When I was a kid I would spend many weekends at my grandparent’s house, out behind their barn along the fence was a whole row (probably about 20) mulberry trees. Grandma would send me back there to pick a bucket full for a pie. I remember it would take me a long time to fill the bucket because I would eat two of every three I would pick. Grandma would just laugh when she saw me coming into the house and say “you’re gonna have a bellyache,” I guess the stains on my face gave it away.
All my life mulberries have been one of my favorites, imagine my surprise when I found out most people despise this wonderful tree, they consider it invasive and messy. I will admit I understand why, after all, my vehicles have been a victim of the birds after they have had a healthy meal of mulberries too. I even had a hard time getting rid of a couple that was growing in an inconvenient place beside my garage, I would cut them off level at the ground and they just kept coming back, but this is also one of the things that make it such a great tree.
The mulberry can be an extremely valuable tree to grow on a permaculture homestead, so I thought I would share a few of the wonderful qualities of this underappreciated tree and perhaps persuade a few self-sufficient folks to make it part of their homestead.
Growing the Mulberry Tree
I have never planted any other tree with such an ability to thrive. The most common mulberry trees are the Black Mulberry, Red Mulberry, and the White Mulberry, you can plant these trees from cuttings or seeds and then just wait and be amazed at how well it grows. Last year I dug one up that was about three feet tall growing at the back of my property and moved it to a better spot, this was at the beginning of summer which most people know is not the best time to plant a tree. Within a couple of weeks, all the leaves fell off of it and I began to think it wasn’t going to make it, a few weeks later it was full of leaves again and seemed to have grown a few inches. Amazing!
It is a very hardy tree but realistically it isn’t invincible so you should follow tree planting best practices if you’re planting a sapling tree. This will give your tree the best chance to survive and thrive.
Mulberry Tree Growing Information Chart
|USDA Hardiness Zones||5-10 most of the United States|
|Watering Needs||Drought Tolerant|
|Light Needs||Best In Full Sun|
|Pest Pressure||Caterpillars and Scale Insects|
Mulberry leaves, mainly White Mulberry leaves are of utmost importance because they are the only food of the silkworm from which we get silk. Many mulberry leaf varieties are even edible by livestock and even humans. They are mostly edible when they just begin to open up and are the most tender. Do your own research though, on your particular variety, not all are easily digestible and in fact, some contain a milky white sap called latex, which is mildly toxic to humans, especially when mature.
In proper permaculture fashion, I planted a mulberry tree just outside the entrance of my rabbitry for the purpose of easy access to the leaves for rabbit food. The rabbits prefer eating these leaves over most anything else I give them. Mulberry leaves are high in fiber and fairly high in protein (numbers I’ve read varying from 14%-26%) and in moderation are a great addition to a rabbit’s diet.
The flexible branches can be pruned in the fall after the leaves have fallen off and used for making baskets and crafts. Also, these branches are a favorite snack of rabbits, so if your homestead livestock is made up in part by the cute and fluffy then they will love these tasty snacks. Make sure you feed them in moderation though, anything new or in too much volume to the rabbits can cause bowel issues.
Now we come to my favorite part of the mulberry tree, the fruit. Basically any dessert you would use most any other fruit in can be substituted with mulberries, and in my opinion, will only make it better. Mulberries have quite a bit of nutritional value as well, although they are rich in many vitamins they are most notable for having an abundance of vitamin C, about 61% of the recommended daily value in 1 cup, in fact.
A fully mature tree can offer up to 100 gallons of fruit beginning in early summer, if you can beat the birds to it that is. This makes the mulberry tree a significant food source for your permaculture homestead, not only for your livestock and the natural wildlife but for you as well.
Mulberry As A Wood Source
Mulberry trees make a great wood for many purposes. Anyone who has ever had a wood stove knows it is a good heat fuel but the wood is also a coveted source for woodworkers and for smoking certain meats. When mulberry wood is used for smoking meats it puts off a sweet smell similar to apple and is often used for poultry, fish, and pork.
I actually hand-carved a pipe from mulberry sourced from my backyard a couple of years ago. It was an easy wood to work with and made a beautiful pipe when it was finished.
What About the Problems?
As stated earlier the Mulberry does pose a problem for clean cars as the birds try to decorate it with a variety of colors and this can be aggravating and make you wonder if having mulberry trees on your property is worth it.
One solution for this might be to plant the trees at the furthest point away that you can on your property, seems obvious enough I know but when your planting trees sometimes the bird poop from the fruit is not the first thing on your mind, your usually more concerned about the way the tree will look on your property and having the food source in a near enough zone to make it convenient to get to. However, keeping some distance will perhaps minimize the colorful paintball war about to take place on your vehicle if the tree is within the battle zone of your driveway.
Another potential problem of the mulberry tree is its invasive nature, so much so that some states have actually created laws against planting certain species of mulberry. The White Mulberry is considered the most invasive as it outcompeting and replacing native Red Mulberry in many places. All mulberry tree species spread relatively easily through the seeds in bird droppings and if wherever there is a mature tree there are sure to be many saplings growing in a flight radius of that tree.
I really hope reading this has opened your eyes to the amazing possibilities of having Mulberry Trees on your homestead, and hopefully inspired you to hurry up and plant some in an act of repentance and reconciliation toward your underappreciation of this awesome tree. There are certainly things to consider before deciding if this is the right tree for you but as for me I can honestly say the mulberry tree is one of my favorite things planted on my homestead.
Listen to me discuss this underappreciated tree on the Modern Homesteading Podcast