orchard

All About Seaberries

Seaberries growing in the author’s permaculture garden, Portland, OR, USA

Sea Buckthorn, A Useful Permaculture Shrub + High-Value Crop

Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a nitrogen fixing, thorny deciduous shrub that tolerates extremely harsh conditions where other plants may struggle. It is native to Russia and China, naturally occuring at elevations above 4,000 feet, but also grows readily at lower elevations, including the seaside. It is not a true buckthorn (Rhamnus spp), and also goes by the names sandthorn and sallowthorn. (If you haven’t guessed from the common names, the thorns are no joke, some growing as long as my index finger.)

The fruit of the sea buckthorn – called the “seaberry” – has been prized for generations as a high-value crop, rich in oils and vitamins. In recent decades, the oily fruit has increased in commercial value due to its use in cosmetics, hair oil, and moisturizers. Farms focusing on seaberry cultivation now range from Canada to Russia to Germany and across temperate parts of Asia.

In my own garden, the sea buckthorn has been a useful hedgerow plant within the food forest design. The leaves are edible for poultry, and can be dried and crushed into their feed. The shrubs themselves fix nitrogen, and their thorny branches provide shelter from songbirds from the endless pressure of urban outdoor cats.

Late in the summer (and into autumn), the shrub produces large quantities of nutritious berries. These berries freeze well, and while they’re too sour to eat straight off the bush, the juice is incredibly good in a range of culinary uses (more on that below).

Sea buckthorn in the wild, where it suckers and forms hedges. Photo courtesy the Creative Commons.

How to Grow – and When Not To

Sea buckthorn is not right for every garden. I’ll be the first to say, do due diligence before adding plants to your garden or permaculture system. But for those systems where it is well-suited, sea buckthorn is a tremendously beneficial plant. I have zero regrets about adding it here at Parkrose Permaculture.

Sea buckthorn is a pioneer species. This means it is hardy, resilient, and can handle a range of difficult conditions that other plants cannot. While that resilience means it can be aggressive in certain conditions, but also means it thrives in sandy soil, clay soil, areas of high wind, salt, and low soil fertility. And not only does it thrive in harsh conditions that are not suitable for cultivating other crops, it produces large yields of fruit while doing so – and fixes nitrogen while doing so!

Questions to ask before planting sea buckthorn in your garden:
1. Do I like eating the berries? Find someone who grows seaberries and try them before planting (you can also order juice and other seaberry foods online). I tried some at the One Green World fall fruit tasting years and years ago, before deciding to buy.
2. Am I okay with a thorny, 15 ft tall set of shrubs in my garden? How will those shrubs shade/interact with other plants in my system?
3. Do I have a full-sun location for at least two shrubs? Am I aware that even shade from the uppermost branches can cause lower-branch die-back, and that shade is the kiss of death for this plant?
4. Am I okay dealing with suckers (or do I have room to let the shrub sucker naturally)? Will I be okay removing suckers a few times a year for as long as I grow these plants?
5. Does my site need erosion-control, nitrogen fixation, or songbird habitat that could be provided by this plant?
6. How would this shrub benefit my permaculture system and my diet? Do the challenges it may pose outweigh the benefits? Is it right for my garden?

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Check out the author’s new video on her seaberry plants.

Growing Sea Buckthorn

Size at Maturity : varies widely depending on conditions and variety: 4-20 feet tall, 3-10 feet wide
Fruit Production: Dioecious. One male can pollinate up to 6 females. Berries are produced along the inner stems, and can be challenging to harvest.
Zones: 3a-9a
Temps: -45F – 100F
Soil Conditions: prefers sandy, poor-quality soils, but can tolerate a wide range including straight-clay
Tolerance: tolerant to wind, salt, poor fertility
Sun/Shade: Needs full sun. Significant branch die-back occurs in shade. Will not fruit without full sun.
Benefits: Nitrogen fixer, edible nutritious berries, medicinal leaves that can be used as livestock feed, stabilizes erosion-prone soils
Challenges: Suckers, sometimes prolifically (especially males) and can form large hedges. Large thorns. Fruit tends to burst when picking by hand. Need a male and female to get fruit. Fruit is too sour to consume fresh.

