Permaculture enthusiasts use many of the trees and shrubs that Jim Gilbert has helped to popularize in their food forests. Several layers of a food forest are suitable for fruit, nuts and berries, but the plants need to be hardy, easy to grow, disease resistant and produce nutrient-rich, flavorful fruit. And diversity, not monoculture, is the goal. The following are good candidates.

1. Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) is native to the Ukraine and other areas around the Black Sea. You can grow it as a large shrub or small tree. It can reach 8 to 10 feet, produces sweet, flavorful red fruit that tastes like a cherry or wild plum and is very high in vitamin C. For best production, you need two varieties. Each plant can produce 30 to 40 pounds of fruit.

2. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a native American fruit that has a tropical banana-like flavor. It’s a slow-growing, small tree that reaches 12 to 15 feet. Hardy to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s naturally disease- and pest-resistant.

3. Dwarf Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum x V. angustifolium) are hardy to -25 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the variety, and reach 2 to 4 feet. Unlike their big sisters, they have a sweet-tart flavor, close to that of their wild relatives.

4. Sea Buckthorn Berries (Hippophae rhamnoides) are high in vitamins C, A and E. Although tart, the juice is delicious when sweetened and diluted with water, making it a good substitute for orange juice. The oil in the fruit is used to treat burns and skin diseases. A shrub that reaches 6 to 12 feet, it is hardy to -30 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, disease-resistant and will grow in poor soils, improving them as it grows. It does have thorns and a male plant is needed to pollinate a female.

5. Hardy Kiwis (Actinida arguta) are smaller (and some say sweeter) than the fuzzy ones and are about the size of grapes, edible skin and all. They are hardy to -25 degrees Fahrenheit and not bothered by pests and diseases. From one plant you can harvest 100 or more pounds of fruit. They do need a trellis or arbor for support and one male plant for every eight females.

This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Fall 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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