Ever heard of goumi berries? No? Welcome to my world several years ago. I first heard of them on a prepper podcast where the podcaster was listing different fruits to try growing. Being into permaculture, his emphasis on the bush that produces them was that it fixes nitrogen into the soil, as do legume plants.
Three years after planting my own four sticks labeled “goumi” into the orchard, I’ve come to appreciate them for much more than the benefits they bring to the soil.
Advantages of growing goumis
They do great in our humid subtropical climate…without getting sprayed with a fungicide. They seem to be completely immune to every kind of fungus out there – unlike the strawberries, peaches, Asian pears, mulberries, apples, grapes we’ve planted.
Their size is manageable for even small backyards. They stay relatively short, six to eight feet tall – no ladders required during harvest – and you space them four to seven feet apart, depending on whether you want a hedge or not. If you plant them four or five feet apart, however, you will probably need to so some pruning once or twice a year.
This goes hand-in-hand with the first advantage: they are low-maintenance. Unless you have to make them conform to a small space, they don’t need pruning and they can be grown in a wide range of soils.
In my experience, they are somewhat drought tolerant, as I only give each bush about a gallon of water once or twice a week during the dry part of summer and though the leaves do end up looking stressed, the next spring they grow back bigger and more prolific than ever.
BUT…you have to understand two things. First, the bushes have more than six inches of wood chips around them (touching the trunk, the Back To Eden way). Second, because of where we live we begin harvesting in mid-May. Unless the area is suffering through a drought, we get probably half of our annual rainfall March through May, so the bushes get plenty of natural irrigation up until the time of harvest. This will not be true in many northern areas, where goumis are typically not ready to harvest until August.
Which brings us to the next advantage:
Wherever you live, the goumis are ready to harvest before or between the harvest time of other fruits. This means two things: first, you’re not slaving away having to harvest several types of fruit at once, and second, you’ve got some kind of fresh fruit coming into your house at a time when you normally wouldn’t.
Goumis are a great source of nutrition. From the website page http://foodforest.co.nz/goumi/:
Goumis are high in vitamin A and E, bioactive compounds, minerals, flavinoids and proteins. Their lycopene content is the highest of any food and is being used in the prevention of heart disease, cancers and in the treatment of cancer. Cooking the fruit increases the lycopene content. The fruits and seeds are an excellent source of essential fatty acids as well which is very unsual for a fruit. The seeds are also edible although somewhat fiberous, and are especially high in proteins and fats.
Goumis are self-pollinating. So if you only have room for one bush, you can grow just one bush. HOWEVER, they will produce more if you have one variety that helps to pollinate the variety you have.
Both the flowers and the berries are attractive, and will cover the whole bush (especially if you have more than one variety for cross pollination). The blooms are rather odd-shaped, but put off a wonderful aroma that will attract bees from miles around. And after the berries form, as they turn from green to orange to red they add a brilliant, beautiful splash of color to the landscape.
Of course, goumis aren’t the be-all-end-all perfect fruit.
Disadvantages of growing goumis
**1. Goumis freeze to death in temperatures below minus ten Fahrenheit. So if you live in a USDA growing zone less than zone 6, you’ll have to pass on goumis.
**2. The berries taste sour. Perhaps close to the tartness of a sour cherry, although not as unpalatable as a crab apple. For that reason, while you can eat them raw (unlike elderberries, which are toxic if eaten raw), they are generally used to make jellies, pies and sauces. I primarily use them in smoothies, throwing in a handful or so to add nutrition. But I have to make sure the other fruits in the smoothie are plenty sweet.
**3. The branches have an occasional thorn. Not enough to make harvesting difficult or a literal pain, but enough that if you have small children running around you may want to wait until they’re older before you plant any.
**4. The berries overripen quickly. On the one hand, overripe berries are actually sweet. On the other hand, they may get smushed between your fingers when you try to pick them. Regardless, the short harvesting window means you can lose a lot of berries quickly if you don’t stay on top of picking them.
**5. About a third of the volume of the berry is a soft pit. If you’re eating it fresh, you can swallow it, chew it (it has a gum-like feel in the mouth), or spit it out. If you’re cooking it for jelly or whatnot, you have to strain the pits out. The pits are inconvenient, whichever way you look at it.
Now, if I haven’t totally turned you off on these easy-to-grow bushes…
Where to buy goumis
If you live in growing zones 6-9, there are several places online that sell goumis bushes. We use Raintree Nursery to buy all our fruit trees, bushes, and vines.
How to plant, grow, and harvest goumis
Plant your young goumis the way you’d plant any young fruit tree: in well-drained, amended soil. The depth of the hole should be from the bottom of the roots to the where the “trunk” begins, and the width should be twice that of the root ball.
After planting, if the soil is dry give it about a gallon of water or so.
So far, the wood chips we use for mulch seem to be providing our goumis plenty of nutrition. If you choose not to use the Back To Eden method, the bushes would probably appreciate an application of cottonseed meal in the spring before the flowers open.
Water in the usual way. Generally, that means in the absence of an inch of rain, giving them a deep watering once a week. In order to get established, young plants will need a lot more water their first year (especially if not mulched with a lot of wood chips) than during succeeding years.
As I mentioned earlier, if you use the Back To Eden method, the bushes will not require as much irrigation.
Goumi bushes will produce nothing the first year, but for us they began producing their second year. Sometimes you have to wait until year three. They are ready when they are red-orange to red and give a little when you give them a gentle squeeze. Either the stem comes off the branch with ease, or the berry will slide off the stem with ease. In other words, if you need to pull to take it off, it’s probably not quite ripe.
What to do with goumis
- Eat them out of hand.
- Blend small amounts in smoothies. I have a Vitamix so I just throw the whole berry in, pit and all. Despite the power of this blender, however, you still end up with quite a few pit filaments that you need to either swallow or pick out of your mouth.
- Include them in a homemade juice recipe.
- Make jelly (recipe here – and no, I am not the Emily at the end of the page. 😉 ).
- Make a sauce.
There you have it: my take on the glory of goumis! 🙂