Quick is a relative term, especially when it comes to fruit, but what we’ll generally boil down to is in this article is some form of production in three years or less. While three years is certainly longer than it takes to grow some green beans and tomatoes, in the scheme of creating a perennial food forest that will provide for years to come, it’s nothing. What’s more, with this bunch, there is the possibility of great sprawling trees for shade, well-maintained hedges for fences, clambering ground covers, and heavy-yielding grasses towering in the soggy spots.
Obviously, what can be grown depends largely on the climate one is dealing with, but the following list will stretch through temperate, cold and warm, as well as the tropics. It will provide a variety of fruits, large and small. We’ll talk a lot of berries and take the occasional sojourn indoors for possibilities with fruits unaccustomed to colder environs. The point of all of this is that, within a mere trio of years, the world around you could be bearing a multitude of delicious, nutritious fruit. Who wouldn’t want that?
Mulberry trees, of which there are many varieties, are a popular permaculture choice because the yield tends to be incredibly large, and the trees are well suited from USDA Zone 5 to 9. Some varieties will start providing fruit within the first couple of years. The white mulberry can be over 20 meters high, a canopy tree, and the lifespans of some varieties can move toward 300 years.
Peaches are also viable from USDA Zones 5 to 9, and they are relatively short-lived trees with productive lifespans being around a dozen years. Peach trees can grow up to eight meters but should be pruned to around five if possible. For smaller spaces, dwarf varieties—reaching about two meters—are widely available also. They can bear harvestable fruit as early as two years after planting.
Again, nectarine trees work in USDA Zones 5 to 9 and begin providing a harvest after two years. Essentially, nectarines are peaches, cared for the same way, with a gene that makes them smooth rather than fuzzy. They are self-fruiting, and dwarf varieties can work in containers.
Lemon trees would be a great asset to have in any garden, as this fruit provides such a boost to our recipes. Unfortunately, they prefer a warmer climate, something in USDA Zone 9 or hotter, unable to deal with frosts, which puts them out of range for many of us. Luckily, there are many dwarf varieties, particularly the “Meyer” lemon, that grow fine in containers and can be moved in and out as the season dictates. They go dormant at 12.5 degrees and can start to produce—in the right conditions—in three years.
See lemons. The same basic rules apply. “Bearss” limes are one of the more familiar varieties and grows to be about six meters of tree, tall and wide. “Kaffir” limes are an Asian variety well respected for its aromatic leaves, which are also used in cooking, and it can be pruned to stay around three meters.
Mandarins (we’ll stop with the citrus here, though they could all be on this list) are such a delicious fruit, easy to deal with and available in dwarf varieties for those in climates that’ll need moveable trees. Grown from seed—easily possible—this tree can take up to seven years to produce, but grafted trees can provide some harvest within the first two to three years. In general, citrus trees need at least five or six hours of sun a day, like slightly acidic soil, and don’t require pruning to produce.
The Chicago Hardy fig can actually endure chills found in USDA Zone 5, but the majority of other fig trees prefer something between Zones 7 and 11. They are known as easy fruits to grow and will also work in containers for colder climates. They can grow into 8 meter trees or be pruned to operate more like fruit-producing bushes. Despite being an easy tree to grow, they do require four or five years to really start bearing fruit.
Papaya trees (actually a perennial herb) are fast-growing producers with short lifespans; however, they start providing fruits within the first year, so they are well worth the trouble. They’ll grow readily from seeds of fruit bought at the local market, and they are hungry, thirsty trees. Unfortunately, these are limited in the zones (10 or warmer), with no tolerance for frost, but there are dwarf varieties out there for container gardens and greenhouses. Do watch out for GMO papayas before using one for seeds.
Grape vines are easy to grow, and there are many cold-hardy varieties, working in such frigid spots as Minnesota and Canada, for those in colder areas. They are great plants for giving shade in the summer and letting sun in throughout the winter. They can provide viable fruit harvests in about three years, but they require annual pruning to produce well—on new growth—each year.
