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Food forest with a short growing season

 
Posts: 7
Location: Ottawa, Canada
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Hey everyone!

My husband and I are planning for a very small food forest; we have a tiny plot on the tiniest corner of New Brunswick that happens to be hardiness zone 5. The challenge, though, is that our growing season is short and mild. We will see frost well in to April, and temps will stay under 22⁰C (71⁰F) through the season. Pretty early in November, we get the first frost. I think it will actually be better than what we've been dealing with here (up to 40⁰C in the summer, as low as -40⁰C in the winter. Not easy!!), but I'm curious what kinds of food-producing trees we might be able to cultivate! For zone 5, things like pawpaws and peaches are suggested, but I strongly doubt either of those would actually thrive up there.
We're very close to the coast, and the established trees are quite thin... I feel like it's a very unique environment. Any suggestions?
 
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I am also in zone 5, shorter growing season (mid May to mid October) but warmer temps in July and August, on Lake Superior. I am surrounded by orchards. Fruit trees that may do wellfor you are plums, cherries, apples, crabapples, juneberries (also called serviceberries or saskatoons, some are shrubs but some are small trees). There are less commonly grown fruit trees like rowan (also called mountain ash) and hawthorn as well.

That said, if conditions really aren't great for fruit trees to thrive, it may make more sense to focus on shrubs and vines, working with nature instead of against. Blueberries, currants, and grapes should all be happy enough in those temps. Hazelnuts are abundant in the wild here, so I think they might also grow well for you there.

What is your site like now? What's growing there and what is the soil like?
 
Meg Knox
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Marisa Lee wrote:I am also in zone 5, shorter growing season (mid May to mid October) but warmer temps in July and August, on Lake Superior. I am surrounded by orchards. Fruit trees that may do wellfor you are plums, cherries, apples, crabapples, juneberries (also called serviceberries or saskatoons, some are shrubs but some are small trees). There are less commonly grown fruit trees like rowan (also called mountain ash) and hawthorn as well.

That said, if conditions really aren't great for fruit trees to thrive, it may make more sense to focus on shrubs and vines, working with nature instead of against. Blueberries, currants, and grapes should all be happy enough in those temps. Hazelnuts are abundant in the wild here, so I think they might also grow well for you there.

What is your site like now? What's growing there and what is the soil like?



I wondered if hazelnuts might work!
I know service berries are relatively common around there, and the site has lots of wild blueberries already, so those are good bets, too, I think you’re right. I figured apple was my safest bet, so you’re probably right on with the crabapple suggestion too! But I wonder how well stonefruit could do up there... only one way to find out I guess!

The site now is largely forested, but trees are spaced relatively far apart (at least, compared to the land I was looking at in northern Ontario... YIKES). Looks to be mostly birch, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to really check it out in person due to the pandemic. So not entirely sure! I read about lots of maple in the area, so likely some. I don’t know the soil on the lot specifically, but my husband mentioned he’d done some research and found that it was « very fertile » in the area.
I know the land is extremely flat, and pretty much right at sea level, so I’d assume doesn’t get too dry lol! And the lot has a large road on the south side, a field on the east side, and forest all along the north and west.

So far I’m planning to experiment with some logs lining the western edge of the property, inoculated with various types of shroom. Undecided which ones so far! Along the road side, I’m thinking a greenhouse if we have appropriate space. It is an awkward shaped lot.
We know there are blueberries on the site, and there should be other berries within a forageable distance. We don’t have a ton of space, so I want to make the most of the 10’ along the property’s edge where we can’t build structures!
 
Marisa Lee
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Oh, are you planning to build and live there? Or build a cabin and spend weekends/vacations there? I thought maybe this was a site you'll just be visiting to tend and harvest.

This is not fun advice, but spending a year or so there to get to know the site before investing in trees might end up saving a lot of money and hassle. It'll give you a stronger sense of what's already present and what will/won't thrive. You'll also need to identify what trees are there before deciding what mushrooms to grow, since different ones prefer different wood.

It sounds like a great spot!
 
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Location: Ontario
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No personal experience, but I read and enjoyed this book a few years ago: https://newsociety.ca/books/p/permaculture-for-the-rest-of-us . It is is Nova Scotia, not NB, however.

 
pollinator
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Meg Knox wrote:Hey everyone!

