Edible November brings us to one of the first fruits of the spring, the Strawberry!
Almost everyone knows and loves the strawberry but not everyone grows them. And I want to change this. Strawberries are easy to grow and provide a most delicious fruit early in the summer.
Here in the northeast region of the US our strawberries ripen as early as the first or second week of June! As we have talked about in earlier Edible November posts picking strawberries with your kids and family is one of my most enjoyable events. The strawberry is the earliest ripening fruit that I grow so it is always a joy to get out there in early June with my family and stain our hands strawberry red.
Strawberries grow great in raised beds and spread via runners. This means your strawberry patch can be constantly expanding. Strawberries will fruit a little bit in the first year but will do best in years 2-4. Plant your strawberry bed this fall mulch them heavily and you will be enjoying picking strawberries this spring.
Grape is the next plant on our Edible November list. Grapes might be one of the most versatile edibles on our list so far.
Grape vines grow wild in most areas of the country. If you have spotted wild grape vines growing up a tree in an old field your region is suitable for growing grapes.
Grapes do require a little bit of maintenance each spring and fall to ensure your fruit crop reaches its potential. If you have visited or driven past a winery you know that grape vines need a support system. If you are only going to plant a few grape vines I suggest using a single post per vine system like the Germans use. This consists of a T-post for each vine where your vine is trained and pruned up the post. Look for more on this concept in the spring!
Grapes can be eaten fresh from the vine, they can be frozen, they can be dried and made into raisins, they can be made into vinegar, grapes can even be fermented into wine!
In the Northeast US Japanese beetles are attracted to the grape leaves. I have often walked out and found hundreds if not thousands of beetles on a single vine, they can decimate grape leaves. If you have chickens or ducks I have a solution to your beetle woes. First you will want to plant your grape vines in areas where your birds frequent. Each morning when I go out to feed and water my birds I will check my vines first. If I notice beetles on my vines I will call my birds over and shake the grape vines. The beetles will then fall onto the ground and be eaten by the hungry birds.
This not only solves your beetle problem but turns that problem into a protein source for my birds. By the end of the summer your beetle population will have surely gone down and your eggs should be bright orange as a result!
Edible November day 10 brings us to the Raspberry. The Raspberry grows wild in most of the country and because of their thorns are thought by many to be a plant with no value. Let's think again!
Wild raspberries are often found in road ditches, tree lines, and generally wherever a open area meets a tree line. On my farm we have been propagating the wild raspberries because they bear such delicious fruit. Be careful as wild raspberries can have diseases so make sure to never propagate an diseased plant material.
If you aren't lucky enough to have tasty wild raspberries here are a few things to consider when planting your raspberry plants. Raspberries will grow in zones 3-9 and do well planted in rows 2-3 feet apart. Chose a few varieties so you can harvest berries all summer and into the fall. To get an optimal harvest pruning is needed as most berries come from 2nd year wood. In a few years your row of Raspberries will fill in nicely to make an edible living fence.
Raspberries have a very delicate fruit and are best eaten fresh but can be frozen as well. If you haven't eaten them all jam or jelly can be made. Raspberry leaves also make a great tea.
Raspberries can spread pretty quickly so once you have established a few canes they should provide you with berries for years to come.
Day 9 of Edible November brings us to the Apricot tree. Apricot's like many of our other edibles can double as a ornamental landscape tree. Reaching 20-30 feet at maturity apricots might be the envy of your neighborhood. Their abundant spring flowers will attract pollinators for miles.
If you live in a region that gets late frosts be sure to plant late blooming varieties or plant your trees on the north side of your property. This way your trees wont flower too early and risk being lost with late frosts.
Apricots ripen from July to the end of August. Picked straight off the tree ripe apricots don't have a long shelf life but they sure are delicious eaten under the shade of the very same tree. A great way to preserve the harvest is to dry your apricots ensuring you will be enjoying apricots well into the following growing season.
Hardy Kiwi is the next plant up in our Edible November series. I know what you’re thinking, “Kiwi will never survive my snowy winters”. Yes you are right, but Hardy Kiwi will! The Hardy Kiwi is more like a vine than a tree or shrub. They produce tasty grape to small egg size fruits. Like their name states, they are very hardy growing vigorously from Canada to Florida.
To get fruit from Hardy Kiwi you need both male and female plants. A 1 male to up to 6 female ratio will work for backyard plantings. Ripening in late summer, kids love eating fresh Hardy Kiwis straight from the vine. They will often take 2-3 years to bear fruit but once they do you will get massive amounts! Mature Hardy Kiwi plants regularly yield 50 and sometimes up to 100 pounds of fruit and when picked before fully ripened can be stored for nearly 2 months. Picked fully ripe Hardy Kiwis are a great snack fresh, skin and all.
Hardy Kiwis are also high in Vitamin C, over 5 times higher than oranges. Because of their rapid growth they do require biannual pruning and usually a sturdy trellis/support system. Given the opportunity Hardy Kiwi will climb up a tree or side of a house. Left unmanaged it will most likely kill your tree and damage your house. A simple staking system with a 4X4 post, heavy spring and fall pruning will do the trick. People that complain about an out of control hardy kiwi often planted them in the wrong spot or have failed to prune them twice a year.
Like most homegrown fruit picking Hardy Kiwis make a great adventure for the whole family.
