Duck Boot Garden

Sustainable and Wild Foods advice

July 30, 2016
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Hardy Kiwi Fruit

IMG_0655

 A properly trellised Hardy Kiwi showing the original stake


Immature Hardy Kiwi fruit on the vine

Immature Hardy Kiwi fruit on the vine


IMG_0678

An improperly trellised Hardy Kiwi vine on a tree trunk


Hardy Kiwi Fruit

Actinidia arguta

The hardy kiwi may be an aggressive grower, but is slow to mature and produce fruit. However, once it begins fruiting, it is extremely productive. Hardy kiwi, Actinidia arguta, is one of 90 different species of kiwi and is a close relative to camellias. It has been known by a number of different names over the years such as kiwiberry, baby kiwi, and Siberian kiwi. A. arguta is sweeter, more cold hardy, and more nutritious than its fuzzy supermarket cousin, kiwifruit or Chinese gooseberry, Actinidia deliciosa, with which most people are more familiar. Hardy Kiwi is native to Korea, Siberia, and the hills of southwest China. It wasn’t introduced into the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Europe until the early 20th century. In 1906, seeds were taken from China to New Zealand to be planted. Commercial growers in New Zealand started planting hardy kiwi on an extensive scale in about 1930. It took New Zealand farmers giving it a name change and the marketing of produce brokers for it to become widely known in the United States. But, it is still not as popular as the hairy variety. Today, New Zealand and China are the largest producers of hardy kiwi. In the late 1960s, commercial plantings began in California. Commercial growers have also sprung up in Oregon and Pennsylvania in the last 20 to 30 years. But, growing hardy kiwi remains mainly an experiment in North America.
Description

The hardy kiwi plant is a highly vigorous, deciduous, perennial woody vine. The vines are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on different plants so both sexes must be planted in order to produce fruit. It has 3- to 5-inch, deeply-toothed, glossy, deep-green leaves. The stems have a bright red tint. The 1- to 1 ½-inch, fragrant, white flowers have dark brown centers with purple anthers and are borne on the previous year’s growth. The 1 inch fruit are about the size of a large grape and are held in clusters. The fruit have a thin, shiny, smooth, brownish-green skin which wrinkles when ripe and emerald green flesh. The skin of the fruit is edible so peeling isn’t necessary. The fruit is aromatic with hints of pear, banana, strawberry, and pineapple flavors. The fruit’s sweet flavor and their convenient size make them an easy choice for raw eating.
Site Selection

Hardy Kiwis grow in zones 4 to 9 and are extremely cold hardy even down to -25 degrees Fahrenheit. However, their flower buds and young shoots can be damaged by late frosts so avoid planting them in low-lying frost pockets. Try to plant them in a northern exposure site where they will get some warmth from the sun in early spring. They perform well in partial shade and may do better with 20 to 50% shade in warmer arid climates. These plants are also susceptible to wind damage, especially in hot, dry conditions. So, construct a windbreak or plant along a building or fence that will offer some shielding from drying winds. Hardy kiwis like a loamy, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter with a slightly acidic pH of 6.5 to 7. These plants do not tolerate poorly drained, heavy soils. Hardy kiwis require support, so give them plenty of room for their trellis system which is detailed below.

General Culture

It is easier to establish your vines using containerized plants instead of bare root plants. Plant your hardy kiwi in mid to late April after any chance of frost. Dig a hole much deeper than the root ball and mix in lots of organic matter such as leaf mulch, peat moss, or ground pine bark. Plant the root ball about an inch above ground level and mound up a deep application of mulch, this will aid with drainage. Mulch heavily the first fall to protect the young roots. Water the new transplants frequently for the first 2 weeks. Hardy kiwis don’t like to be too dry, so water abundantly during the growing season, especially in arid climates.
If planting multiple plants, place them 10 feet apart. The male varieties can be planted side-by-side with a female fruiting variety if need be. Train 1 main cane of each plant on a 7 foot bamboo or fiberglass stake. Tie it loosely to the stake and monitor it closely to assure it grows straight and doesn’t curl or twist around the stake. It may take 1 to 2 years for the primary cane you have chosen to reach the top of the stake. Once the cane reaches the top of the stake, prune the tip to encourage lateral growth to form. Choose 2 lateral shots and attach them to the wires of the trellis to protect them from wind damage and offer them support.

Trellis System

Hardy kiwi vines require a substantial support system in place since they are incapable of supporting their own weight, especially while fruiting. Support of the vines is usually done in one of three ways: a single wire trellis, a patio cover/awning as support, or by a 3- to 5-wire T-bar trellis system. Situate your chosen trellis system so the staked plant is at the center of the system.
The T-bar system is by far the best trellis system and is what is normally used in commercial production. It can be built with two, 8 foot tall, 6 inch x 6 inch, cedar or pressure-treated wood posts each with a 5 foot, 4 inch x 4 inch cross-arm bolted in place at the apex of the main posts to form the T-shape support. Anchor the support posts 2 feet deep in concrete 10 feet apart. Also, put 2 foot dead-man post cemented underground at a 90-degree angle to each support post. Attach 3 to 5, 8- to 10-gauge, galvanized wires equal-distance apart along the cross-arms in a clothesline fashion. Use eyelet screws to attach the wires to the cross-arms. Stretch the wires tautly between the two cross-bars with a come-along. The wires should have a 300-pound tensile strength in order to support the heavy vines when fruiting.

Irrigation

Hardy kiwis do not like to get too dry. The vines and large leaves of the hardy kiwi transpire large amounts of water rapidly during the hot, windy days of late spring and summer. So, it is necessary to water young transplants deeply once a week. Established kiwis need a great deal of water also and should be irrigated throughout the growing season as needed for optimum plant growth and good fruit production. Overhead irrigation by sprinklers or by hand watering is acceptable, but drip irrigation is more efficient.

Fertilization

Hardy Kiwis burn very easily, but they are also heavy nitrogen feeders, so apply fertilizer judiciously. Don’t fertilize the first year after planting to let the young plant get established. Early spring the second year, apply 2 ounces of 10-10-10 N-P-K fertilizer per plant. Increase the application by 2 ounces each year until you are putting out 8 ounces per plant, then do not exceed this amount of fertilizer per plant in the following years. These applications can be split with half in early spring and the other half in early summer. Don’t fertilize after June in order to let the plants harden-off for winter. Instead of chemical fertilizer, well-aged manure can be applied at a rate of 3 to 5 pounds per plant in late winter and again after fruit set. To avoid crown rot, do not apply manure or mulch in direct contact with the vine.

Pruning and Training

As mentioned earlier, you must prune the tip of the primary vine once it reaches the top of its 7-foot support stake in order to promote lateral growth. Once 2 lateral branches or cordons are produced, drape them over the center wire in each direction of your trellis system. These cordons will form the permanent framework of your trellised plant. Fruiting laterals will develop about every 24 to 30 inches along these cordons and grow perpendicular across the wires of the T-bar trellis. During the first dormant season, cut these first year fruiting laterals just beyond the outer most wire of the trellis. Kiwi vines must be pruned throughout their lifetime in order to keep the plants tidy and promote maximum fruit production. They produce their fruit on current season’s growth that comes from 1-year-old wood. Thus, it is important to maximize these fruiting laterals each year. When maintained like this, the vines can stay productive for 60 years or more. It is best to do most of the pruning in late winter while the plants are dormant, this will avoid excessive bleeding of sap that is prone to happen during the growing season. Light pruning several times during the growing season to manage the rampant growth by simply nipping off any overlapping leaves or stems that might shade out fruit is acceptable, but don’t cut any vines of a quarter inch or more.

Pollination

Since hardy kiwis are dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate vines), female plants produce the fruit but male plants are also needed for cross-pollination. One male plant pollinizer inter planted among five to nine females is usually enough to ensure good pollination. Because different cultivars bloom at different times, make sure that both the male and female plants bloom at the same time in order to guarantee pollination. Pollination is done by wind or insects such as honeybees.

Propagation

Propagation can be accomplished by seeds, cuttings, layering, or grafting. When done by seeds, remove the seeds from a mature fruit and let them dry on a paper towel for two days. Next, refrigerate them for four months in moist perlite at 40-degrees Fahrenheit to fulfill the stratification process. Then, plant the seeds no deeper than 1/8 inch in a seedling potting soil mix. Cover the container with plastic to keep it moist and the humidity high. Uncover the container once the seedlings start to germinate. When all the seedlings are up, put a thin layer of clean sand on top of the potting medium. Also, keep the seedlings well ventilated since they are prone to damping off. Transplant the seedlings to individual 4-inch pots once they have put on 4 true leaves. After the plants get 6 inches tall shift them to a 1-gallon pot. Later, when the plants get 12 inches tall, transplant them to where they will be growing.
When propagating by cuttings, you can take softwood cuttings in late spring of wood that has had at least 500 chilling hours or ripe hardwood cuttings in October or November. Clip the cuttings just below the node and remove the 2 lowest leaves and use a rooting hormone like indole-3-butyric acid (IBA) before sticking the cuttings in a well-drained soil medium comprised of 50% peat moss and 50% perlite or a mix of equal parts garden soil, perlite, and peat moss. In order to expedite rooting, employ bottom heat and mist irrigation inside a hoop house. Also, use plastic sweat tents or cloches made from 2-liter soda bottles to keep the humidity constant. Cuttings usually take 6 to 8 weeks to root properly.

Pest & Disease

These fruit are not normally affected by most pest and disease problems. Their fruit, unlike most fruit and berries, does not attract birds. But oddly enough, cats can be a major problem with damaging the bark of young vines because of their catnip-like scent. Cats like to rub up against the vines and can cause damage to the new growth. Protect young vines from cat damage by building small chicken wire cages. Garden snails can also be a problem on younger plants. Voles, deer, and rabbits can be a problem as with so many other crops. Root knot nematodes can be a problem as well, but can be controlled with predatory nematodes. Scale insects and greenhouse thrips can be damaging, too, if allowed to reach extensive populations. But, the most prevalent problem is root and crown rot that is exacerbated by poorly drained, heavy soils like southern clay soils. Hardy kiwis have fleshy roots that are prone to root rot when they sit with water around them too long.

Harvest & Storage

The fruit ripen in late summer or early fall depending upon the variety. The harvest usually comes as one single, large, manageable harvest instead of a selection harvest over several pickings. The kiwi fruit are ripe when they become soft to the touch, are slightly wrinkled and pull off easily. They taste best when harvested completely ripe. But, can be picked early while still firm then ripened with the ethylene gas from a bruised apple or banana in a paper bag. When harvested early in this manner, they can be stored in the refrigerator using an air-tight plastic bag for up to 2 months and consumed as needed. Hardy kiwis have a shorter shelf life due to their higher sugar content (18 to 29% sugar content) that is nearly double that of their fuzzy commercial relative. Although, it may take up to 5 years before hardy kiwi start to bear fruit, they are one of the most prolific fruiting plants. A single mature plant can yield 50 to 100 pounds of fruit per year.

Culinary Uses

Hardy kiwis can be eaten fresh as a snack or added to tropical-style salads. Nutrient-packed hardy kiwi can be used as a practical ingredient to bakery goods. The fruit can be sun dried or pickled in brine as is popular in China and Japan. The juice can be made into a delightful wine. The juice can also be used as a meat tenderizer since it has the enzyme papain, which is also found in papaya. When adding the fruit to dairy or gelatin dishes, cook it first to neutralize the enzyme.