My husband and I are planning for a very small food forest; we have a tiny plot on the tiniest corner of New Brunswick that happens to be hardiness zone 5. The challenge, though, is that our growing season is short and mild. We will see frost well in to April, and temps will stay under 22⁰C (71⁰F) through the season. Pretty early in November, we get the first frost........ I feel like it's a very unique environment. Any suggestions?



We get frost untlll  the first of June and frost again in October we rarely get over 25 although it can hit 30 some summers don't make it over 16
So to me you have a long season of normal temperature! Yes most of the US centric advice will struggle as you don't have the heat available, but resources that cater to northern Europe should work, just watch out for cold hardiness as most of us in similar climates over here are not as cold as you over winter.

Assuming they will survive the winter, apples, plums, cherries, elder, hawthorn, and hazel will all produce well, pears and quince will if you can give them a sheltered sunny spot. I am trying some pawpaws here but everything I have read says not to expect fruit they need so many more heat hours than we get here.
 
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PIt fruits such as peaches and apricots are problematic in our iffy climates not because the tree can't handle it but because they tend to bloom before the last frost.  If your tree is in full bloom and the buds get killed by frost you have lost that years harvest.  I picked a late blooming, self fertile apricot for my yard (6,000 feet altitude in zone 5) hoping we do get harvests from it but with full awareness that I may only get apricots some years.  Hopefully by the time I have a full forest developed other fruit types will be more reliable.  

I chose not to go with apples due to the need to either have 2 apple trees for most varieties or an apple tree and a crab apple tree.  Finding room for one small tree was hard but 2 would have been nearly impossible.  That said south walls and espalier can go a long way to getting fruit according to many.  I don't have a south or east or west wall that I could try it on...
 
Meg Knox
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All excellent advice thank you all! And sorry for my delay in replying.

So for context, the lot is a small one that we will be living on in an RV, with the intention to maybe build something. (Starting with chicken coop, greenhouses, lil smokehouse, and an outdoor kitchen! Then maybe some sort of eco house.)
It is almost entirely birch trees atm. Very tall ones, too. Lots of blueberries nearby and on the property already.

So far, without having lived off it, I'm considering a couple hugelculture beds by the side entrance to the property, and a greenhouse or two at the front by the road. (South side)
I wouldn't be prepared to put much of anything in this year, just kind of planning ahead for next. (I like to plan ahead a few year if i can lol!) I want some idea of what to research and consider, and this has all given me great ideas!
Once we're out there, I'll have to check out what neighbours have managed, collect a few wild plants, and see what I can experiment with.

I'd actually be really interested in fucking with some strange apple types. I read an excerpt from Michael Pollan's book The Botany of Desire, and learned a bit about apple diversity. There are so many bizarre apple types we've never seen, and every seed is unique! And apparently there's a guy who will send you random seeds for free, so why not! I figure some might be inedible (as very very many are considered), but might serve well as apple cider vinegar for cosmetic use or something. That's kind of my attitude with the whole place honestly: Fuck around and find out. I'm just looking to try out anything, and see what I can make of it.

Very excited to get started on my lil experiment, and very much appreciate the advice.
 
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Meg Knox wrote:Hey everyone!

My husband and I are planning for a very small food forest; we have a tiny plot on the tiniest corner of New Brunswick that happens to be hardiness zone 5. The challenge, though, is that our growing season is short and mild. We will see frost well in to April, and temps will stay under 22⁰C (71⁰F) through the season. Pretty early in November, we get the first frost. I think it will actually be better than what we've been dealing with here (up to 40⁰C in the summer, as low as -40⁰C in the winter. Not easy!!), but I'm curious what kinds of food-producing trees we might be able to cultivate! For zone 5, things like pawpaws and peaches are suggested, but I strongly doubt either of those would actually thrive up there.
We're very close to the coast, and the established trees are quite thin... I feel like it's a very unique environment. Any suggestions?




I'm not sure if it's native in your local area but Aronia Melanocarpia is native to the Eastern United States and it will grow in a zone 5 climate. Aronia are small edible berries, usually black, about the size of a blueberry. That might be an option.

There are many varieties of plums that would do well in such a climate.

Nectarines can grow in a zone 4 climate - even colder than where you live.

I wouldn't even bother with Peaches. Two of my peaches that I grew from seeds died this year, and I'm only in zone 8 (Southern Oregon). They were doing so well, up to 4 feet of growth in a single year, faster growth than anything else, then some of them just died. Even one that was growing in the ground died, it wasn't the stress of growing in a pot. If some peaches can't even survive my local climate, I doubt that any cultivar would actually produce fruit in New Brunswick. If you really like the flavor of peaches, a peach hybrid might actually work though, such as peacharines for example, since presumably it would have some of the genetics of a nectarine.
 
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Did you see this post discussing a study about forest gardens of indiginous tribes in Canada? I did not see a comprhensive list of the specie found. Roberto posted links associated with the subject. At the bottom of the study is a email contact of the author. Perhaps you could correspond with this person for the specie list.
 
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Meg Knox wrote:
I'd actually be really interested in fucking with some strange apple types. I read an excerpt from Michael Pollan's book The Botany of Desire, and learned a bit about apple diversity. There are so many bizarre apple types we've never seen, and every seed is unique! And apparently there's a guy who will send you random seeds for free, so why not! I figure some might be inedible (as very very many are considered), but might serve well as apple cider vinegar for cosmetic use or something. That's kind of my attitude with the whole place honestly: Fuck around and find out. I'm just looking to try out anything, and see what I can make of it.



This guy has some fantastic videos if you're interested in apple breeding:

Skillcult Apple Breeding videos

 
Michael Helmersson
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:Did you see this post discussing a study about forest gardens of indiginous tribes in Canada? I did not see a comprhensive list of the specie found. Roberto posted links associated with the subject. At the bottom of the study is a email contact of the author. Perhaps you could correspond with this person for the specie list.



Thank you for this link. I've been looking for information like this.
 
Posts: 17
Location: Zone 4a/5b, New Brunswick, Canada
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It's hard from your description to tell where you are in NB, but here's my experience from our first year on our property near Fredericton.
"Last frost" date of mid-May, had our final frost in mid-June (killed our crab-apple blossoms, but somehow our tomatoes survived).
We had tomatoes growing into late September/October. Only lost them because I forgot to cover them one night and the frost got them.
This summer was hot and dry - more so than previous years. Our property is south-facing so we get the worst of it but the past 3 years have been unseasonably warm and dry in the province.
For today's context: We're doing our first big planting mid-May, two weeks earlier than last year. A lot of nature's signs have been pointing to an earlier season start, and a later season end. Our spring this year has been very strange, and I worry we won't have the same kind of season in the next 5-10 years.

As for hazelnuts: yes, yes yes! Beaked hazelnuts are native to the province and you may find some at forest edges around your property. More productive varieties should do just fine.
For fruit: plums are your friend (at least more artic varieties), and apples do well (although better with North-facing exposure). We have many volunteer apple trees in our forest thanks to the prolific deer and orchards around us.
Berries: there are about a dozen native berry bushes in NB, so you're good to go on that front for most berries you would want to have. I'm jealous of your wild blueberries!
Timber-trees: Think about planting some red oak in the future. The climate is changing and it is drastically affecting the makeup of the forest in the province. The Acadian Forest is a mix of boreal and northern hardwood. The boreal sections are being pushed further north and the composition of the forest will likely see a big shift in the next 10-20 years.

We're just getting started in our journey. Let's grow together in NB! :)
 
Marisa Lee
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Meg Knox wrote:All excellent advice thank you all! And sorry for my delay in replying.

So for context, the lot is a small one that we will be living on in an RV, with the intention to maybe build something. (Starting with chicken coop, greenhouses, lil smokehouse, and an outdoor kitchen! Then maybe some sort of eco house.)
It is almost entirely birch trees atm. Very tall ones, too. Lots of blueberries nearby and on the property already.

So far, without having lived off it, I'm considering a couple hugelculture beds by the side entrance to the property, and a greenhouse or two at the front by the road. (South side)
I wouldn't be prepared to put much of anything in this year, just kind of planning ahead for next. (I like to plan ahead a few year if i can lol!) I want some idea of what to research and consider, and this has all given me great ideas!
Once we're out there, I'll have to check out what neighbours have managed, collect a few wild plants, and see what I can experiment with.

I'd actually be really interested in fucking with some strange apple types. I read an excerpt from Michael Pollan's book The Botany of Desire, and learned a bit about apple diversity. There are so many bizarre apple types we've never seen, and every seed is unique! And apparently there's a guy who will send you random seeds for free, so why not! I figure some might be inedible (as very very many are considered), but might serve well as apple cider vinegar for cosmetic use or something. That's kind of my attitude with the whole place honestly: Fuck around and find out. I'm just looking to try out anything, and see what I can make of it.

Very excited to get started on my lil experiment, and very much appreciate the advice.



That all sounds delightful! My advice remains: get to know the land. Learn about the plants that are already growing there and how to use them, where the good light is, where it's soggy in the spring, and all that - as well as what you mentioned about learning from your neighbors and planning ahead. What an adventure.
 
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Dorothy Pohorelow wrote:
I chose not to go with apples due to the need to either have 2 apple trees for most varieties or an apple tree and a crab apple tree.  Finding room for one small tree was hard but 2 would have been nearly impossible.  



You could graft multiple varieties onto one tree.
Also there are a lot of self-fertile varieties.
 
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I am in Alberta zone 3. I would suggest getting as many native plants as you can. For example, we have choke cherry, Nanking cherry, raspberries and bog ground cranberries.  Apples do well and are long lived.
Also consider getting plants other than fruit trees in there. We have chives, garlic chives, walking onions, wild carrots, herbs, Malabar spinach, day Lilly, calendula.
And new this year for us, I planted annual vegetables which could self seed, peas, radish, mustard greens, sunflower, onions.
You pretty much wanna plant things that can spread like weeds, because that stuff will crowd out the other stuff that you can't eat.
 
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Meg Knox wrote:Hey everyone!

My husband and I are planning for a very small food forest; we have a tiny plot on the tiniest corner of New Brunswick that happens to be hardiness zone 5. The challenge, though, is that our growing season is short and mild. We will see frost well in to April, and temps will stay under 22⁰C (71⁰F) through the season. Pretty early in November, we get the first frost. I think it will actually be better than what we've been dealing with here (up to 40⁰C in the summer, as low as -40⁰C in the winter. Not easy!!), but I'm curious what kinds of food-producing trees we might be able to cultivate! For zone 5, things like pawpaws and peaches are suggested, but I strongly doubt either of those would actually thrive up there.
We're very close to the coast, and the established trees are quite thin... I feel like it's a very unique environment. Any suggestions?



I don't think pawpaws will work in that climate, but apples, plums, strawberries (including alpine strawberries), raspberries, blackberries, sour cherries (but not sweet cherries), and blueberries should all do well. Apricots should be considered. And try planting some Jerusalem artichokes underneath the trees.

I used to live in Minnesota, and the plum tree in my back yard was covered in plums about every third year, despite not getting any care or pruning. Here in Vermont, apple trees are practically weeds, and dump many pounds of apples unattended along roadsides and along unattended edges of forest. Raspberries grow wild all over New England. Some strawberries, like the Old North Sea variety that Baker Creek offers, are especially adapted to cold climate. I had Old North Sea strawberries in a cold frame keep its leaves green and healthy through an entire Vermont winter. Outside, without much protection, strawberries die down to the ground but come back strong the next year.

You may need to improve your soil if it's sandy, and arrange something to block the window and salt spray. But the climate shouldn't be a problem. Cold climates work very well for the right fruit.
 
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I don't mean to be picky, but Nanking Cherry (lovely as it is) is not native to North America as far as I know.
 
pollinator
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I'm also in Zone 5 (5b actually).  Paw paws and peaches would take it - though peaches don't do terribly well here.

Consider apples, pears, any kind of stonefruit, elderberry, seaberry, currants, raspberries, nuts (hazels, walnuts, oaks, etc)

There's a great variety of plants that will tolerate Zone 5!  Have fun learning!
 