Seaberries with cherry tomatoes for scale (from the author’s garden). Note the oily sheen on the berries, which are rich in omega fatty acids.

Nutritional Benefits

The leaves of the sea buckthorn can be used as a medicinal tea. As always, consult your healthcare provider and understand fully any medicinal teas you are consuming and how they may interact with pharmeceuticals you are taking. While I’m not going to make medical claims about their use, I have enjoyed the tea myself. The leaves can be enjoyed fresh or dry easily and mixed with other garden herbs for a caffeine-free tea with a bright flavor. I prefer it with honey and milk.

The berries themselves are very, very sour, with a tinge of bitterness from the skin. I liken it to eating the skin of the sourest citrus you can find. As you might imagine, this means they are incredibly high in vitamin C. In fact, one serving has 6-10x the US RDA of vit C. The fruits also contain calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamins B1, B2, B6, and E.

Seaberries are so highly prized because they are also one of the oiliest temperate fruits you can grow. When harvesting the berries, you can see the oil as it’s deposited on your hands and in the bowl. The berries are incredibly rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3, 6, 7, and 9. The berries themselves are rich in oil that gives a buttery quality to the juice, but the seeds can also be pressed to yield an additional harvest of unsaturated oils useful for human consumption and as a skin/hair conditioner.

How to Enjoy Seaberries

  • Juice. The whole reason I started growing seaberries is because I wanted a temperate-climate alternative to orange juice (we drink a lot of orange juice, and obviously, that increases our carbon footprint). I like to cut the juice with water (about 50/50), and add in honey until I get the sweetness I want.
  • Any recipe that calls for cranberries, currants, or sour citrus (like calamondin, yuzu, lemon): think curd, jam, cheesecake, and even mixers for whiskey sour.
  • Chutney
  • Fruit Leather, especially when blended with apples or pears, and some sugar/honey.
  • Oxymel:
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Ben Falk, author and owner of Whole System Design, making seaberry oxymel.

Seaberries Are A Part of Sustainable, Local, Seasonal Eating

For me, seasonal, local, sustainable food production is a huge part of why I have a permaculture garden. I want to reduce my impact on the planet in any small ways I am able. That includes trying to grow as much of my own fruit as possible, and reducing the amount of imported fruit I need to buy for my family.

My adventure in growing sea buckthorn began as a search for a local, sustainable alternative to orange juice. I have since learned that this nitrogen-fixing shrub is a huge asset to my permaculture garden, as well as to my diet. It is not without maintenance that I keep 3 of these suckering plants happily fitting into my 1/4 acre design – and also not without the occaisional poke from the long thorns. But the sucker-removal is worth it for me as I continue to reap harvests of nutritious fruits, create wildlife habitat, and gain free nitrogen fixation in my garden.

Very large seaberries in the author’s garden. 2022.

There’s Nothing Like a Fresh Garden Fig (And No, There’s No Wasp Inside It)

The first Desert King fig of 2022

There’s Nothing Like a Home-Grown Fig, and Now is Their Time to Shine

As a child of the 80’s, I grew up with a very limited view of figs. They were that brown mushy stuff with little crunchy seeds in the middle of a Fig Newton. The End. It was not until I was an adult that I came to understand that a fresh fig is a truly exceptional fruit, and the only way to enjoy its full potential is to grow them yourself (or have a friend who does!).

About a decade ago, I started growing figs, and they have proved to be one of the best additions to my garden. For me (in zone 8b), figs have been hardy, disease-free, and consistently productive. (Sure, I have to share the top-most figs with the birds, but I always plan my garden with wildlife in mind. And when your tree produces 200-300 figs, there is plenty to share with the jays.)

Garden Figs are in the Moraceae family, along with mulberries. And like mulberries, figs are sugary sweet, without the higher acidity of most other garden fruits. They taste like pure sweetness, interwoven with notes that can vary from watermelon to strawberry to guava. In fact, figs can be so cloyingly sweet, my eldest kid likes to squeeze a little lime juice on her fresh figs to balance the out. (The Brix – a meaure of the sweetness of a food – of your average apple is about 14. A fig can top 25.)

No, There’s No Wasp in Your Garden Figs. They Aren’t Even True Fruit.

Apocrypta fig wasp. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

You may have heard that inside each fig is a little wasp. I absolutely love it when folks get excited about our pollinators, and I do not want to take the wind out of anyone’s sails here. But when folks comment on pics of garden figs with, “Did you know that there’s a little wasp inside each one?”, I can’t help but reply that this isn’t quite correct.

There are two native figs in the United States that require pollination by wasps, but neither of them produce food we eat. The Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea) and the Banyan Tree (Ficus citrifolia) both grow wild and require the services of our two native species of fig wasp to pollinate them.

Now, you may have eaten figs that have teeny tiny wasps (or remnants of them) inside. Smyrna (also called Calimyrna) figs, grown in hotter climates around the world (and in California) do need to be pollinated by wasps – a process in figs called caprification. These are the figs we often purchase dried and are used in products like those newton bar cookies.

However, the vast majority of us growing figs in the home garden are growing the Common Fig (Ficus carica). These delicious figs are not even a real “fruit”. They are an inverted packet of flowers that is loaded with sweet nectar when mature. There is no pollination occuring at all. That fig you’re enjoying from your garden is not a fruit, it is a syconium produced by female trees – essentially a stem-like structure packed with florets on the inside.

Needless to say, if you’re squicked out by the idea of eating wasps in your fruit, or maybe you’re a vegan and thought you can’t eat figs because they’re essentially carnivorous, you don’t need to worry about common garden figs. What you’re eating is an inverted basket or “urn” full of sweet little flowers that will mature into a delicious food without any pollination whatsoever. But, let’s go ahead and say it’s a fruit, because that’s how we know and enjoy them.

Dark purple Negronne and pale green Desert King figs along with some mulberries the author had picked for dessert baking. Note the “J shape” to the neck of the figs, indicating they are ripe.

Determining Peak Ripeness for Maximum Flavor and Sweetness

Like most of the fruit we buy in the grocery store, fresh figs in the produce aisle will have been picked underripe. Unfortunately, figs picked at peak ripeness are the very definition of ephemeral. They do not ship, and last no more than a day or two. But underripe figs lack the honey texture, sweetness, and complexity of a fig that is allowed to mature on the tree. The fig you buy in the grocery store will only ever be a shadow of what if could have been if left to fully ripen on the tree.

Once picked, the fig will not continue to ripen. If you want to enjoy figs with the best possible texture, maximum sweetness and most developed-flavor profile, you must grow them yourself and pick them only when truly ripe.

If you want to know how to determine peak ripeness for your figs check out my video below (You can skip to the 4:30 mark to get right to the “how to determine ripeness” portion)

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Growing Figs (and a Few Cautions)

Perhaps this post has gotten you excited about growing common figs if you don’t already grow them. Let me help you pump the brakes a bit. Permaculture is about effective design, and knowing what you’re in for when planting figs can help you determine if they are really right for your garden.

Figs can handle a wide range of soils, but cold is the kiss of death to a fig. They are hardy to 15F, but can start experiencing die-back with temps below 30F. Breba figs can be frozen off just below freezing, impacting next summer’s yields.

Figs do exceptionally well in pots, so in colder climates you can bring them into a greenhouse or the main house under lights in winter and still enjoy garden figs. In my climate, they thrive in the ground with absolutely no care. I never protect my figs, even if we get snow. I simply accept that some frost damage may occur, but the tree itself will be fine.

A fully mature Desert King fig. Note the quantity of syrupy nectar. Each white finger-like protrusion is essentially a tiny flower. And yes, you can eat the skin.