Nutritional Benefits

The fruit of the hardy kiwi is higher in vitamin C than oranges. One serving can have over 200% of the RDA for vitamin C. Vitamin C assists in boosting the immune system, healing wounds, as well as increasing iron absorption. Scientific studies show that dietary fiber and phytonutrients in the fruit not only inhibit some cancerous cell growth, but are cytotoxic to the malignant cancer cells without affecting normal cells. Eating this fruit has cardiovascular benefits also by reducing triglycerides in the blood, thus avoiding blood clots, and the trace mineral chromium helps regulate heartbeats. Other studies show that consuming kiwi fruit weekly aids in lessening the effects of asthma. Asthmatics experience decreased wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath during the study. Hardy kiwi is a source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals which contribute to eye health. The fruit’s vitamin A also protects the eye from macular degeneration and cataracts. These nutrient-rich fruit also have high levels of folate, vitamin E, vitamin K, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and other anti-oxidants that are helpful in neutralizing free radicals.

Recommended Varieties

Development of new varieties of hardy kiwi is still in the early stages due to the newness of the crop in the United States. Several standout varieties are as follows:
‘Ananasnaja’ or ‘Anna’ – bears relatively large smooth fruit with a sweet aroma and intense flavor. Fruit color is green to a red-purple blush. The stems have a red tint. It is highly productive and recognized as the standard by which all other varieties are compared. Does best in Zones 5 to 7.
‘Geneva’—the fruit has good quality and good flavor. It ripens earlier than ‘Anna’.
‘Dumbarton Oaks’—the fruit is green and slightly ribbed. Appropriate for short-season areas since they produce early but will do well in all regions of Zones 5 to 7.
‘Issai’—is one of the few self-fruitful varieties. It has small sweet green grape-size fruit. The vines are less vigorous and produce far less than other varieties. This cultivar will have larger harvests when cross-pollinated. Good for Zones 5 to 8.
‘Langer’—shows promise since it tolerates many adverse conditions such as drought, high winds and severe cold. It yields medium-size fruit of good quality.
All varieties of hardy kiwi except ‘Issai’ and an experimental variety, ‘119-40B’ require a male pollinizer. A couple good male pollinators are ‘Male’, ’74-46’, and ‘Meader’ (male).
Other hardy kiwi cultivars of merit are ‘Ken’s Red Hardy’, ‘Fortyniner’, ‘Michigan State’, and ‘Meyer’s Cordifolia’.

References & External Links

  • The Berry Grower’s Companion, B.L. Bowling, pp. 231-238, Timber Press, 2000.
  • Edible Landscaping, R. Creasy, pp. 249-251, Sierra Club Books, 2010.
  • Growing Kiwifruit, Oregon State University Extension, 2005, http://catalog.extension.oregon.edu/sites/catalog/file PNW 507.
  • Kiwi Fruit: Health Benefits and Nutritional Value, https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/kiwi.html.
  • Kiwifruit Production Guide, D.G. Himelick & A. Powell, Auburn University Publication ANR-1084, 1998.
  • Hardy Kiwifruit, https://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/hardy-kiwifruit.html.
  • Kiwifruit Production in California, J.A. Beutel, University of California – Davis, Small Farm Program, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication, 1990.
  • Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention, L. Reich, pp.121-138, Addison-Wesley, 1991.

 

April 22, 2016
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Longevity Spinach

3 Gallon Gynura

3 Gallon Gynura


Cuttings of Gynura

Cuttings of Gynura


Longevity Spinach

Gynura procumbens

A fellow plant collector in LaGrange, Georgia, gave me a small Gynura procumbens plant that his friend from the Philippines had given him.  After a little research, I found that this unique herbaceous plant has so many uses and benefits that it’s surprising that it doesn’t wash and wax your car, too.  Considering its extensive medicinal value, I am embarrassed to say that I knew nothing about it.

Historical Origins

It’s not exactly clear if this member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae, originated in West Africa or in Southeast Asia. It has been passed around the world so many times. Gynura procumbens is especially widely consumed in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It is known by several different common names. In Thai it is called longevity spinach and in Chinese it called “pointed phoenix tail”. Other names are sabungai, cholesterol spinach and leaves of the gods.

Description

Gynura procumbens is a tropical evergreen vegetable. If left to its own natural form, it will grow as a scrambling vine about 2 feet tall with floppy stems stretching out to 18- to 20-feet long.  It can also be maintained as a small bush in a container if given regular pruning and support.

General Culture

Longevity spinach grows best in partial shade but will tolerate full sun if given regular irrigation. It is only cold hardy in Zone 9 to 11, so protect it from freezing during the winter months. It will take a light frost, but it is best to keep it indoors or in a greenhouse when temperatures dip below 40-degrees F. The plant’s growth slows to a crawl during the winter months and when it is in its blooming cycle in spring. Then, its prolific growth accelerates again during the warm summer months. Gynura procumbens prefers moist fertile soil and doesn’t perform well during times of drought.

Fertilization

When a pH of 6.5 is maintained, frequent fertilization is not necessary. A light application 3 to 4 times a year with a 20-10-10 or 20-0-0 N-P-K analysis liquid fertilizer is adequate. Bone meal (4-12-0) is a good, inexpensive, slow release, organic fertilizer to use in addition to the liquid fertilizer.

Pruning

If you are going to maintain this prolific plant as a small shrub, it will require monthly pruning. Trimming plants only forces them to grow faster.  It should be sheared back to a conical form and the clippings can be consumed or placed in water in order to propagate more plants. The plant seems to take well to being supported by a bamboo teepee or espaliered on a wooden trellis.

