At my permaculture design course last weekend the guest speaker was Douglas Bullock, of the well-known Bullock Brothers Permaculture Homestead on Orcas Island. Douglas was lecturing on the overall topic of soil, and specifically spoke about nitrogen-fixing plants, sheet mulching, microclimates, and last but not least, orchard design and his personal fruit tree recommendations for Seattle.
He gave me permission to pass along his recommendations for fruit to plant in the Maritime Northwest, which included best of breeds for apples, plums, peaches, pears, mulberries, kiwis, hawthornes, and figs. His recommendations were heavily focused on Seattle, however all of the varieties mentioned below would be pretty good for Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, and the rest of Western Washington, Western Oregon, and similar parts of British Columbia.
- Good Early Apple Varieties: Vista Bella, Oriole, Discovery, Gravenstein
- Good Mid-Season Apple Varieties: Hudson’s Golden Gem, Zestar, Jonagold, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Splender, Sweet 16, Molly’s Delicious, Spartan. He also included Karmijn de Sonaville, with the provision that it needs a good hot summer in order to taste good – otherwise it’s not so great.
- Good Late Season Apple Varieties (Savers): Melrose, Mutsu, Ashmead’s Kernel, Gala
- Good European Plum Varieties: Rhina Victoria, Bleu de Belgique, Italian Prune, Seneca (big, juicy and sweet), Elma’s Special, Red Washington, Damson (good for jams)
- Good Japanese Plum Varieties: Beauty (very heavy producer that will break branches, but it doesn’t keep well), Shiro (also heavy producer, but no broken branches, and makes a great plum wine), and Methley
- Good Peach Varieties: Frost, Avalon Pride, and Q18
- Good Pear Varieties: Comice, Baus, Bartlett, Red Bartlett, Orcas, Ubilene (?), Harrow Delight, and a new one that will be for sale soon called Suij (pronounced like “sigh”, it’s a half cornice / half winter pear and it tends to ripen in March or April, so it’s great for fresh winter fruit)
- Good Mulberry Varieties: Illinois Everbearing, Lavender (good for drying), Persian (needs a very sunny spot, and interestingly has more chromosome than any other living thing)
- Good Hawthorne Varieties: Super Spur Mayhaw
- Good Fig Varieties: Hands down, without a doubt, Douglas recommended Desert King Figs, because it has a high-quality first crop, which is rare among most of the breeds that are designed to have a great 2nd crop. The 2nd crop is OK down in California, but up here in the Northwest we never get 2nd crops, so we have to make the best of the first crop.
- Douglas’s recommendation was to call Burntridge Nursery and see what they recommended. He did say chestnuts were good if you had a squirrel problem – I can’t remember the reason he gave us, but squirrels avoid them for some reason.
Paw Paw Varieties:
He said there are few Paw Paw varieties that will ripen well in Seattle. If your goal is for good production and you don’t care about messing around with more experimental varieties, he’d recommend skipping on the Paw Paws.
Vine Choices: Hardy Kiwi, Fuzzy Kiwi, or Grape
He also gave a super easy guide to deciding between kiwi and grape vines based upon soil and sun:
- Poor Soil, Good Sun: Plant a grape vine
- Good Soil, Poor Sun: Plant a hardy kiwi
- Good Soil, Good Sun: Plant a fuzzy kiwi
General Advice on Food Forests:
Most of the primary issues with fruit in Seattle are made worse by excessive moisture and crowding. Douglas advises to take this into heavy consideration when planning a food forest type orchard. He recommends looking into atypical plant and tree choices to avoid issues like apple maggot, and to give your trees good space. Also, keep a blank space in your mulch around the base of the tree, or you’ll run the risk of small rodent’s chewing the base off and killing your tree.
Stayed tuned for more from Douglas’s lecture, including a quick guide to finding nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs.