Common and Exotic Fruit & Nut Trees
for the Temperate Climate HomesteadTop photo: Luscious. Decadent. Melt-in-your-mouth honeyed sweetness. A fig is actually not a fruit but an inverted flower. Our favorite variety is Italian Honey Fig (shown here) which bears two crops for us: one in June and the other starting in late August till frost. We wait until the "fruit "is mushy before harvesting for only then is it as sweet and aromatic as possible. Your own figs, freshly harvested ripe from the tree, cannot be compared to store-bought figs which are hard and not truly ripe (because ripe figs do not transport or store well).
The edible landscape
From the beginning of our homesteading career, it has always been clear that we would concentrate our energy and funds on things that are edible. Ten years later, we are glad we made that decision as we are eating from the garden almost exclusively the year round.
We have a few trees to recommend the backyard gardener and homesteader. Most people are familiar with the staples of the temperate climate homestead like apples, pears, plums, and cherries, and we have all that. But we're excited to tell you about some of the lesser known ones, many of them subtropical fruit trees, that will thrive in temperate climates with little or no protection from the elements. They might just make you the envy of your neighbors rural and urban alike.
For ten years, we have successfully grown persimmons, paw paws, grapes, figs, mulberries, jujubes, loquats, and guavas in our garden and greenhouses. For nuts, we have almonds, pecans, hickory, walnut, hazelnut, heartnut, and buartnut to provide us with high-quality plant protein. Flax seeds are easy to grow and the flax flowers are gorgeous.
We have planted over 500 fruit and nut trees of various kinds, to plentifully feed us, our friends and family, and our pet animals for years to come. For us, it's not just the zero-mile diet (which is an important element, not having to import food from long distances), it's also the healthiest, most nutrient-rich diet we can imagine. And everything tastes great and alive, too, picked ripe and fresh from the trees, vines, and bushes.
We grow trees, bushes, climbers, and ramblers the easy way: we plant, mulch, and do nothing. Seriously. Our method can somewhat be classified as permaculture or wild forest gardening, but we have not been trained in those principles; we just learned of them later, after having fumbled on the easy-way-out method because we have been so busy we didn't have the time to tend to our garden the official, proper, scientific way. We were inspired by Ruth Stout's books on no-till, mulch vegetable gardening and adapted her ideas for trees and other plants too. We are fans of Mansanobu Fukuoka's book The One-Straw Revolution and are committed to his idea of wilderness gardening, of just letting things grow in plurality. Nature and her wildlife are better served that way: no chemicals, no work. Leave it all to Nature and harvest her bounty. We let the eco-system work itself out. Pests have never been a problem.
And it seems to work fine. We're eating from our garden and orchard the year-round, thanks to our 5 greenhouses. Experience has taught us to have confidence in Mother Nature: the sun, rain, wind, and the lowly earthworm somehow conspire to make things grow. We stay out of the way and are rewarded with delicious, wholesome organic foods, fresh from the garden whenever we need them. Sustainability is a big element for us. We want to preserve and heal, so we don't use any chemicals or pesticides whatsoever. The piles of mulch we put in the garden break down with sun and rain and the earthworms, yielding black rich soil that in turn feeds our plants. Vive la simplicité! We love the good, simple, rustic, earthy life. Ten years and counting, and we're still having as much fun and joy as ever.
The jujube fruit. The jujube is a small subtropical tree with crisp, date-like fruit very common in trail mixes in the East. It's most commonly used in dried form. It can also be ground into a paste for pastry filling. It can stand a lot of heat and needs well-drained soil. We grow it both outside and in the greenhouse.
Nothing says June like fresh, juicy, bright red strawberries. Grow different varieties (especially the ever-bearing kinds) to have a long harvest from June to frost (October or so). We mulch the plants with cedar saw dust, pine needles, and straw, and the plants seem to thrive on this mixture.
Purple table grapes. This vine is prolific. The fruits are ripe by mid-August. Grapes are easy to grow in our sunny rocky terrain. We propagate them by taking 6 inch cuttings in the beginning of winter and sticking them in moist sand and store in the greenhouse over winter. By spring, they will have rooted and be ready to plant out in their final locations. We grow them everywhere. They make great edible arbor and porch railing plants.