Pollination & Propagation

Pollination is not important since no viable seeds are produced by the flowers. Propagation is best accomplished asexually by cuttings. Each cutting should be 10- to 18-inches long and placed in a vase of filtered water. The cutting will root in 10 to14 days at 65 to 75 degrees. Then, the rooted cuttings can be potted into a general potting mix and kept moist for the next 10 days until they get established.

 

Pest & Disease

This tough plant seldom has pest problems, but aphids and spider mites can be a minor nuisance.  A strong spray of water can usually wash off most of these pests. Repeat the rinsing if the pests return. If these pests continue to persist, try using insecticidal soap or neem oil-based pesticide.

Harvest & Storage

This plant is so prolific that during spring and summer it doesn’t miss losing 3 to 6 leaves per day. The leaves will keep refrigerated in a plastic baggie for up to 10 days. The leaves can also be shredded in a blender and frozen for consumption later.

Culinary Uses

The leaves should be eaten raw for the best medicinal effects. It also has many other culinary uses. It may be substituted for lettuce in a sandwich and it is excellent as a crunchy salad green, too. It can be eaten steamed, used in stir-fries, or chopped up in stews or soups just like regular spinach. The stems can also be sliced up and used like celery.

Nutritional Benefits

This sprawling, leafy plant has been used in Asian folk medicine for centuries. There are numerous health benefits attributed to Gynura procumbens, but the most profound ones are its ability to lower blood pressure and its ability to lower blood sugar levels for diabetics. Longevity spinach’s anti-hypertensive properties may revolve around its capacity to increase nitric oxide, a vasodilator, in blood vessels. Scientific research has shown that both type 2 and type 1 diabetics benefit from the plant’s ability to reduce blood glucose levels. This plant, also, has an anti-hyperlipidemic effect which lowers cholesterol and triglycerides as it protects the body from heart and liver disease. Bioactive steroids and alkaloids in Gynua procumbens have shown promise as anti-inflammatory agents in scientific studies. Other medical research has indicated that this plant may enhance the body’s healing capabilities. Also, it may have anti-fungal, anti-cancer, and anti-viral properties, as well as, being able to scavenge free radicals.

 

Recommended Varieties

There is a purple-stemmed unnamed cultivar of Gynura procumbens in addition to the common green variety. Okinawa spinach (Gynura crepiodes) and purple passion vine (Gynura auranbaca) the house plant are both in the same genus with longevity spinach.

Summary

I can personally attest for this plant’s ability to adjust ones blood pressure. I had slightly elevated blood pressure until I started eating 3 raw leaves per day. Now, after several months, my blood pressure is nearly text book for my age and the lowest among any of my co-workers. I don’t have personal experience with the plant assisting leveling off blood sugar, but medical research points in that direction.

References & External Links

  • “ASHITABA vs Gynura Procumbens”. http://ashitabaplant.blogspot.com/2011/06/ashitaba-vs-gynura-procumbens.html
  • “Longevity Spinach Cuttings – Gynura Procumbens.” http://www.localharvest.org/longevity-spinach-cuttings-gynura-procumbens-C26494
  • “Gynura – for Diabetes, Hypertension, High-cholesterol, Rheumatism, Viral Ailments, and Other Illness.” http://www.spiritguidedhealer.com/herbs/gynura.html
  • “Gynura Procumbens.” http://www.gynura.blogspot.com

 

 

January 3, 2016
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Loquat Trees

IMG_0413 (2)

A loquat tree in bloom this fall.


IMG_0414

A loquat tree that has been pruned for easier fruit harvesting.


IMG_0416

A close-up of loquat foliage.


Loquat

Eriobotrya japonica

I try to stay at a hotel in Valdosta, Georgia each January that has a heavy landscape planting of dozens of loquat trees in order to eat the many ripe fruit. No one else in the area seems to know that the abundant small yellow-orange fruit are edible so I have them all to myself. The hotel staff has gotten used to my foraging visits, but they still must think I’m quite odd climbing in their trees to harvest bags full of the delicious fruit.

Historical Origins

The loquat originated in the cool hilly regions of southeastern China where the fruit were solely reserved for royalty. They were brought to Japan about 700 A.D. Japan is now the largest commercial producer of loquats in the world. These unique fruit trees were mentioned in western literature as early as 1690 and were first imported from Canton, China to Kew Gardens in London in 1787. Chinese immigrants brought loquats to California and Hawaii in the early 19th century. The loquat is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, and is known by many names including Chinese plum, Japanese medlar, biwa, pipa and nispero.

Description

An attractive small sub-tropical tree, the loquat can reach 30 feet in height with a 10- to 20-foot spread. It has a short trunk and a rounded spreading crown similar to that of a magnolia tree, but with large tropical-looking evergreen foliage on wooly twigs. The corrugated obovate-lanceolate leaves are 5 to 12 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide, glossy dark green on the upper side and downy white or gold underneath. The small, sweetly fragrant, creamy white flowers are borne in rust-colored hairy clusters. The loquat blooms in the fall, and 90 days later, the fruit ripens in winter. The yellow-orange fruit are 1 to 2 inches in diameter and form in dense clusters. Fruit can be oblong, spherical, or pear-shaped and white to yellow fleshed, depending on the variety. The chewy succulent pulp of the loquat fruit can vary from sweet to semi-acidic. Each fruit can have up to 10 large black-brown seeds, but usually average 3 to 5 seeds.

General Culture

The low maintenance loquat is an easy plant to grow. It prefers full sun to partial shade and adapts well to most well-drained soils with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 that has modest fertility. Loquats do not tolerate standing water well. These trees can survive in Zones 7 to 10, but they will only produce mature fruit where the winter temperatures stay above 27 degrees F. Therefore, loquats are used only as an ornamental landscape plant in Zone 7. They are wind tolerant and drought tolerant but need regular watering when young or while fruiting.

