I really wish our cities were littered with Mulberry trees. Wait…. they are. Unfortunately most of the mulberry trees planted in Western urban areas do not bear any fruit. Ornamental, but sterile, these fruitless trees not only take up important growing space, but cause serious bouts of berry craving.
As the super stars: pear, apple, plum, peach and apricot attract fruit growers across the U.S. with their juicy round fruit, mulberries are somewhat of a wallflower in the West. Unfortunately, mulberries are not widely cultivated as a commercial crop because the berries are so fragile and hard to transport. I’ve only found a handful of fruiting mulberry trees in the Bay Area, compared to the hundreds and hundreds of lemon trees… too bad.
The mulberry situation improves the farther East you head. The Red Mulberry tree (Morus rubra) is native to eastern North America, ranging from Vermont to Florida and as far west as South Dakota. Mulberries were an important food staple for Native American tribes, but today mulberry trees are far less prevalent.
Mulberry trees have been are incredibly important in Chinese culture. The white mulberry (Morus alba) was cultivated 4000 years ago for silk worm production. In Chinese medicine the fruit is used to treat greying hair. The leaves are antibacterial and are used to treat eye infections and flu. Tinctures from the bark are used to treat a number of common ailments, notably toothaches.
Look at this berry!!
The largest mulberries come from Black Persian Mulberry trees (Morus nigra) which in California typically fruit in July. These berries can be four inches long and when timed right taste great. They do have an intense acidic/tart taste coupled with high levels of sugar. Most people absolutely love them.
The Morus alba mulberry tree is allegedly as good as the Black Persian berry. Look for “Oscars” and “Pakistan” varietals.
Mulberry trees are self-fertile and prefer well-drained soil. They should be planted in a sunny spot where they have plenty of room to grow. They will reach height 30 to 40 feet over the years. It takes a while for the tree to get established and you probably won’t be eating mulberries for five or more years. Delayed gratification. Everyone in your neighborhood will love you after 15 years when the tree reaches full production level.
More information about mulberry trees. Information about which varieties test the best! Burnt Ridge is a great nursery to order a Mulberry tree from or check out Spiral Gardens in the East Bay.
Imagine biting into a watermelon, but instead of a juicy and watery mess, your teeth slid through a crisp, apple like texture. This tuber is angel food. Filled with inulin, a sweet indigestible sugar (few calories), this tuber is the dieters dream. It is also my dream and several of my friends dreams to have an army of Yacon spread across Oakland. The plant does extremely well in the Bay Area.
Yacon is a perennial tuber in the Asterids family, closely related to sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes. Native to the Andes, it is an important South American domesticated crop. Yacon syrup is a grabbing attention as a health product for its immunity boost and digestion assistance
Yacon should be planted early in the Spring to allow ample time for crown roots to form before winter. This is less of a concern in the Bay Area where our few frosts won’t threaten root structures. Find a sunny spot with healthy soil. Yacon can grow as tall as 2 meters and will produce small yellow flowers. These plants are incredibly productive, yields of 2 kilos per plant have been documented. You can store the edible roots for several months after harvest.
When you dig up the root system in Autumn, look for two different types of root structures. The large potato looking tubers are the one’s you should harvest to eat. Smaller structures with eyelets and should be divided and planted again for the Spring. Don’t let the roots dry out while you store them to plant in the Spring.
Yacon leaves and stems can be cooked as vegetables in a stir fry or salad.
Here is additional information on Yacon. Here you can order root crowns if your friends or local nurseries don’t have any extra for you.
Look how excited these guys are about their Yacon Harvest:
Spec that Pather’s Sweatshirt!
Scarlet Runner Bean
Scarlet Runner Beans! This nitrogen-fixing legume is not only delicious, beautiful and easily grown in the Bay Area – it’s a perennial. The advantages to planting perennials are numerous. For starters, you don’t have to re-seed each season saving you time and money. Because perennials have several years (in this case usually three) to thrive, their root systems are quite established and can pull important nutrients from deep in the soil.
The Scarlet Runner Bean is hardy to zone 10 and pollinated by bees! Soak the seeds prior to planting and make sure to find a sunny position with ample room for the legume to “run” climb sometimes as high as two meters.
Find more information here and a salad recipe here.
Siberian Pea Tree
The Siberian Pea Shrub is a nitrogen-fixing perennial shrub that can be planted with success in the Bay Area. Growing 4-6 meters tall it grows edible seed pods that are somewhat bland, but can be added to other meals. This plant provides excellent chicken forage and can be grown inside fenced chicken areas because of its height.
Siberian Pea Shrub’s have been used as living fences and are noted for their “attractive” quality when attempting to distract deer from the rest of the garden.
The Pea Shrubs root system is extensive and the shrub should be used to mitigate erosion and build wind blocks. This shrub is pollinated by bees!!
Plant on a sunny edge in your garden or in the chicken area (if the seedling is tall enough) and harvest the small, but highly nutritious seeds in the Spring and Summer.
More information here.