Our homestead is considered Coastal (Gulf of Mexico), on the northern edge of zone 8b. Teased with “so close” mild winters, I can’t help but dream of the tropical plants that are available to only those lucky enough to never see a frost. It doesn’t seem fair that it stays too warm to get a good hunting season in , yet the odd freeze here and there puts so many of the wondrous tropical fruit trees and bushes on the wish list forever. I could complain a bit more, but my friends way up north might want to send me hate mail since there growing season barely lasts long enough to remember. 🙂
After losing all of my citrus the first winter, I started looking into making macro climates that would allow for just a taste of the forbidden. I knew it was possible, but I was unable to find a good reference to my particular zone. I came across Sepp Holtzer’s work, and finally got my hands on his Permaculture book. Although I am still wrapping my head around incorporating some of his concepts in my situation, it has given me hope and inspiration. The ability to reduce the risk of freeze damage or increase the chill hours of a plant by creating a micro climate intrigued me. The simple stuff like using a south wall to grow less cold hardy fruit are pretty well know, but using sun absorbing stones and companion plants to increase radiated heat were new to me. So once again I allowed myself to dream again of adding a few of the specimens that are kinda in the grey area of my zone. I have added these to the list below along with some that are pretty well established in my zone.
Goji Berry: The Goji berry (Lycium barbarum) AKA Wolf Berry, is a very interesting shrub/tree that grows to about 10 feet tall. It fruits and produces berries after just a couple of years and has a nice crop in 4-5 years. The 1″ slight sweet and tangy fruit have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for centuries, and among other things are high in antioxidants, Vitamin C and Lycopene. If you have been in a health food store recently or watched late night TV, you have likely seen some juice or supplement with the name Goji printed across the front as it is considered, rightfully so, a “super food”. Of course that does not mean you are necessarily getting much of the true fruit, but I won’t get off on a tangent. These can be pruned as a patio plant or allowed to grow as part of the landscape in full or partial sun. Since they can be eaten raw….you can go out every day from June till fall and pick yourself some healthy fruit guaranteed to be 100% Goji Berry.
Carob Tree: (Ceratonia siliqua) AKA “St John’s Bread” or Locust tree. This evergreen in the pea family got it’s common name form some people’s belief the the fruit pods from this tree, called locust pods, are the “locusts” that John the Baptist ate in the wilderness. The pods contain peas called carots. In Roman times a gold coin was said to weigh 24 carots if it were pure gold coin. It is from this comparison that supposedly we get the modern 24 karat gold term.
Avacado: Specifically the Haas variety. These are suppose to be zone 9-11 if planted in the ground. I am going to try a few planted close to a south wall and if I need to I can shield them a bit with plastic easier that way. I could just keep them in pots, which I am debating mainly because we have a plan to extend the house and porch in that area to make a larger freezer room. I am also considering a tropical zone where I want to set up an aquaculture setup. The lights should help a bit with temps in the winter and I am considering adding a skylight over the lean-to for the summer. The tree is partially self-fertile but will do much better with another variety to cross pollinate.
Kiwi: The only ones I think I might be able to grow in my zone as Vincents. They require a male and a female to pollinate and may not get enough chill hours here. They need a very strong brace pole to climb as they can pull up anything that is not firmly set and strong enough to handle the weight of the mature vines. These guys are hardy down to around 10-15 degrees and likes at least one drop below freezing to set good fruit. I have heard they are slow growers from some people and fast from others. Maybe one day i can find out.
Banana trees: I am going to try these not only for the fruit, which requires 2 years of no frost to develop, but also for the edible foliage. The large green leaves help shade and protect plants growing under the canopy, and also work well to shade areas that need summer shade, but would benefit from some winter sun as the leaves brown and drop when the temp drops. Rabbits love the nutritious moist leaves and they are also good for making many wrapped dishes including tamales! I want to grow Dwarf Cavendish, Orinoco, and Raja Puri varieties.
Citrus: I want to try kumquats and Meyer lemons again. Maybe along the south side of the house or along the shed like the avocado’s where I can run a light on the coldest days. I’ll wait till they go on sale to get the best deal.
Wild Cultivars– I am on the constant lookout for wild cultivars of plumb, scuppernongs, persimmon, berries and anything else that will produce edible or medicinal crops. I am sure I pass by several a day without even recognizing them, but I hope to slowly add these to my property. Currently I have a wild American plum that I planted from a sucker off a large stand of plums a guy had. Last season it didn’t do to well and did not grow in height but about 6 inches but put out about 6 new suckers of the same height. I made sure to plant this away from anything that could get crowded out.
Elderberry: (Sambucus) Perhaps on of the most interesting trees on the planet. There is more lore, legend and scientific study surrounding this mysterious shrub then a person could study in a lifetime. I am very interested in the medicinal properties of this plant, specifically black elderberry. Hippocrates called elderberry his “medicine chest” and condoned it’s use for many ailments. The plant and berries are said to be toxic before cooking so if you plan on making a tincture, you might want to do some research
The folk-lore surrounding the elder tree has it’s own life with many people and cultures believing it unlucky or even sacrilegious to cut and use elderberry wood. It was fairly common practice up until a few centuries ago to collect elderwood branches to place on doorways and near entryways to ward of witches. With that said, the easily hollowed limbs are used even today to make musical pipes and instruments.
Drum Stick Tree (Moringa Oleifera): This nitrogen fixing shrub can be used as summer forage for livestock. Almost all parts are edible. The seeds can be used to purify water or pressed for oil. They can be grown for chop and drop green nitrogen fixing understory trees. The seed pods can be cooked and eaten. The plant will no likely survive winters beyond zone 9 but seeds can be save for next years propagation or they can be propagated from cuttings. Margory Wildcraft talks about these in her Backyard food production series and they are used extensively in permaculture for biomass. I am curious to see if they will tolerate the clay soils I have. If not , then I will have to find them a sandy/silty place at the bottom of the property.