It is best to plant loquats in the fall, but anytime is fine. Young loquats can be slow to root, so stake them for the first two years. They are also sensitive to competition from weeds so prepare a 3 inch deep mulched weed-free zone of 2 to 3 feet around each tree. Be careful when cultivating near a loquat since they are shallow rooted. Loquats also need plenty of space to grow so plant them no closer than 25 to 30 feet from the next closest tree, structures, or above ground power lines. Also, do not plant these trees near swimming pools or outdoor living spaces since they drop lots of ripe fruit which attracts bees and wasps.

Fertilization

Fertilize with a 6-6-6 NPK fertilizer, or use well composted manure, three times per year when the tree is actively growing. If growing in sandy soil, use a slow release 14-14-14 NPK fertilizer once a year in addition to your other fertilizer applications. Be careful not to over-fertilize since it can reduce flowering thus reduce fruiting and make the plants more susceptible to fire blight.

Pruning

Loquats usually only require remedial pruning such as pruning out dead, diseased, or crossed limbs. They will tolerate hard pruning, so it is possible to prune to adjust height and spread. This type of pruning is often done by commercial loquat growers for ease of picking and thinning. Loquats have a tendency to bear in alternate years; in order to prevent this, prune after harvest each year.

Pollination

Loquats can be either self-fertile or require cross-pollination. Whether your trees are self-fruitful or needing a pollinator, it is still a good idea to plant at least two varieties to ensure a good harvest. Loquats are pollinated by bees.

Propagation

Loquats can be propagated by numerous methods including seed, grafting, air-layering and, softwood cuttings. Seedlings are usually too variable for good fruit production and are instead used as grafting rootstocks or as ornamentals. Softwood cuttings are a common propagation method and are normally taken in spring using bottom heat to accelerate their rooting. Various grafting methods can also be employed such as shield-budding, side-veneer grafting, and cleft-grafting. Commercial growers use pyracantha or quince rootstocks to form a dwarfed tree for easier picking and earlier bearing. Grafted trees usually bear fruit within 2 to 3 years, whereas seedlings take up to 8 to 10 years.

Pests and Disease

Loquats are relatively pest-free, but they can be affected by several pests including Caribbean fruit flies, aphids, caterpillars, scales, and Codling moths. Most of these pests can be readily managed by better sanitation of old fruit beneath the tree and spraying dormant oil or Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Birds can also be a nuisance pecking the fruit, but netting around the tree or cheesecloth bags over the ripening fruit can solve this problem. The cheesecloth bags can also be used to alleviate any sun scald problems. Fire blight and pear blight can be disease problems, but these can be remedied by carefully pruning out infected limbs and by spraying an agricultural form of streptomycin.

Harvest and Storage

Loquats are easily bruised, do not keep well, and are labor intensive to harvest, so they have not been attractive to most commercial growers. However, these factors shouldn’t deter the home orchardist.

The fruit are ripe once they turn a distinctive deep yellowish-orange. Be careful to make sure the fruit are ripe before harvesting since they won’t continue to ripen once picked, and unripe fruit are highly acidic and tart. The fruit can be simply gathered by loping off whole clusters of fruit and then using a knife or pruners to cut off individual fruit. Eat the fruit only after being peeled and seeded. The seeds, and to some extent the skin, of the fruit contain a common plant toxin, amygdalin, which can be poisonous if consumed in large quantities. Because these fruit only last a few days before spoiling, it is a good idea to freeze a portion of your crop.

Culinary Uses

The soft and juicy fruit of the loquat can be eaten fresh or stewed in sweet syrup. Fruit can be made into jams or jellies and used as pie-fillings. They can also be substituted in many recipes calling for apples or peaches. Fermented fruit can be used to make wines and liqueurs.

Nutritional Benefits

Loquats are rich in vitamins A and C, as well as the minerals potassium and magnesium. These fruit also have a high pectin and sugar content, yet they are low in dietary fats and sodium. In Chinese herbal medicine, syrup made from loquat leaves is used as an expectorant, cough soother, anti-diarrheal, and as an anti-nausea medication. Japanese herbalists make a beverage from dried loquat leaves used to heal bronchitis, other respiratory maladies, and inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis. Loquat fruit is also said to act as a gentle sedative, if eaten in quantity, lasting up to 24 hours in some people.

Other Uses

Loquats make an excellent ornamental landscape screen, specimen, or espalier. The dense pink wood is used to make rulers and other drawing instruments. The young branches can also be used as livestock fodder.

Recommended Varieties

There are over 800 named loquat varieties worldwide but only about 40 are used in the United States with any regularity. The following are some of the best varieties commonly grown:

‘Advance’ – The natural dwarf with medium to large juicy pear-shaped yellow fruit with white flesh is a good pollinator.

‘Big Jim’ – The 15 foot tree, with large to very large pear-shaped fruit has orange-yellow flesh and is cold hardy down to 12 degrees F.  It is partially self-fertile but would benefit from cross-pollination.

‘Champagne’ – A white-fleshed variety with elongated pear-shaped to oval deep-yellow fruit with an excellent sweet to mildly sub-acid flavor. It is self-fertile.

‘Gold Nugget’ (aka ‘Thales’) – A tough variety with medium to large round yellow-orange fruit has orange-colored, juicy flesh. It is self-fertile.

‘Oliver’– The medium to large-sized orange fruit has pale orange flesh. This variety is considered to be the best loquat for southern Florida. It is a cross between ‘Tanaka’ and ‘Olivier’ and requires cross-pollination.

‘Tanaka’ – The cold hardiest variety and the choice of many commercial growers, it has very large round orange to yellow-orange fruit with orange flesh. It has excellent flavor and is partially self-fertile, but it will produce better with cross-pollination.

‘Wolfe’ – The 25 foot tall tree has large yellow fruit with orange flesh. It has round to slightly pear-shaped fruit with firm tasty flesh. It requires cross-pollination.

Summary

I had a loquat in my yard in north Georgia for 12 years. It never produced fruit and the severe winter of 2013 killed it.  I am replacing it with two loquats next spring because I think they are such attractive landscape trees, and in my area that is the only choice. I guess I will have to continue going to Valdosta for my loquat fruit fix.

References and External Links

  • Fruits of Warm Climates, Morton, 1987, pp. 103-108, hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/Morton/loquat.html
  • Storey’s Guide to Growing Organic Orchard Fruit, Barney, pp.147-149, Storey, 2012.
  • org, Loquat, www.gardenology.org/wiki/Loquat.
  • Carolinas Fruit & Vegetable Gardening, Elzer-Peters, pp. 92-93, Cool Springs Press, 2013.
  • Eriobotrya japonica: Loquat, University of Florida IFAS Extension, 2015, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/st235.

November 29, 2015
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Mulberry Trees

mulberry leaves

Several leaf forms of the red mulberry


young mulberry tree

A young 5 year old red mulberry tree


mulberry

A mature red mulberry tree


Mulberry

Morus spp.

Historical Origins

The mulberry was considered to be the “king of tree crops” in the 18th and 19th centuries, but with the advent of commercial truck farming, it fell out of favor since the berries are soft and do not travel or store well. There are 16 varieties of mulberries, but only three are economically important: the red mulberry (Morus rubra), the white mulberry (Morus alba), and the black mulberry (Morus nigra). Only the red mulberry is a native to North America and has been used as a food source by Native Americans for centuries. The white mulberry was brought here from eastern and central China in the early 1700’s to start the silk trade, the black mulberry was imported to America from western China for fruit production.

Red Mulberry

The red mulberry is an attractive fast growing deciduous tree 40’ to 70’ tall with a range from the Gulf Coast northward to Kansas and eastward to Massachusetts. These trees are found in areas of rich soil in the open woods or along fencerows. They are short-lived trees, rarely lasting more than 75 years and are hardy to sub-zero temperatures (Zone 5 to 9).  Some clones have survived as low as -25 degrees F. Their 3” to 6” leaves are larger and thicker than the other two main species. Red mulberry leaves are dark green with fine-toothed margins, rough on top and pubescent underneath with an overall sandpaper texture. The leaves vary in shape from heart-shaped to mitten-shaped or sometimes can be three-lobed. The leafstalks, twigs, branches, and roots bleed a milky sap when cut. The thin rough bark is reddish-brown with smooth ridges. The insignificant flowers of the red mulberry appear in June and July. Both male and female catkins can be present on the same tree. The fruit of the red mulberry looks like elongated one inch blackberries that vary when ripe from deep red to nearly black. The plentiful berries have a good mixture of sweetness and tartness. The fruit is usually ready to harvest in June and July.

White Mulberry

The white mulberry is a weedy, large, short-lived tree that grows up to 80’ tall. This species of mulberry was brought to North America in the early 18th century in order to feed silkworm larvae for the silk industry. The white mulberry is now considered an invasive species by a number of states. They are the most cold-hardy (Zone 4 to 8) of the three predominant species with many ranging across the northern United States. The leaves are light green, variously lobed, hairless, and leaf-out two months earlier than the black mulberry. White mulberries are so named for the flower bud color, not the fruit color. The berries usually ripen in late spring and vary in color from lavender-black to white. The flavor is bland since they have little tartness to off-set their extreme sweetness. The bark is rough, flaky yellow-brown with vertical cracks and furrows.

 

Black Mulberry

The black mulberry is the smallest of the three trees and tends to be a large neat shrub at up to 30’ in height. They take well to container culture and can live for hundreds of years. These mulberries are the least cold-hardy preferring a Zone 6 climate or warmer. They range from Virginia to Washington and are the most popular along the Pacific Coast. The leaves are like the red mulberry but the twigs are tougher and the buds are fatter. The fruit are large and juicy with a good balance of sweetness and tartness, and are the best tasting of the three main species. The fruit ripen in late summer and are difficult to pick because the berries are so soft.

Hybrids

There are many white and red mulberry hybrids (M. alba x M. rubra) scattered across the countryside. These hybrids have variable fruit color and flavor but all ripen in late spring.

General Culture

All three primary mulberry species perform best when planted in full sun to partial shade where they are protected from the wind since they have weak branches.  They tolerate a wide range of soils, but prefer a fertile, deep, loamy, well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7. Mulberries don’t do well in shallow, rocky soil, or near a compacted roadway. When you plant, give them plenty of space, and allow for a minimum 15 foot spread. They establish best when planted while still dormant in early spring. Both bare root and container grown trees seem to grow off well. It is wise to not plant these prolific trees near sidewalks or patios since the fruit will stain the pavement and can be tracked indoors or into your car.

Although these trees are fast growing, they can take up to 5 years before starting to produce a heavy fruit crop. All the species of mulberries are somewhat drought-tolerant, but dry weather during fruiting can cause the berries to drop before fully ripening. It is advisable to give young trees extra water during dry periods the first 3 to 4 years until they are well established, as well as mature trees that are fruiting.

Fertilization & Pruning

These trees tend to thrive with minimal fertilization. Usually, a yearly application of organic compost or 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer will maintain satisfactory growth. Try to limit pruning to when the tree is fully dormant, otherwise, sap will bleed extensively from the wounds, and don’t prune any limbs larger than 2 inches in diameter since those wounds usually won’t heal. Remove limbs that are below the main framework of the tree and shape up the overall form of young trees.  Espaliers, half-standards, and standards can be made with young trees. On mature trees, only prune out dead, broken, or crossing branches. In a commercial production setting, prune the lateral limbs to six leaves length to develop more fruiting spurs near the main branches.

