisting into winter.

Purple chokeberry (Aronia Prunifolia)

Like red and black chokeberries, purple chokeberries are native to eastern Canada and to the eastern and central United States. The fruit is dark purple, almost black, 7–10 mm in width. The fruit is not persisting into winter.

Nutrient Composition

The rising interest in eating healthier foods has help make aronia berries and their products gain in  popularity in recent years. The levels of vitamins, minerals and folic acids are high in the berries. Aronia berries are a little known super food that is gaining in recognition that has tremendous nutritional value. The aronia berries are also one of the richest plant sources of phenolic substances, mainly anthocyanins, proanthocyanins and other flavonoids (antioxidants). They are also high in vitamin C. Researchers have investigated how aronia berries affects cardiovascular disease, liver failure, colon and breast cancers and obesity. Recent studies have shown that Aronia is also high in Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) compared to other foods including blueberries and goji berries.

Chokeberries are low in calories and fats. 100 g of fresh berries carry around 50 calories. Nonetheless, they are one of the nature’s richest sources of flavonoid anthocyanin antioxidants. In addition, the berries contain handsome levels of minerals, vitamins, as well as dietary fiber through their peel.

The oxygen radical absorbency capacity or ORAC (measurement of antioxidant strength of food items) demonstrates chokeberry with one of the highest values yet recorded among berries -16,062 micro-moles of Trolox Equivalents (TE) per 100 g.

Black chokeberries consist of significantly high amounts of phenolic flavonoid phyto-chemicals called anthocyanins. Total anthocyanin content is 1480 mg per 100 g of fresh berries, and proanthocyanidin concentration is 664 mg per 100 g (Wu et al. 2004, 2006). Scientific studies have shown that consumption of berries on regular basis offers potential health benefits against cancer, aging and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes, and bacterial infections. (- By Dr. Paul Gross, 2007-07-09).

Laboratory analyses of anthocyanins in chokeberries have identified the following individual chemicals: cyanidin-3-galactoside, quercetin, peonidin, delphinidin, petunidin, epicatechin, caffeic acid, pelargonidin and malvidin. These flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants have proven health benefits through scavenging dangerous oxygen-free radicals from the body.

Cancer research on anthocyanins in black chokeberry preparations was first used to inhibit chemically induced cancer in the rat esophagus, and was found to reduce the disease severity by 30-60% and that of the colon cancer by up to 80%. Effective at initiation and promotion/progression stages of tumor development, these berries can be a practical research tool and hold a promising therapeutic resource since they contain the highest amount of anthocyanins among native North American berries [J. Agric. Food Chem. 50 (12): 3495–500].

They are also rich in flavonoid anti-oxidants such as carotenes, luteins and zeaxanthins. Zea-xanthin has photo-filtering effects on UV rays and thus protects eyes from age-related macular disease in the elderly (ARMD).

Further, they are also good sources of many antioxidant vitamins like vitamin-C, vitamin A, vitamin E, beta-carotene and folate and minerals like potassium, iron and manganese. 100 g of fresh berries provide about 35% of daily-recommended levels of vitamin C.

Aronia berry uses:

Fresh aronia berries can be flash frozen and stored in your freezer for up to a year. They are also a tangy burst of flavor when dried and added to a trail mix. Aronia berries are used mostly to make juices, jellies, jams, cakes, muffins, tarts, syrups, and pies. It makes a particularly nice wine with an unusual and fruity bouquet. Another option is to use them in deserts as a great addition to ice cream tops and fruit salads. Due to the increase in demand for health products the berries are also processed and made into freeze dried powders and other products.


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Site selection and preparation:

Aronia bushes are not very picky about the soil in which they are planted. They are well suited to a wide range of soil types. Aronia shrubs are some of the best plants at doing well in very wet winter soils that may be caused by slow drainage as well as dry summer soils.

Choose a location that gets much sunlight for optimum growth and yields, but the plant can also tolerate shadier areas.

pH Levels

The optimum pH level to grow aronia is slightly acidic (6.0 to 6.5), but aronia will tolerate a wider pH range (5.0 to 8.5).

Pollination

Pollination or fertilization is not required to set aronia fruit because the plants are self-fertile.

Plant Spacing and planting

Planting density for machine harvest is usually about 1600 to 1900 plants per hectare. For mechanical harvest, plants are spaced 1.0m to 1.8m apart in rows that are 4m apart. The plants produce numerous new shoots that will grow up from the roots of established plants. These will form a hedgerow by filling in the space between the plants.

Interesting Facts:

According to some medical studies, aronia can prevent development of certain types of cancer, infections of the urinary tract and cardiovascular and neurological disorders.

Irrigation

Aronia plants are not drought tolerant but they can usually withstand dry summer soils once established. They need watering for maximum fruit production. Once the plants are established water them as needed usually once or twice per week when dry. You need to take into account recent rainfall amounts before watering your landscape. Be ready to provide a several hour-long watering times of drip irrigation a couple times a week for a full year if rain is not plentiful as this will increase the likelihood of success of plant survival. Not enough water after they are planted is the major cause of death for newly planted shrubs.

Irrigation can be reduced when the fruits are maturing.

The plants become dormant during drought

Fertilising your Aronia berries

Fertilization greatly depends on many factors such as soil fertility, soil structure and composition and climate so it is advisable to have the soil tested before starting with a production system. Adding organic matter to soils will improve the soil’s fertility, help reduce soil compaction of clay soil, improves aeration and assist with the moisture holding capacity.

Organic materials such as compost and/or well-rotted manures can be worked into the soil in late winter before planting.

In one experiment plants were provided with 7 grams of nitrogen with a 5-3-4 organic fertilizer which yielded an average yield of 2.7kg fruit per plant after the second year of planting

Suggested rates: In sandy soil rates: 50 kg/ha nitrogen, 35kg/ha P, 45 kg/ha K

Pruning & Trellising

Late in its dormant season, prune some of the older branches of your bush down to the ground to promote a new growth and a bushier form. Remove young stems that are growing from the soil outside desired area. Also, remove any dead wood or stems that are making aronia bush too thick.

Harvest the aronia berries late in the fall when they taste ripe. On production systems it is recommended to prune 5 year and older plants to keep the centres open. Studies from Russia suggest pruning 8-year-old plants every 4-5 years to a height of 1.0m for optimum yields.

Pests and diseases

Many authors, both in research and field production, note no significant disease/pest problems under normal field conditions. Aphids on shoot tips and leaf-eating beetles are sometimes noted, but indicated that they are not problematic on vigorous plants.

Weeds can be problematic.  Mulching with plastic and removing it after two-three years as the plants sucker into a hedgerow. Weed control within rows is usually not needed after 3-4 years

Harvesting and storage

The fruit can easily be handpicked. The fresh fruit can be stored in a refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Fruit ripen in fall and even close to winter. The berries of Aronia do not drop when they are ripe. They are easy to pick since they grow in clusters. Just pick the whole cluster and then pluck the berries. The berries have a long shelf life and are good for freezing.

Commercial growing - yields

As with most berry crops, reported yields vary greatly, suggesting the importance of local field trials with known cultivars. A three-year old black Aronia plant such as the Nero or Viking cultivars, planted in clay loam soil with a pH of 5.7, can produce up to 6kg of fruit per plant. Typically, Viking and Nero aronia variety shrubs produce about 500g – 700g of berries per bush two years after planting. By the fourth year after planting, aronia berry production is about 6kg per bush.


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