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I live in 4b.  We got frost twice in June this year, and usually get frost again by Sept.  My food forest is doing great.  I have the following (but keep in mind I'll forget things)

I have one paw paw left that is alive, but struggling.  
Many, many varieties of apple
7 or 8 kinds of cherries, both tart and sweet
nanking cherry
peaches
pears
apricots
plums of many kind
blackberries
raspberries
service berries
black raspberries
autumn olive
siberian pea shrub
seaberry
jostaberry
elderberry
hazelnut
chestnut
strawberry
asparagus
all sorts of chives
jerusalem artichokes
onions
high bush cranberry
horse radish
lots of types of mint
comfrey.  load and loads of comfrey :)

Those are just the perennials that come to mind.  I'm sure I missed some.  I have annual gardens as well.


 
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Location: Prairie Canada zone 2/3
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Meg Knox wrote:

I'd actually be really interested in fucking with some strange apple types. I read an excerpt from Michael Pollan's book The Botany of Desire, and learned a bit about apple diversity. There are so many bizarre apple types we've never seen, and every seed is unique! And apparently there's a guy who will send you random seeds for free, so why not! I figure some might be inedible (as very very many are considered), but might serve well as apple cider vinegar for cosmetic use or something. That's kind of my attitude with the whole place honestly: Fuck around and find out. I'm just looking to try out anything, and see what I can make of it.

Very excited to get started on my lil experiment, and very much appreciate the advice.



There's a Canadian fruit tree supplier who sells seedlings of wild apples (malus sieversii).  I planted 5 in zone 2/3 Saskatchewan, and 2 survived to the tips; the other three had varying degrees of winter damage, but survived.  So that might be interesting to you, as they'd have a good shot at being fully hardy for you.  The place is called Hardy Fruit Tree Nursery.  If you plant an apple seed and don't like the fruit, you can also graft other apples to the branches, so it's not really a waste.  

You might do okay with the University of Saskatchewan dwarf sour cherries, too.  They are really nice for making pies, jelly, and wine, and they're quite tough.  I can give you a whole list of what I'm able to grow, and I'm sure your frost-free season is longer than mine, though I don't know what kind of heat you'd get in the summer for ripening fruit.  Zone 5, though - you should have decent options.  
 
Trace Oswald
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Jess Dee wrote:

You might do okay with the University of Saskatchewan dwarf sour cherries, too.  They are really nice for making pies, jelly, and wine, and they're quite tough.  I can give you a whole list of what I'm able to grow, and I'm sure your frost-free season is longer than mine, though I don't know what kind of heat you'd get in the summer for ripening fruit.  Zone 5, though - you should have decent options.  



I grow those cherries as well. I have Carmen jewel, romeo, and juliet varieties. They are bush cherries, and while they are considered sour cherries, they have high sugar content and are supposed to be very good for fresh eating. Mine aren't producing yet so I can't comment on that. Uni of S says they are zone 2 hardy.
 
Rob Kaiser
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Trace Oswald wrote:I live in 4b.  We got frost twice in June this year, and usually get frost again by Sept.  My food forest is doing great.  I have the following (but keep in mind I'll forget things)

I have one paw paw left that is alive, but struggling.  
Many, many varieties of apple
7 or 8 kinds of cherries, both tart and sweet
nanking cherry
peaches
pears
apricots
plums of many kind
blackberries
raspberries
service berries
black raspberries
autumn olive
siberian pea shrub
seaberry
jostaberry
elderberry
hazelnut
chestnut
strawberry
asparagus
all sorts of chives
jerusalem artichokes
onions
high bush cranberry
horse radish
lots of types of mint
comfrey.  load and loads of comfrey :)

Those are just the perennials that come to mind.  I'm sure I missed some.  I have annual gardens as well.




There's a few more that we're doing as well, strawberries, asparagus, onions, jostaberry, autumn olive, comfrey, and so much more

So many options for us!
 
Jess Dee
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Trace Oswald wrote: I grow those cherries as well. I have Carmen jewel, romeo, and juliet varieties. They are bush cherries, and while they are considered sour cherries, they have high sugar content and are supposed to be very good for fresh eating. Mine aren't producing yet so I can't comment on that. Uni of S says they are zone 2 hardy.