 

 

Pollination

Mulberries are self-fruitful with both male and female flowers usually on the same tree. These trees are pollinated by wind, and they do not require cross-pollination, but it may provide for a heavier berry crop.

Propagation

Mulberries can be propagated by a number of different methods such as by seed, hardwood cuttings, air layering, and softwood cuttings. But the most common method is spring bud grafting. Seeds will germinate in 9 to 14 days, but the tree will take up to 10 years or more to produce fruit. So, propagation by seed is seen as being far too slow.

Pests & Diseases

Mature mulberries seldom have issues with diseases or pests but they can get a bacterial canker. Mulberry canker can be held in check by removing the diseased branches a foot below the infected area while sterilizing your saw or pruners with a 10% alcohol solution between cuts. Potential pests are scales, whiteflies, mealybugs and webworms. These common pests can usually be controlled by timely applications of horticultural soaps and oils or a simple strong blast of water.

Harvest & Storage

Red, white, and red/white hybrid mulberries ripen in late spring and can be shaken off the tree. The easiest way to harvest them is to spread a clean tarp or sheet beneath the tree. Have someone climb into the tree and give it a hardy shake in order to harvest gallons of berries.

While black mulberries are ready to harvest in summer or late summer and must be pulled off the tree by hand. The fruit of all the species mature over several weeks. Use latex or nitrile gloves to protect your hands from being stained while harvesting the berries. Also, be careful not to stain your clothes.

Use the berries as quickly as possible since they will only store for a couple of days in the refrigerator before they start to mold or ferment. This short shelf life is due to the mulberries thin skins and high water content. The berries can be eaten fresh, frozen, dried, or cooked in a multitude of recipes.

Culinary Uses

Mulberries can be made into puddings, sauces, pies, cakes, candies, ice cream, jams, and syrups. They make especially good smoothies since their flavor blends well with other fruit such as pears and apples. The berries can also be dried to a crunchy consistency like figs.

The young leaves and twigs of the mulberry tree can also be boiled and used as a cooked vegetable. The twigs and unopened leaves are especially sweet in early spring.

 

 

Other Uses

Mulberry leaves are used to feed silkworms for the silk industry, as well as, to fatten up livestock, especially poultry and hogs. However, there are many other uses for the mulberry tree other than as a food source. The wood is soft but durable and is used for furniture, fence posts, paneling, sporting goods, toys, smoking meats, and as firewood. The bark is used to make paper in Europe and the twigs are used to make baskets. The fruit are used as a natural dye for cloth and as a food color extract. Mulberry varieties are also used in ornamental landscape as background plants, screens, and as specimen plants.

Nutritional Benefits

Mulberries have been used medicinally by Native Americans for hundreds of years. Infusions of the root bark were used as a remedy for tapeworm, overall weakness, urinary problems, and as a purgative. These tribes also used tree sap applied topically to heal ringworm. Various parts of the mulberry were also used in Ayurvedic medicine. The leaves were used in a gargle for throat infections. The leaves and the juice of the roots were used in a tea to control high blood pressure. The fruit were also used to control fever, sore throat and depression. Health benefits of mulberries currently accepted include their ability to lower cholesterol, bolster the immune system, lower blood pressure, and enhance the overall metabolism of the body. They are also thought to prevent some cancers, improve digestive health, enhance the body’s production of red blood cells, and decelerate the aging process. Mulberry fruit are extremely nutritious. They are rich in many vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C, K, E and B complex as well as minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, copper, and magnesium. The leaves alone contain 18 amino acids and the fruit also contain many beneficial organic compounds such as resveratrol, antioxidants including anthocyanin, lutein, beta carotene and a carotenoid called zea-xanthin.

Suggested Cultivars

Although, the native red mulberry (M. rubra) is the most common red mulberry in production there are several cultivars that are worth mentioning such as ‘Geraldi Dwarf’, a compact 6 foot tree with large black fruit, and ‘Red Gelato’. The white mulberry varieties that are worth noting are ‘Pakistan’, ‘Whitney’ and ‘Shangri-La’ which does well in warmer climates like Florida. ‘Illinois Ever Bearing’ and ‘Collier’ are the recommended varieties of the red/white hybrids. Good performing varieties of black mulberries (M. nigra) are ‘Black Beauty’, ‘King James’ (aka ‘Chelsea’) which has large juicy dark red fruit, ‘Black Persian’, and ‘Superberry’.

Summary

The mulberry tree is one of the few fruit trees that will produce enough fruit to satisfy both the local wildlife and the grower. The mulberry tree will make an exceptional addition to your food forest or backyard orchard.

 

Cautions

Mulberries are very efficient at lowering blood sugar levels which is good for diabetics but can be dangerous for hypoglycemics. Also, uncooked leaves and green berries are hallucinogenic.

References and External Links

  • Edible Landscaping, R. Creasy, Sierra Club Books, 2010.
  • Handbook of Energy Crops, J.A. Duke, 1983, hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/morus_alba.html.
  • Cornell Guide to Growing Fruit at Home, “More Minor Fruits”, www.gardening.cornell.edu/moreminorfruits.
  • Mulberry, California Rare Fruit Growers Inc., 1997, crfg.org/pubs/ff/mulberry.html.
  • Health Benefits of Mulberry, Organic Information Pvt Ltd. www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/mulberry.html.