Some questions to ask, and crucial things to consider before you plant a fig:

  1. Do you like figs? If you haven’t eaten a fresh fig, consider asking around in your garden club if someone grows them, so you can try them first. They are startlingly sweet, and some folks find them overwhelming. Some folks are thrown off by the texture. Always grow food you actually enjoy eating, so give figs a try before you plant them.
  2. Can you use up the harvest? Figs can produce prolifically. Have a plan for making jam, drying, and sharing with the neighborhood.
  3. Figs are aggressive plants. Are you ready to bring that into your garden? Their roots can be absolute beasts. I grow my figs at the back of my garden, far away from my house foundation, and as far from my neighbors’ foundations as possible. (If your fig is “too happy”, take a shovel and chop just inside the drip line to damage the roots and restrict growth.)
  4. Are you willing to prune? Figs need pruning both to keep them from becoming giant rambly beasts, and to keep fruit producing within reach. Depending on what kind of fig you grow, it needs to be pruned differently. Some figs like my Desert King produce one crop – called a breba crop – per year. They require a different pruning technique than my Negronne fig, which will set two crops of smaller purple figs yearly – one in July (breba) and one in September (the main crop). Learn how to properly prune your figs to maximize your yields.
  5. Figs produce a white latex which contains a compound called ficin. Some folks (like me), have a very strong reaction to ficin. (This is why some folks say fig wood is toxic to burn, while other cultures burn it readily). Ficin causes a red, blistery awful rash if it hits my skin. I wear long sleeves when pruning, and avoid pruning trees when the sap is running if I can. If you don’t know your reactivity to fig sap, wear gloves and protect your skin.
  6. Figs can drop overripe fruit, which can attract wasps and create a mess on the ground. Do you have a plan for fallen fruit? I grow my figs in my chicken run, which means that any figs that drop are immediately eaten by chickens and ducks eat every last bit.
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The author’s solar dehydrator, loaded with figs on a sunny summer day in 2021.

Which Varieties and Where to Find Them

The good thing about common figs is that they are 1. all female and 2. don’t need to be pollinated, so you only need to grow one variety. The question of whether you’ll want to stop at one fig is another thing entirely.


I did a lot of fruit tasting before I chose my fig varieties. If you’re unable to try figs before you buy, I suggest consulting other fig enthusiasts to see what they like best and what grows well in their climate.

I have two figs, Negronne (also called Violette de Bordeaux, Petite Negra, or Ronde de Bordeaux), which is a smaller (but still vigorous) fig that produces medium-small deep purple fruits with burgundy-red interior. To me, these smaller fruits do not diminish my opinion of this tree at all, because while each fruit smaller, the flavor profile is superb. Each fruit has strong strawberry overtones, and melts in the mouth.

3 Citrus Fig Jam

Negronne figs also dry well, and make beautiful, deep maroon-colored jam. It is by far my favorite fig of the 8 or so varieties I’ve tasted. If autumn is mild, they will give you two crops a year. And an additional bonus: unlike many of the larger figs, these more petite fruits are not prone to splitting while maturing.

My second fig, the Desert King, is one of the most common figs grown in my area. It’s easy to understand why. This large vigorous tree can get 35 feet tall without pruning, and its fruits are equally impressive. The green fruit with a pale pink inside can be as large as my fist in a good year. While they only produce one crop a year, some years I get as many as 250 fruit of of one tree.

There are dozens of other tasty and beautiful fig varieties on the market, with varying cold hardiness, productivity, and fruit shape/color. My favorite source for fig trees is One Green World Nursery here in Portland, Oregon. They ship all over, and have a huge selection of permaculture trees, shrubs, and perennial vegetables. You can also propogate figs very easily from cuttings, so ask in your local garden clubs when folks are pruning if you can take cuttings and start your own tree for free.

Fig trees are beautiful, with large decorative leaves (Desert King fig, 2022)


If you currently grow figs, I hope this post helped you know when to pick for maximum flavor and enjoyment. If you don’t grow figs, I hope this post encourages you to consider common figs for your permaculture system.

There is absolutely nothing that compares to a fig picked fresh from the tree at peak ripeness. Permaculture design creates an opportunity for us to expand the diversity in our diets, and the pure enjoyment of our food. And a fresh ripe fig is the very definition of pure enjoyment.

Is Parkrose Permaculture Too Good To Be True?

My Yard Got Meme’d and Went Viral. Folks Doubted The Garden Was Real.

“Stanley” plum in bloom in the author’s front yard food forest, Spring 2022.

