Goji Berry


We have raised and sold Goji plants ( Crimson Star cv) for many years now.  The benefits of this China native are many healthwise and they are considered one of the superfruits. Culturally we find them easy to grow and one of the few berries or plants that do fine in a high (8+)  ph. Fresh or dried these plants have a lot to offer and should definitely be part of a permaculture plan.  In our research we have found very little information on how care for and grow for best production.  The normal method is to stake the plant with a 5-6′ pole, training it upward and then cascading down.  Similar to many weeping trees. This appears to be done mainly for harvesting convenience, since most of the berries will be chest high.

As I was reading an article on cordon training currants and gooseberry for higher production, it came to me that goji would lend itself to this just like grapes, kiwis and blackberry.  So off to another project!  We had an empty 25′ row in an old bramble berry section and I added 6 new plants, 5 foot apart.  As with many of my projects, things came up and no trellis was added last year, so I made a commitment to get it done this spring.  The plants had made decent growth last year but were really taking off now and starting to get weedy with many new stems or trunks coming from the ground and several suckers.

I decided to set my first wire at 16″ off the ground and add additional wires at every 12″, so we have off ground 16″, 28″, 40″, 52″ with room to add one more at 64″ as growth dictates.  This will allow main branches to go left and right about 30″ with a central trunk or leader.  Similar to a 4 arm kniffin system in grapes except with 8 arms.

4 more plants to tie and train and then we will watch the progress over this summer and next. I am hopeful that by pruning for production like grapes and hardy kiwi that not only will we get a larger crop, but also a neater and easier to pick one!

As we start our third growing season at Road’s End Farm it is time to write about some of our observations and results with the many types of fruiting plants that we grow.  As you know our mission is to develop and promote varieties that are suited to culture in the central New Mexico mountains and similar locales.  We want you to be successful by helping you choose varieties that will profitably produce for you.  Our method is simple in that we take our best educated guess from years of growing, listening to others experiences and add some of the latest varieties to the mix.  We then grow these and see which do best or in some cases do poorly.

Of course results may vary depending on the care, location, microclimate etc. that you give a certain plant.  In those cases we will make recommendations for location and culture.  Our plantings are not babied as you might do at home. They are planted in the field with no shade and treated as a commercial crop would be.  In many cases the planting stock we have purchased has been very small, maybe suitable for a 4” container or was a 4-6” bare root plant.  Such is the way of dealing with new or rare varieties, they just may not be available in a size we would prefer.  Often is the time we felt a larger plant would have survived or thrived whereas the smaller one could not adapt. We will discuss these possibilities as we go through our series of posts.

For those of you more detail oriented, the soil ph at our farm is 8.2 which is considered very alkaline.  Our water comes from fractured limestone and also has a high ph and is very “hard”.  February 2010 recorded minus 34f and summer 2011 recorded a high of 102f.   Most research on “hardiness” of plants is focused on the coldest temperature they can live with and very little research has been done on the warmest temperature they can take.  When we make selections to trial we find ourselves choosing from varieties that may do well in the upper great plains or in Russia’s colder areas. In the case of heat we will discuss it when it applies.  I hope to be able to cover at least 1 fruit type a week in an informal and unscientific manner, but this time of year is always short on “spare writing” time so don’t hold me to it.

This year has not been a very good one for berry production in Central and Northern New Mexico.  We just picked our first crop of fall raspberries last Saturday the 24th.  This is running 1 month later than the start of berry season last year.  Gardening and growing is a constant process of trial and error and evaluation as we all try to assess what we did right and what went wrong.  Hopefully we can get the “rights” on our side with a minimum of “wrongs” so that we can be more productive, and for growers have a better income.  All of our fall bearing types of berries will produce until the first hard freezes.  It appears that this year the late season will cut the actual total harvest by more than 50%.  I have consulted many growers, state experts and also done research to see if I could find why this happened this year.  Virtually all of them agreed the crops were late and blamed it on our late spring (May) freezes.  When pushed for their reasoning it was basically that the plants got a “late start” in coming up because of the late cold.  Some blamed it on the extreme freeze in February also.   

At the risk of being considered a heretic and going against conventional wisdom, I believe there is another and more logical answer.  In fact, I believe it is the exact opposite of what my contemporaries think.  I am convinced the maturation and late harvest was caused by the record heat this summer.  New Mexico had the hottest August on record this year.  We also had very little monsoon rains to temper and cool the hot afternoons days with either rain or clouds. In regards to late freezes, yes we had them and our last one was on May 16th this year. However consulting my records shows that last year 2010 our last freeze was May 25th,  9 days later than this year! 

Most plants grow best between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Berries are considered to prefer the cooler temperatures. Plants will produce maximum growth when exposed to a day temperature that is about 10 to 15°F higher than the night temperature. This allows the plant to photosynthesize (build up) and respire (break down) during an optimum daytime temperature, and to curtail the rate of respiration during a cooler night. High temperatures cause increased respiration, sometimes above the rate of photosynthesis. This means that the products of photosynthesis are being used more rapidly than they are being produced. For growth to occur, photosynthesis must be greater than respiration.  When increasing the temperature above 85 most plants will stop growth. Add to that a lower humidity and they will attempt to go dormant to conserve their resources. 

In essence I believe the August heat basically put the berry plants “on hold” effectively stopping almost all growth.  This was confirmed by visual observation although no measurements were taken.  Plants all looked good, they just didn’t seem to do anything.  If it had affected just raspberries, I might look for another cause, however since the exact same thing was observed in all varieties of our raspberries and all varieties of our strawberries along with Goji berries I really think this is the answer.  We clear cultivate next to our raspberry rows, which leaves bare dirt and of course this is much hotter than a grassy cover.  It would have been interesting to turn a sprinkler onto some of the plants for 2-3 minutes a couple of times daily and see if cooling them off helped or changed the delayed harvest. 

