There is more to life than apples, pears, cherries and peaches. I know this may sound like blasphemy given that much of the economic success of our region is dependent upon these four crops. Come harvest time, we all know a neighbor or a friend of a friend who will give us a great deal on a case of one of these staples. Often the quality is better than what we are capable of growing ourselves and certainly the price is worth the time and labor that we are saved from having to squeeze in the pruning, watering, care and maintenance that it would personally take to harvest that same box of fruit. This abundance also means that home gardeners are free to experiment with lesser known and hard to find fruits.
Our climate makes growing berries and other bush and tree fruits relatively easy and problem free. We don’t have to worry about humidity related illness, such as mummy berry, which can be a crippling problem in Western Washington. Here are a few alternative fruit crops that do well in our region and are prized globally for their flavor. Often, if we do not travel abroad, we are unaware of some of the world’s most popular foods since they do not fit into our regional paradigm or cultural customs.
Honeyberries- These are a honeysuckle derived fruit common in the northern hemisphere of both Asia and North America. Honeyberry is confusingly absent from the West Coast of both regions. To date, Russia has spent the most effort on breeding programs and the fruit is regularly harvested from wild growing plants. Honeyberries are ready for harvest a full 2 weeks earlier than strawberries which puts them several weeks ahead of traditional blueberry harvest. This is a good item to work into your garden if you have adequate sunlight. They can be grown in a wide range of pH soils and cultivars can be found that are hardy to zone 1! You will need at least 2 varieties planted close by for good pollination.
Hardy Kiwi- Hardy Kiwis are a perennial native to Japan, Korea, Northern China and Siberia. They are grape-sized fruits that are similar in flavor to traditional kiwi fruit but are often sweeter. These are a fast growing vine that will require trellising. There are both male and female plants. You will need at least one of each for pollination. Although the plants themselves can be hardy down to -30F, they do require approximately 150 frost free growing days for fruit development. However, late freeze events are okay provided that there is a gradual cooling-off period beforehand to allow for acclimation.
Mulberries- The mulberry is a swift-growing deciduous tree that can reach a total height of 30-50 feet at maturity. They are loaded with elongated pale to dark purple fruits that have a delicate sweetness. They are commonly found in the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Indian subcontinent. In this region, they grow exceptionally well in the upper valley with little to no supplemental irrigation. Their fruits are very attractive to Cedar Waxwings and Western Tanagers making them an excellent choice as a wildlife forage species. They are highly productive but require netting if you hope to have any fruits left to harvest after the birds have discovered the tree.
Gooseberries- This is another native to Europe, Northwestern Africa and Asia. This moderate sized bush can be heavily laden with quarter sized maroon berries. They require some irrigation but are fairly hardy and naturally occur in low nitrogen environments. The fruits are prized for jams and jellies.
Have fun experimenting with something different in your garden this season and Happy Gardening!