The old cliché about there being nothing quite like a juicy peach freshly picked off a tree is true. Our peaches are ripe as early as mid-June (on the tree we have in the tall greenhouse) and continue to bear until late August on the outside trees. We place them in different locations, from sunny to part shade, so we get a longer harvest season. Did you know that nectarines are fuzzless peach but otherwise they are exactly the same in culture and temperament? I used to prefer eating nectarines when I lived in the city. After homesteading for ten years and growing our own, I've found I like peaches just as much if not more. Tree-ripened peaches, freshly picked is all sweetness and juice with no mealiness that I've found with store-bought peaches. I guess commercial growers have to pick peaches before they are ripe because ripe peaches spoil fast and are too fragile to transport long distances.
Bees are indispensable in an orchard. We have tons of many kinds, thanks to our wild garden and forest. We also drill holes in blocks of wood and nail them to overhangs on the south side. The mason bees go in and lay their eggs and partition the compartments with mud from the creek.
Guava fruits swelling in the tall greenhouse. Guava is a small subtropical shrub that does well in our Pacific Northwest maritime climate, on the south wall of the house or in a greenhouse. Guavas have crunchy white flesh with some aftertaste of tannins. They are good juiced or eaten fresh.
The cactus pear that's hardy enough for our West Coast climate. We grow ours in the greenhouse but the cactus pear can actually be found wild on our rocky coastline. We don't really like eating the cactus pear, finding it too mealy and astringent. But it's an interesting specimen for sure. The pads multiply by creating more pads, which you break off and plant in a different location to propagate.
The gorgeous display of ripe peaches from a 2-year old tree that fell head-over-heels in love with our 16-foot greenhouse. It grew to prodigious heights in just one season and kept thickening around the girth the second season. The fruits are ripe by mid-June and very juicy and sweet.
We have 8 cherry trees and get to eat our fill as early as late May (we grow some in the tall greenhouse and some outside to extend the harvest season). You have to cover red cherry trees with netting (hard to do because these vigorous trees grow tall) or you won't get any: almost all birds go ga-ga over cherries. Yellow cherries are better in this regard as the birds always leave some on the tree for us. Fresh, ripe cherries are crunchy and "pop" when you bite into them. The fruit fill your mouth with sweet, juicy, aromatic nectar — there's nothing quite like it. Picked ripe off the tree, cherries are amazing, nothing like the store-bought ones that are often too soft and waterlogged.
We love green figs (the brown Turkey ones are good, too) and have 15 trees in various locations. The old English adage goes: plant a fig where you can see the ocean. Well, we can see the ocean from where we are, but we've found that they do well in locations where you can't see the ocean, too. They grow into handsome trees with overarching branches and sometimes big bushy trees with branches coming from the roots in a dense grove-like form. The fruit is actually an inverted flower, but oh, the honey sweetness and soft flesh is second to none. The figs in our 16-foot-tall attached greenhouse ripen their first crop in mid-June, and then there's a second crop starting in mid-August till late frost. The trees outside usually only give us one crop in late summer. We've found that fig trees are very hardy for the West Coast climate; they may die back the first 3 years, but they've always come back the following season. From the fourth year on, they put on prodigious growth. There were 2 trees that we put the roof on after they had been struggling for 3 years. In the first year with the roof on, they shot from 4 feet to 14 feet tall and started bearing 30-50 delicious, sweet fruits. It just goes to show that figs can't have it too hot or too dry. They are from the Mediterranean after all, so are perfect for our dry rocky non-soil with full sun exposure.
Almonds are in the same family as peaches. This branch is loaded with green fruits which, when ripe in the fall, dry up to yield the familiar almond nut.
The Paw paw is touted as the only tropical fruit native to the temperate climate. The fruit resembles a mango but the flesh tastes like a banana. We look forward to trying it. Our trees have flowered several times and are bound to set fruit in the near future. Note: the paw paw is not the same as a papaya, a hardy variety of which we used to grow but it didn't do well for us.
Passion fruits grow on vigorous vines. The vine has one of the most unusual and beautiful flowers. Passionflower got its name from Christianity, as in the Passion of Christ. The fruit is sour and very aromatic; it's great for flavoring drinks and in smoothies. On hot years, the fruit becomes sweet enough to eat: cut the fruit in half and spoon out the gelatinous seedy flesh. We grow passion fruits in the greenhouse.
Italian prune plums are amazing. I love, love, love them. When ripe on the tree, they are thick and soft as honey and melt in your mouth. Nothing like the store-bought kind. Nothing like growing your own and harvesting them a few weeks each year in the fall. Our dogs love them so much, they hang around under the tree hoping for a windfall. Slim chance, as we harvest them a couple of times a day, so nothing is left to be over-ripe enough on the tree to fall.
This is the crazy mulberry tree that was barely a 3 foot twig when we planted it. Two months later, it shot to the 16-foot high ceiling of the tall greenhouse, with leaves bigger than a human face, bigger than a big fig leaf. It bears delicious berries, white or dark red, from June till at least September, sometimes going all the way to frost. It's the only berry that grows on a tree, as far as we know. The silkworm feeds on the mulberry leaf exclusively. We learned about the delicious fruits (which are not sold in stores because they have to be eaten off the tree) in Oregon, where we found a specimen in someone's backyard. It was a 12-foot tree that branched out into the sidewalk, where we helped ourselves to the sweet fruits which stain like crazy. The owner would walk by and we would pretend to just sit and chill; however our dark red lips, hands, and mouth told him exactly what we had big doing. We were very sad when the tree was cut down to make space for a parking lot. We vowed to one day have our own tree. Now we have 10, and the berries: are every bit as good as we remember them to be. From all accounts, mulberries are higher in anti-oxidant than blueberries!
View of the crazy mulberry tree from the tall greenhouse's balcony. In the foreground is a vigorous fig tree that bears prodigious amounts of yummy Italian Honey figs two times a year.
The loquat is a subtropical fruit-bearing tree that grows to about 10 – 12 feet tall with a grove-like busy habit. The leaves are gorgeous green, huge with serrated edging that lends a tropical look to your garden. They are OK outside against the sunny side of the house or in a tall greenhouse.
The guava tree is a small upright bush.
Persimmons mature into huge trees bearing tons of sweet fruits. There are astringent kind (hachiya or cone-shaped American persimmons) and non-astringent Japanese kaki kinds (Fuyu) which are flat-bottomed. The astringent kinds have to be ripened until the flesh turns into a mush; then the astringency is gone and the fruit is sweet. The non-astringent kind can be eaten crisp like a sweet aromatic apple. The fruits stay on the trees through winter, after all the leaves have fallen, making for a festive sight with beautiful orange colored fruits covering the majestic branches. We have 10 trees, and most are the non-astringent Fuyu type. We have had 7 fruits (sorry, we ate them all quickly in our excitement and forgot to take photos to show you) so far and can't wait till the tree fully matures, which may take another 10 or 20 years. Also called Sharon fruit in the Middle East and Europe. Per the old adage about planting nut trees first thing when you move to a homestead (because they take so long to grow and mature and bear), persimmon trees should also be planted first thing you start a new garden or orchard. The unique fruit is totally worth the wait.
A wall of kiwis and figs fronted by a small but prolific mulberry tree. Kiwi require the same growing conditions as grapes but take longer (after 5 years) to bear, but when they start bearing they are vigorous and prolific fruiters.
Blueberries are easy to grow and very prolific. There are early, middle season, and late ripening ones to prolong your harvest season. They are very healthy, too. We just mulch with sawdust of all types (including cedar, which we have lots of) and fir needles, and they love it. We don't do anything else for them except occasionally water. The bushes are very long-lived too, living up to 25 years or more.
What are lush and luscious, juicy and soft, sweet and tangy? Fresh raspberries from your own vines!
Hardy gingers do very well in our garden, both outside and in the greenhouse. They taste just like regular ginger and multiply well in the heat of summer. OK, so it's not a fruit tree, but it's exotic and edible. I think the leaves are edible, too: many cultures use the leaves as wraps. :D