Raspberries are a rangy choice, possible from Zones 3 to 10, and they readily multiply once they take to a location. They will start bearing fruit in their second season. Not only are they delicious, but they are very healthy. Like grapes, these will need to be pruned back each year to get good production from them. They—like many berries—can be trellised to make great productive garden borders which work as fences, wildlife habitat, and a perennial food source.
Blueberries are the go-to acidic soil solution, working just fine in the mulches of pine trees and conditions of pond edges. There are varieties that grow well in Maine (USDA Zone 4), and others that can survive the heat USDA Zone 10. Blueberries have very few issues with pests and disease, and they freeze well for storage. They’ll start to give a harvest at two or three years old.
Blackberries are much the same as raspberries, with possibilities for patches in Zones 4 through 10, and their maintenance is much the same, trimming back to 6-12 canes per plant and getting fruit off second year canes, which then die out. They produce in abundance and will replicate themselves with abandon if not tended to, a task that luckily isn’t so intensive if one stays on top of it.
Strawberries are yet another great fruit that yields quickly, but rather than hedges and borders like the three berries listed above, strawberries stay low to the ground and act as a cover. They grow well on hugelkultur beds and will happily spread out when left to their own devices. Again, these guys work throughout the US, Zone 3 to Zone 10, with a plethora of varieties to choose from. They will produce in the first year, but sage-like advice says to pull the buds off in year one and go for a better harvest in the second.
Once the subject of fast fruit gets on to berries, there are a lot of avenues to take. Gooseberries are another good option. They grow to about a meter or meter-plus high and wide, and stems from one to four years old can be relied on for fruit. Some varieties are said to hardy into Zone 2, and these are plants that prefer a little shade rather than full sun. For those who’ve not had them, gooseberries are something between a grape and their close relative: the currant.
While the last five berries have not been on trees, like the mulberry, serviceberries are trees, and they have beautiful white flowers to add to their value checklist for inclusion in a food forest. They survive from Zone 2 to 9 and aren’t too particular about soil, though heavy clays can cause some drainage problems. They are a good understory tree with a tolerance for partial shade. They are members of the rose family and related to peaches, plums, cherries and crabapples.
Honeyberries — a Russian native, also known as Haskap—are included on this list because of their cold tolerance, which is insane to the tune of -48 C. They are early spring fruits from the same family as honey suckle, though with a two and a half centimeter berry that is compared to everything from a blueberry to a kiwi. They are easily rooted from dormant cuttings and produce fruit in the first two or three years. These plants are best suited to Zone 2 through 4 but can be lovingly cultivated all the way to Zone 9.
Currants come in a wide array of colors: red, pink, white, and black. The red, pink, and white are actually the same variety, with varying degrees of albino in them. The black are slight different but beloved through Europe for their unique flavor. They operate much the same has gooseberries and are usually included in the same care profile, though their fruits are much smaller and tend to come in bunches of up to 30 small berries. Jostaberries, yet another choice, are a hybrid of black currants and gooseberries.
18. Goji Berry
Also known as wolf berries, goji berries have become a very popular superfood of late, due to their high levels of antioxidants and amino acids. They work in containers. They work in Zones 3 through 10, are drought tolerant, and tolerant to shade. They might give a little fruit in the first year, but they will provide in the second.
Moving on from trees, shrubs, and canes, we re-enter the world of giant herbs (as we saw with the papaya), the popular fruit here being bananas. Bananas are crazy thirsty and hungry and work really well alongside mulch pits or in banana circles. They aren’t too keen when it comes to extremes in temperature, especially the cold, which makes them impossible for many of us. In the right conditions (tropical), bananas can produce within a year. In colder places (Zone 6), careful, more energy-intensive cultivation is possible.
Plantains are the starchy sibling of bananas, with much less sweet (until they turn black). When green, they can be fried crispy like a chip. As they move into yellow, they can be caramelized in a pan or griddle for a nice side dish with breakfasts. The blacker the skin, the sweeter the fruit becomes, but unlike bananas, they can last well into the skin going totally black. These take a little longer than bananas to yield (about two years), but they enjoy the same growing conditions.
Header Image: Serviceberries (Courtesy of RichardBH)