Edible Novermber Day 7 introduces us to the Seaberry. Another uncommon fruit that you are missing out on is the Seaberry or Sea Buckthorn. The Seaberry is a great medicinal fruit, it is high in vitamins and omega fatty acids. Before we go too far, here is your disclaimer, it does have a large amount of spikes or thorns. So no you don’t want your kids playing unsupervised in the seaberry patch!
Seaberries grow in much of the country spanning USDA hardiness zones 2-8. They are very cold hardy being grown in Siberia for centuries. They will bear fruit in 2-3 years and have little maintenance needs and no need for pruning. They are also deer resistant. Seaberry provides a great bird habitat for nests but they don’t seem to eat the berries. Seaberries are a nitrogen fixing shrub which means they mine nitrogen from the subsoil and the air. This cancels any need for fertilizer as it supplies its own. It also means plants and trees around it will also benefit from the nitrogen it harvests. Planting a few seaberries in between your other fruit trees will be bring a benefit to them all.
Seaberry shrubs produce bright orange berries in late summer and fall. The edible Seaberry is high in antioxidants, vitamins A, C, and E. Squeezed they can be made into juice (make sure to add sweetener) or tinctures. The seaberry leaves have been used for tea making for centuries, seaberry oil is great for the skin, there are many more uses for Seaberries.
Planting a few Seaberry plants will have you harvesting healthy berries and leaves for years.
Day 6 of Edible November brings to us the Medlar. Contrary to the apple which most everyone can recognize, the Medlar isn’t seen in many backyards or orchards. And people are missing out on big opportunity by not growing this delicious fruit tree.
The Medlar has been grown since the Roman times and it has the rare distinction of producing great fruit well into the winter. The Medlar is a small tree, it is almost shrub like so it can be put into small yards or spaces. Medlars grow in much of the country thriving in USDA hardiness zones 5-9. Medlar will often live 30-50 years with a little care.
The Medlar fruit picked fresh from the tree is hard and acidic. Be sure to pick your fruits after the first frost. You don’t want to eat a fresh tree picked Medlar. Medlar’s, much like a persimmon, needs to be bletted. Blet is just a fancy word for sitting it on your counter for a few week where a Medlar becomes soft and delicious. Once properly bletted a Medlar’s skin will turn soft and wrinkled. Eaten fresh they taste a lot like cinnamon flavored applesauce, a kid pleaser for sure! Medlars are also used in jellies and preserves. Wine enthusiasts also enjoying making Medlar wine from extra fruit.
Planting a Medlar this fall you can expect to have your tree producing fruit in as little as 3-5 years. Medlars are self pollination so you only need one tree to get fruit. This makes it a great tree for tight places. That being said I always like to plant a few trees of all my varieties that way if one happens to die I will still have Medlars for years to come.
Day 5 in Edible November brings us the American Persimmon. The American Persimmon is a widely unknown and under utilized tree.
American Persimmon is another edible that can be grown in much of the US surviving in minimum temperatures of -20 degrees. Persimmons are faster growing large trees that bear an orange size fruit. Make sure to plant several as you will need both male and female plants to actually get fruit.
American Persimmons are astringent meaning they will pucker up your mouth if you eat them right off the tree. They need to blet which is a fancy word for sitting them on your counter for a few weeks until they get soft and mushy.
Once mature Persimmon trees are heavy bearers and may need to be thinned or branches braced to avoid breaking. American Persimmons fruit late in the season, usually September to December. They make a mouthwatering edible as well as having many medicinal uses as well.
Plant a few persimmon and you will have delectable edible fruits all fall and well into winter.
Day 4 edible is the Mulberry Tree. Mulberry trees might be the most useful edible that no one is growing.
Most people think mulberries are bland and that mulberry trees are a nuisance. To some extent both of these can be partially true. Certain mulberry varieties are bland but the trick is to get tasty fresh eating cultivators. If you are fortunate to have a "bland" mulberry tree on your property you are in luck. By drying your mulberries and preserving your harvest you concentrate the flavor of the mulberry and it becomes an intense flavorful snack.
Both leaves and fruit can be eaten. The berries are a great source of vitamin C, K, fiber, and iron. Mulberry leaves make a great protein source for livestock often being up to 20% protein, they also contain high amounts of fiber and other nutrients. The entire Mulberry plant, leaves, fruit, and stems contain cancer fighting antioxidants.
Mulberry fruit is dark and can stain your car, your driveway, your clothes, and anything else that happens to be underneath their branches. If you are considering planting a mulberry tree be sure to plant it in an out of the way location as to not anger your spouse or neighbors.
If you have livestock mulberry leaves are high in protein (up to 20%) and can be given to your farm animals as fodder. Mulberry is also a vigorous grower so it can be browsed by goats, cows or ducks and will eventually grow back just as strong.
Day 3 of Edible November brings us to the Almond tree. The almond is closely related to Day 2 edible which was the peach.
Much like the peach the almond tree thrives in zones 5-9. Almond trees even grow a somewhat edible outer "husk" just like the peach. Although the prize of the almond tree is the almond itself and not the outer husk.
Again the bloom of the almond tree is quite remarkable and will be mistaken for an ornamental. During full bloom bees will be buzzing all around your almond and peach trees. If you are or know a beekeeper or bee enthusiast then you will want to grow an Almond tree in your backyard.
While certainly not as sweet and juicy as its relative the peach the almond is just as useful and delicious. Almonds store longer and can be added to baked goods or eaten raw out of hand. Almonds will ripen in early fall and can be stored and eaten all winter long.