Next year we will mulch half of our raspberries and see if that does the trick by keeping the surrounding soil temperature lower.  In the meantime we will enjoy eating all we can get of these great tasting berries!

 

You may already be familiar with Goji Berries or Wolfberry, if you keep up with the latest in the world of nutritional supplements. Goji Berries have been receiving a lot of press recently for the reported health benefits and high levels of antioxidants that have been linked to this exotic fruit from China.  They are considered one of the “SuperFruits” for their nutrient density. The fruit, leaves, roots, bark and seeds have been used by the Chinese for at least six centuries. This makes it somewhat surprising that there is very little information on the culture of wolfberries. However, there is tons of propaganda out there on the merits of various drinks, supplements, and other health food related products.  I will leave it to the reader to research these potential health benefits and determine their validity.  I have read you should not take if pregnant or if you have a cold or flu, unknown as to which part of the plant this refers to since the leaves are also widely used for tea.

Their amazing nutritional analysis has been well documented, it’s just that not many long term studies have been done to determine if these known beneficial nutrients will play a role in curing or reducing disease.  There are many anecdotal stories from China and other countries swearing by the benefits of this Super Food.   Personally I like the flavor which to me resembles watermelon with a bit of citrus and I think that a wide range of  fruits in the diet is always a plus.  The usual way of getting these is dried from a health food store in a small package.  In this form they resemble red raisins, maybe a little larger and taste similar.  I enjoy them but if you are like me you certainly can’t afford the premium price they bring.  So why not grow your own?!

The Goji Berry plant starts out life growing like a vine but then turns into a shrub form.  This is similar to honeysuckle or ivy. Commercially in China they are grown and tied to a stake to about 6 foot height and then left cascade down like a waterfall.  The spacing is usually 4-6’ apart in the row. I can tell you that they love the heat and often really don’t start to put on the growth until July and August.  Even though they love heat they are able to withstand extreme cold in the winter.  Ours went through this last winter (down to -35f) and had no loss of branches or growth of any kind.  This plant is very drought tolerant once it is established and also loves a high ph in the 7.5-8.2  range, truly a rarity.  All of these factors make it a top 5 fruit plant for New Mexico!

The flowers are a white or light purple , very pretty and small only about ¾” across.  They start blooming in June and keep going through October. The berries when ripe are about one half to three quarters of an inch long, tear drop shaped and about one half inch wide or about the size of a jumbo peanut. They are red or red orange, very juicy and soft.  Some articles recommend laying down a sheet and shaking the plant to harvest.  All of the pictures I have seen show hand picking as the harvest method and that is what we do.  The fresh fruit doesn’t store long which is ok since it produces a continual crop.  Just pick what you need, toss on top of your breakfast cereal and enjoy! Of course they can be frozen for later use in smoothies or juice or many items that you would use berries for.  Also chocolate covered seems popular.   They can be air or sun dried and saved this way.

The Goji is a very easy plant to grow, requires no soil preparation or alteration, shows no disease problems or insect problems and loves full sun here.  The berries are reported to contain 13 percent protein and are loaded with antioxidants. They also contain more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges, and more beta-carotene than carrots. What more could you ask for?   I think every homestead needs a couple of these to help round out your diet and provide some variety.  We have 2nd year plants about 12″ tall in 1 gal containers ready to go.

Below is a listing from Wikipedia for the nutrient analysis

Micronutrients and phytochemicals

Wolfberries contain many nutrients and phytochemicals including

  • 11 essential and 22 trace dietary minerals
  • 18 amino acids
  • 6 essential vitamins
  • 8 polysaccharides and 6 monosaccharides
  • 5 unsaturated fatty acids, including the essential fatty acids, linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid
  • beta-sitosterol and other phytosterols
  • 5 carotenoids, including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin (below), lutein, lycopene and cryptoxanthin, a xanthophyll
  • numerous phenolic pigments (phenols) associated with antioxidant properties

Select examples given below are for 100 grams of dried berries.

  • Calcium. Wolfberries contain 112 mg per 100 gram serving, providing about 8-10% of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI).
  • Potassium. Wolfberries contain 1,132 mg per 100 grams dried fruit, giving about 24% of the DRI.
  • Iron. Wolfberries have 9 mg iron per 100 grams (100% DRI).
  • Zinc. 2 mg per 100 grams dried fruit (18% DRI).
  • Selenium. 100 grams of dried wolfberries contain 50 micrograms (91% DRI)
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2). At 1.3 mg, 100 grams of dried wolfberries provide 100% of DRI.
  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C content in dried wolfberries has a wide range from 29 mg per 100 grams to as high as 148 mg per 100 grams (respectively, 32% and 163% DRI).

Wolfberries also contain numerous phytochemicals for which there are no established DRI values. Examples:

  • Beta-carotene: 7 mg per 100 grams dried fruit.
  • Zeaxanthin. Reported values for zeaxanthin content in dried wolfberries vary considerably, from 2.4 mg per 100 grams to 82.4 mg per 100 grams to 200 mg per 100 grams      The higher values would make wolfberry one of the richest edible plant sources known for zeaxanthin content. Up to 77% of total carotenoids present in wolfberry exist as  zeaxanthin
  • Polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are a major constituent of wolfberries, representing up to 31% of pulp weight.