When Strangers Think They Know Your Garden Best

A few days ago, a meme of my front yard garden went viral on social media. I didn’t make the meme, and it’s been incorrectedly credited several times as the garden of a man in the UK, but it is, in fact, Parkrose Permaculture.

Inevitably, when someone shares a single image like this and it spreads rapidly on social media, criticisms, “gotchas”, fault-finding, and definititive judgments flood the comments section. Everyone becomes an authority and makes confident assertions and declares “this is how it really is” based on one image.

I responsed to the most common declarations in my video today (see below), but I wanted to take some space in this blog to address in detail one particular “hot take” that I didn’t address thoroughly on YouTube (perks of reading the blog!). It’s a question folks have asked long before this meme was made, and today I’m going to answer it, so let’s dive in.

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Angela responds to the birage of comments repeating the same handful of assumptions about her garden.


Your Garden Isn’t Real, Angela.

Dozens and dozens of dudes were sure the garden was somehow faked.

The skeptics came out of the woodwork on each and every share, calling the images “faked.” They were confident that this garden must be photoshopped. It couldn’t be real. No one could really transform their front yard like that, right? Total strangers became “experts” on my garden based on a single meme showing a small portion of the yard. As the French say, “Trop beau pour être vrai,” and being manic with our skepticism sure is en vogue.

Quince (Cydonia oblonga) outisde the back door in early autumn

OK, OK. Maybe It IS Real, But She Definitely Doesn’t Have 32 Fruit and Nut Trees on 1/4 Acre.

While the confirmation bias of folks making these assertions on the internet was intensely strong, several lovely humans did return and say, “Gah, my bad! I should not have made assumptions,” after viewing more pictures of the garden or finding my YouTube. It takes integrity in our modern society to say, “Welp, I goofed that up. I’m sorry!”, so I appreciate it when folks admit they’re wrong and want to do better going forward.

To be fair, the transformation of the garden is profound. I look back at pictures of the house when we first moved in, and it doesn’t feel like my house at all. Although, even back in 2009, in my mind’s eye, I could see what the garden would look like in time. I had faith in the process, and have enjoyed every step of getting from there to here. It may seem too good to be true, so I understand the skepticism. But perhaps ask questions instead of assuming. Afterall, you know what they say about that…

Ok, but seriously…32? Impossible.

If folks believed that the images weren’t fake, they still called me “dishonest”. According to these guys, based on one image, they knew I was clearly “exaggerating” how many trees I can carefully fit on the property. It simply didn’t mesh with their mental image of how trees should be positioned in the landscape. It didn’t fit with the image of how horticulturists and modern farmers tell us we must grow fruit trees. Afterall, if you haven’t seen it done, it can be difficult to imagine another way. It’s easier to disbelieve than ask for evidence that might change your mind.

The lot is 1/4 acre, including driveway, house, sheds, and garden

If You Really Grow 32 Fruit and Nut Trees, What Are They, Hm? Hmm?!

“Early Fuyu” persimmon, Fall 2020

I have compassion for the level of skepticism happening in response to this meme, and I thought perhaps the most helpful thing to do here – both for doubters, and folks interested in adding trees to their own gardens – would be to list out for you all of the trees I grow here. I’m going to be totally honest right from the get-go: The youngest tree is 2. Most are over 10 years old, and a few are 15 (purchased as 1-2 yr old trees, or squirrel-planted before we moved in). It’s not actually 32 trees, but check for yourself:

  • Plums, European (Prunus) x5 – Shropshire Damson, Stanley, Early Laxton, Bavay’s Greengage, Early Italian
  • Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) x3 – Allegheny, Rappahanock, and Suquehanna
  • Elderberry (Sambucus) x2 –Nova and York (I used to have a Blue elder, but removed it)
  • Apple (Malus) x6 – Ashmead’s Kernel, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Roxbury Russet, Honeycrisp, Liberty, Cox’s Orange Pippin (again, I used to have more. It was too many apples)
  • Medlar (Mespilus germanica) – Breda Giant
  • Pear, Asian – triple grafted (In a pot)
  • Pear, European – Seckel
  • Fig (Ficus carica) x2 – Desert King and Negronne (the latter is superb)
  • Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) x3 – (this is technically a shrub, but grows very very large and I treat it like a tree) 2 females, and 1 male
  • Hazelnut (Corylus) – my lone nut tree. I coppice it for firewood and plant stakes. Nuts.
  • Persimmon (Diospyros) x2 – Early Fuyu and a hybrid persimmon, Nikita’s Gift
  • Quince (Cydonia oblonga) x3 – Aromatnaya, Krimskaya, and an unnamed variety
  • Mulberry (Malus rubra) x3 – Illinois Everybearing, Contorted, and Dwarf
  • Purple Robe locust (Robinia) – this tree’s seeds are not edible. It is an important nurse tree in my food forest, produces edible blossoms, but will eventually be cycled out.
  • Peach –Oregon Curl Free
  • Jujube (Zizyphus jujuba) – Lee and Lang
  • Lemons – Meyer and Variegated Meyer in pots (they live in the greenhouse in winter)
  • Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis)- also in a pot, and sheltered in the winter outdoors

Like I said, not 32. That list makes 40. I generally don’t count the trees in pots, but they are an important part of our system and do produce important yields for me and I should. I did not include bush cherries, large shrubs like goumi and aronia and tallbush cranberry. Perhaps smaller fruits are a topic for another post in the near future.

Desert King Fig in the chicken run. A disease-free, low-fuss tree for Western Oregon.
Needs pruning, or it gets huge.

I hope that information is helpful for folks. In the coming weeks, I’ll continue to lay out how I fit all these trees, why I need them all, and what my design process is. It is my sincere hope that I can help illuminate how permaculture – real world permaculture, not a thought exercise – functions. Hiccups and all. That’s my goal in blogging and making videos: to share the design process of permaculture, explain the principles, and how the work in the context of our real, hectic lives, and in our real gardens. For me and my family right now, 40 trees works in that context. It enriches our lives and feeds our bellies, and creates habitat for wildlife.

In an extractive world, regenerative ways of living can seem really foreign. Our knee-jerk reaction can understandably veer toward skepticism when someone tries something far outside the cultural norm. It’s my hope that permaculture – and other resilient design systems – can become accepted and normalized. Goodness knows we and the Planet need them.

If anything, I’m grateful that despite all the hater-ade I got from this meme blowing up (as much as permaculture memes can blow up?) on social media, it has helped more folks discover permaculture design, and helped more folks question the status quo when it comes to our gardens, our neighborhood design, and how we organize our society. I love sharing my garden, and am glad this experience has given me the opportunity to share it with more people, and explain in more detail how the system is designed and functions.

Diversifying Our Berry Harvests with Mulberries

Illinois Everbearing Mulberry Fruit

A Hard Year For Fruit Growers

2022 thus far has proven to be a difficult year for fruit growers in my part of of the world. Coming out of multiple years of drought, we started off the year with record cold snaps. We had a freak 3 inches of snow after our last frost date. In fact, the snow hit so late that stone fruit were already blooming in the Pacific Northwest. Frozen blossoms are nothing short of a disaster for orchardists. Many gardeners liked me had to face the harsh reality of a year with no cherries, no peaches, and few plums. Even early apples and breba figs yields have been hit.

On top of the freeze, a cold rainy spring kept pollinators hunkered down. And heavy rains created unusually high fungal pressure. Blueberry crops have disappointed many, since they bloomed while temperatures were too cool or the weather too rainy for bees to be out foraging. Decade-old raspberry patches have root rot for the first time ever. Even my blackcap raspberries – a reliable crop with consistently large yields – had poor pollination.

A Resilient Berry in Hard Times


While the weather has absolutely crushed many harvests in my garden this year, all is not lost. In fact, one of the reason I grow a huge diversity of fruits is so that if one – or 6 – crops fail, I have many others that are likely to produce well for me. Building diversity into our systems increases our resilience. And one such insurance policy that has yielded fantastically for me over the years it the mulberry.

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Mulberries (Morus rubra, Morus alba, or Morus alba x rubra), are a genus of trees known for their production of deep reddish-purple fruits that are reminiscient of blackberries (Rubus genus). (White mulberries are, obviously, white or pale pink). The fruit is delightfully sweet, and lacks the acidity of blackberries.

