Minor Fruit Crops
Jujube (Ziziphus jujube) and black aronia (Aronia melanocarpa) are minor fruits that could have commercial potential in some areas of Kentucky. Growers looking for unique crops to add to their product mix may want to consider these novel fruits on a small scale. Jujube is a 15- to 30-foot deciduous tree native to China. Also known as Chinese date, jujube produces round to elongate fruit ranging from cherry-sized to plum-sized. Aronia, also known as chokeberry (not to be confused with chokecherry, Prunus virginiana), is a hardy, vigorous plant native to Eastern North America. The purplish-black fruit is approximately 1⁄4- to 1⁄2-inch in size and borne on a medium to large shrub that can be 5 to 10 feet tall. Meanwhile, growers and county extension agents have inquired about a number of different small fruits, questioning if these crops could be grown in Kentucky. Many of these crops are either completely unsuitable for production here or they are unreliable from year to year. The CCD's Minor Small Fruit Lacking Commercial Potential in Kentucky profile discusses some of the pros and cons of producing these small fruit crops. The purpose is to communicate the reasons these unique fruits are not generally recommended for commercial production in the Commonwealth.
Potential markets for jujube and aronia include farmers markets, roadside stands, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and as a specialty ingredient for foodservice sales. Jujube could also be marketed to Asian markets and restaurants. Dried jujube can replace raisins or dates in snacks and baked goods. Because aronia is not suitable for direct fresh sales due to its astringency, growers need to market this fruit in value-added products. Aronia berries may also have potential as an item for the local smoothie industry. Marketing jujube and aronia will be a challenge since many consumers will be unfamiliar with them. While some Kentuckians may recognize the name chokeberry, promoting this crop as aronia could be more effective than using a name with “choke” in it. Introducing the crops through farmers markets, local food networks, or (CSA) subscriptions may prove effective marketing strategies. Product sampling and point-of-purchase materials about handling and use would need to be included upon sale of fruit or fruit products.
Hundreds of cultivars of jujube are available in China and other Asian countries; however, the selection for U.S. growers is much more limited. Jujube generally has 2 spines at the bases of leaves; however, some virtually thornless cultivars have been developed. Cultivars also vary in fruit shape (round to elongate), flavor (level of sweetness), size (cherry to plum size), earliness, as well as tree form (upright, weeping, and zigzag branching pattern). Self-compatibility is often uncertain so it is advisable to plant two or more different cultivars in the orchard to provide for cross-pollination and to increase yields. Little information on aronia cultivar performance is available for commercial producers. At least one Kentucky-owned and operated orchard/ nursery does sell several jujube cultivars and may be able to provide cultivar selection guidance based on local experience. Select aronia cultivars based on their fruit productivity. While many cultivars exist, some are intended primarily for ornamental use; others exist that are prized for their uniform fruit size and high yields. Some commercial crosses developed in Eastern Europe, such as Viking and Nero, are now available in the U.S.