I have all three of those, plus Crimson Passion, and some are bearing for me.  They are not sweet - there is a lot of marketing going on there.  They may have high brix (sugar content) scores, but they also have a lot of acid, and are definitely tart/sour to taste.  I will eat a few out of hand, but then again I will eat a few chokecherries out of hand, too, when I'm picking them.  They're not like a Bing, where you can gorge on them.  The high brix makes them great for wine, though, and they have that strong cherry flavor that makes amazing pies.  Canned with sugar, I'm happy to eat bowlfuls, too.  If I could grow sweet cherries, I would still grow some of these for canning, jelly, and wine.   I have 3 that are bearing, and have since planted 5 or 6 more, which tells you what I think of them, overall, I guess.  

They are definitely cold hardy, though they sulk in droughts.  Their root system must be relatively shallow.  
 
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Jess Dee wrote:

Trace Oswald wrote: I grow those cherries as well. I have Carmen jewel, romeo, and juliet varieties. They are bush cherries, and while they are considered sour cherries, they have high sugar content and are supposed to be very good for fresh eating. Mine aren't producing yet so I can't comment on that. Uni of S says they are zone 2 hardy.



I have all three of those, plus Crimson Passion, and some are bearing for me.  They are not sweet - there is a lot of marketing going on there.  They may have high brix (sugar content) scores, but they also have a lot of acid, and are definitely tart/sour to taste.  I will eat a few out of hand, but then again I will eat a few chokecherries out of hand, too, when I'm picking them.  They're not like a Bing, where you can gorge on them.  The high brix makes them great for wine, though, and they have that strong cherry flavor that makes amazing pies.  Canned with sugar, I'm happy to eat bowlfuls, too.  If I could grow sweet cherries, I would still grow some of these for canning, jelly, and wine.   I have 3 that are bearing, and have since planted 5 or 6 more, which tells you what I think of them, overall, I guess.  

They are definitely cold hardy, though they sulk in droughts.  Their root system must be relatively shallow.  



Good information, thank you.  I have several other kinds that are good for fresh eating, and tart cherries have some medicinal qualities, so I'm happy either way.
 
                              
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I haven't seen mention of haskap/honeyberry yet. They're bushes, in some cases very tall (8'), can be pruned kind of mushroom-tree-like, need two different varieties to pollinate, and the modern varieties taste pretty great. They're also more-or-less bomb-proof in my climate (shorter season and slightly cooler summers than yours) and are hands-down the earliest fruit from a woody perennial here. The flowers are also very tolerant of frost, and will survive and fruit down to -7C.

The only conventional trees I can overwinter here are apples and plums but there are a lot of fun old varieties of apples and interesting plums from both american and european lineage.

Seconding skillcult's apple videos if you want to play with those.

Also, if you are limited in the varieties you can grow due to space or climate, I've found it useful to grow or wildcraft flavour-changers: spruce buds, rose petals, and sweet ciciley added to a summer's worth of applesauce really helps keep it from getting monotonous, not that I consider spruce to be space-efficient.

I have a couple of stone pines growing. They're very very slow but seem to be bomb-proof, maybe not worth it on a small lot but very good for set-and-forget in a problematic corner.
 
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Greenie DeShong wrote:I haven't seen mention of haskap/honeyberry yet. They're bushes, in some cases very tall (8'), can be pruned kind of mushroom-tree-like, need two different varieties to pollinate, and the modern varieties taste pretty great. They're also more-or-less bomb-proof in my climate (shorter season and slightly cooler summers than yours) and are hands-down the earliest fruit from a woody perennial here. The flowers are also very tolerant of frost, and will survive and fruit down to -7C.

The only conventional trees I can overwinter here are apples and plums but there are a lot of fun old varieties of apples and interesting plums from both american and european lineage.

Seconding skillcult's apple videos if you want to play with those.

Also, if you are limited in the varieties you can grow due to space or climate, I've found it useful to grow or wildcraft flavour-changers: spruce buds, rose petals, and sweet ciciley added to a summer's worth of applesauce really helps keep it from getting monotonous, not that I consider spruce to be space-efficient.

I have a couple of stone pines growing. They're very very slow but seem to be bomb-proof, maybe not worth it on a small lot but very good for set-and-forget in a problematic corner.



Good call.  Honeyberry is another I grow that I forgot about.  I really like the taste, but rarely get any of them because the birds eat them all immediately.
 
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