These beautiful trees produce profusely, with berries ripening over several weeks to months. This results in a reliable daily harvest for long periods of time. I pick for a f ew minutes daily, and quickly fill multiple gallon containers in the freezer, with lots leftover for fresh eating each day. In July, dessert in the evening often looks like a handful of mulberries straight off the tree.

(Note, unlike blackberries and raspberries, the stem of the mulberry runs the whole length of the inside of the fruit. It’s totally edible! You can eat it, or not. Your choice, but the fruit is melded to the stem at its core and the stem cannot be removed.)

For me, growing mulberries has been a critically important part of our resilient design. When other berries fail, no matter the weird weather, my 3 mulberry trees produce reliably. There is plenty to share with wildlife (and my poultry – ducks love mulberries). When we build diversity into our permaculture systems, we create insurance policies for ourselves. My mulberries are my berry insurance policy: when more fiddly and delicate fruits fail, I can count on mulberries to give me a yield.

The author’s 13 year-old Illinois Everbearing Mulberry. The tree is pollarded to keep it small. One of three varieties of mulberry at Parkrose Permaculture.

Tips for Growing Mulberries

  • In my temperate climate, both red (M. rubra) and white (M. alba) grow well, but in many places white mulberries are an invasive species, spreading vigorously and displacing native trees and shrubs. Check before you plant, or consider only red mulberry species.
  • Fruit size, color and quality vary considerably across varieties, but all are sweet and good eating. My Contorted Mulberry produces rather small fruit in moderate quantities, but my Illinois Everbearing is a workhorse: cranking out huge quantities of good-sized fruit for weeks on end. The Pakistani mulberry produces elongated fruits prized for their unusual length, but can be a bit less cold tolerant, so I chose not to grow it here.
  • Consider that birds will love your mulberries, too. I count on 20% of my harvest going to wildlife and plan accordingly when it comes to pruning.
  • More cold hardy varieties can be grown in zones 5 and 6-8, with less tolerant varieties 7-9 (In cold snaps, the trees can get die-back, particularly in areas pruned during the previous year.)
  • Trees range from 6-20 meters (20-60+ft) at maturity, depending on species and variety. Choose carefully I don’t care what the catalogs tell you, mulberries are fast-growing, vigorous trees, and mine needs diligent pruning (pollarding) to keep it an appropriate size for my garden (see video above for more info).
  • Mulberries like a sunny spot, and can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. Once established, they are extremely drought tolerant. I never water my mulberry trees.
Stocking the freezer (note the stems, which run through the core of the berry. In smoothies, no one can tell they were ever there.)

Site-Specific Design

One of the beautiful things about permaculture design is that it is site-specific. This means you tailor your design to your needs, your yard, your community. Mulberries are not the right choice for every garden design. As I mentioned earlier, the trees can get quite large. If I were not committed to yearly pollarding, Illinois Everybearing would not have been an appropriate tree for my yard.

Mulberry juice stains. Everything. Hands, clothes, concrete, roof tiles. When deciding if this tree is right for your design, plan accordingly. Don’t plant over a driveway, for instance. I pick berries wearing dark-colored clothes so they aren’t ruined by any falling fruit or the juice that gets all over my hands.

In permaculture we design with stacking functions in mind. This concept means we try to have every element in our garden do as many “jobs” as possible. We looke for the connections in different elements in our system to increase resilience. In order to address the issue of stainy, fallen fruit, prevent fruit flies, and keep the area under the tree tidier, I planted my largest mulberry in my poultry run. Ducks and chickens relish mulberry fruit and quickly clean up every fruit that hits the ground. So my mulberry tree feeds not only our family, but also provides weeks of snacks for the poultry with zero effort on my part. And it stacks another function in nicely: The birds enjoy the shade the tree provides as it effectively cools the chicken run in summer.

When planning your permaculture system or homestead, perhaps a mulberry might be a tree worth planting. Understanding the pluses and minuses of this tree, how would it work into your design to increase your food security when other crops might fail? Consider the mulberry, a tree that has served our family well and is a crucial component of my resilient garden design.