Margaret Lauterbach

Saskatoon berries can be labor intensive, but they’re worth it

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

I noticed Saskatoon berries were ripe June 4, and the birds hadn’t yet seen them.

Technically, they’re a variation of serviceberries(Amelanchier alnifolia) and taste quite similar to blueberries. They’re a bit smaller than commercial blueberries, though, and work very well in pancake mixes.

They’re labor intensive to harvest, since only one or a few of a cluster is ripe at once. For ripening, the small green berry swells and turns red then dark purple when ripe. The ripe berry in a cluster is two to three times larger than the green berries in the same cluster. They’re easy to freeze — just wash, box and freeze.

This shrub or “small tree” is hardy here (I think anything named for Saskatoon would be hardy here) and native. It’s native from Alaska to the north central states, too. The fruit is also called chuckley pear, western juneberry or pigeon berry. It grows up to about 11,000 feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains. It is not a water hog, but it shows its problem with our alkaline soil in iron hunger, via yellowed leaves with green veins.

My shrubs were purchased as shrubs, but some serviceberries are trees, growing to 25 or 30 feet in height. Picking berries from them is far more difficult.

Bees and squirrels

I hadn’t seen bumble bees in my yard for quite a long time, but several are enjoying the purple racemes or stacks of blossoms on the vetch in my tomato rows this spring. I don’t mind the vetch, since it is a legume, taking nitrogen from the air and transferring it to the soil, fertilizing tomato plants. I may have to cut back those that are threatening to overwhelm small tomato plants though. They’re setting seeds in tiny pods, following the bumblebees’ work. I have to wonder why squirrels only dig out my best plants, not touching the weeds or volunteers.


When do you water your lawn, ornamentals and vegetable garden? You should water in early morning before temperatures are so hot that a large portion of sprinkler water evaporates, and in time for leaves to dry out before the cool of evening. Cool temperatures plus water equals an invitation to disease.

Powdery mildew

Several have complained of powdery mildew this spring. Humidity or moisture from rains or watering plus stagnant air contributes to that infection. Powdery mildew is a parasitic fungus that looks like a sifting of flour on leaves. Several controls are available for it including Neem, bicarbonate of soda or potassium, or Captan, a stronger synthetic chemical. Some folks have controlled it with sprays of skim milk, about one-third to one-half milk to water.

All things peas

Years ago, I asked some gardening friends on the internet what their favorite sugar peas were. One woman quickly responded, “Carouby de Maussane.” It’s not as exotic as it sounds, since Pinetree Garden Seeds sells seeds for this variety. Pods stay sweet, even when they’re picked a little beyond their best size. They grow to 3 to 5 inches and are very difficult to see when picking.

Jostling the vines often reveals the pendulous swing of a pod. It also helps to pick from one direction, then look for pods from the opposite direction. The different slant of the sun’s rays helps to reveal pods. They should be picked before peas begin to swell, filling out the pods. Sugar snap peas should be picked when the peas do fill out the pods, then are eaten pods and all. Some call these “mange tout” or “eat ‘em all.” If you give some to friends, be sure to tell them not to shell the peas before consuming them.

Any kind of common pea such as sugar, sugar snap or podded peas for shelling should be planted in early spring, before hot weather and pea weevils come to share the bounty. I once tried to save my own seeds from Carouby de Maussane, and let the vine mature and dry. When I harvested my “seeds” or peas, each had been destroyed by weevils.

In previous years, when I’ve tried to grow sugar snaps on a trellis, baby sparrows found the vines, and found my trellis was a great perch from which to gobble pea leaves. I really haven’t had a crop of pea pods for the past few years, but this year, growing Carouby de Maussane again in the same place, same trellis, baby sparrows have left leaves alone. I don’t know whether it’s coincidence or whether they just don’t like that variety. Squirrels dug up many of the peas I had planted, and replanted them here and there in other beds, but there are enough vines left at the trellis to yield a handful almost every day.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.