 

October 25, 2015
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Jujube

IMG_0149

Green fruit in a ‘Li’ Jujube


IMG_0152

A unripened ‘Li’ Jujube


IMG_0371

A branch of a ‘Sugar Cane’ Jujube


IMG_0351

Staking a young ‘Sugar Cane’ Jujube


Jujube

Zizyphus jujuba

Jujube (Zizyphus jujube), a native to east India, was brought to China and domesticated over 4,000 years ago and it was first carried to America in 1837.  Today it is cultivated around the world from China to the Middle East on to North and South America. It is a very long lived member of the Rhamnaceae or Buckhorn family. There are productive trees in China that are over 1,000 years old. It has several common names such as Chinese Date and Red Date, it got these names because once the fruit starts to dry and wrinkle it resembles a date.

The jujube is a small deciduous shrubby tree with an upright trunk and short angled drooping branches that grow in a zig-zag pattern. They grow to a mature height of 20 to 40 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide. Their small ovate leaves are shiny, waxy, dark green on top and fuzzy on the lower side. Each 1 to 2 inch finely toothed leaf has three prominent veins and two thorns at the base. The tiny 1/5th inch greenish-yellow blooms appear in clusters late April to early May.

The fruit of older common varieties are as small as ½ inch whereas the newer improved varieties are as large as 2 inches in diameter. Fruit are shiny and resemble a miniature reddish-brown apple when ripe. The fruit ripen in three stages, maturing in July and August.  First, they turn light green then yellow-green, and mature into a reddish-brown color when they start to wrinkle. Also, the fruit have a crisp sweet semi-acidic pulp similar to an apple. Each fruit has a single hard stone with two seeds inside.

The jujube is well adapted to virtually all soil types from sandy and clay soils to even rocky soils, but they prefer a well-drained loamy soil. Also, these trees will withstand a wide range of soil pH, but can exhibit nutrient deficiencies at an extremely alkaline pH above 7.8. Jujubes can also grow in soils with high salinity. These trees are very tough and will survive in soils where other trees would perish.

The mature jujube tree can tolerate a wide range of temperatures (Zone 5-9); winter temperatures as low as -28 degrees F without any ill effects and no summer temperature seems to be too high. They also endure drought, and excess moisture better than most other trees. However, the jujube is best adapted to arid climates since they prefer it hot and dry. Once established, they can survive on as little as 8 inches of rainfall per year, but for good fruit production, they need 20 inches or more of rain. One thing they don’t cope with well is deep shade.

Many growers consider jujubes to be one of the easiest and most resilient trees to grow. They are also early to bear fruit, sometimes in the first year but usually set a good crop by the third season. These durable trees seem to do well with little or no fertilization. If they do need a little nitrogen, a good composting once in early spring is adequate. In a commercial orchard setting, a light broadcast application of a balanced fertilizer like an 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 NPK every third month during the growing season is beneficial. However, don’t fertilize newly planted trees until they have had several months to establish.

Jujubes don’t necessarily need to be pruned to produce well, but extensive winter pruning can form a more compact tree with fruit that is easier to reach. Pruning may also need to be done to remove broken or dead limbs and suckers that come up at the base of the tree.

Most cultivars being grown in the U.S. are grafted or budded on to a common hardy rootstock. Jujubes may also be propagated by seed, although they do not breed true to variety. The seeds must be scarified by rubbing them on sandpaper and then soaking them in warm water overnight to prepare them for planting in small peat pots. The next step is to give the seeds a three month moist chilling period either by keeping them in a refrigerator or by letting them over-winter outdoors. Once the seedlings are up and well rooted, move them to a one gallon pot. After a year, transplant them to a three gallon pot and then after another year plant them in the ground.

Jujubes have no serious disease, insect or nematode problems in North America, hence they don’t require spraying and can be easily grown organically. The only disease problem is witches broom virus, which is isolated in China and Korea. Animal pests such as deer, which eat the fruit, and gophers that eat the roots can be a minor problem. Also, birds sometimes peck the fruit.

The fruit crop doesn’t ripen all at once and can be picked for several weeks from the same tree. Green fruit will not continue to ripen if picked from the tree. Fully ripened fruit can be stored for up to a week at room temperature. If allowed to dry while on the tree, the fruit will store indefinitely even without use of a sulfur preservative. Although, there is a wide variety of ways to prepare jujube fruit such as smoked, pickled, candied, preserved in honey syrups, in jams and in soups or sauces; most cultures prefer to eat the fruit dried.

There are over 700 recognized varieties of jujubes in China and about 40 varieties that have been introduced in the United States. Most cultivars are best consumed either dried or fresh. ‘Chico’ and ‘Li’ are two varieties that are multi-purposed and are good eaten both fresh and dried. ‘Li’ is the most recommended as a first tree for beginners. ‘Lang’ and ‘Shanxi Li’ are best eaten dried. ‘Lang’ is the most widely grown cultivar in orchards and a heavy producer while ‘Shanxi Li’ has the largest fruit. ‘Sugar Cane’, ‘Honey Jar’ and ‘Sherwood’ are cultivars that are best for fresh eating. All three of these varieties are especially sweet.

Jujubes are rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, A and C. They also have minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and potassium. Because of all these vitamins and minerals this fruit has numerous health benefits including fortifying the immune system, lessening skin irritations, wound healing properties, stress relief, as a sleep aid, and as a treatment for sore throat.

References and External Links:

  • Fruit & Nut Resources – Jujube, R. McEachern, Aggie Horticulture, Texas A&M, 1997. www.aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut/fact-sheets/jujube.html.
  • Texas Gardener Magazine, Jujube-A Fruit Well Adapted to Texas, R. Ashton, 2008, www.texasgardener.com/pastissues/janfeb08/Jujube.html
  • Jujube, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc., 1996,crfg.org/pubs/ff/jujube.html
  • Health Benefits of Jujube. Organic Information Services Pvt Ltd ,www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/jujube.html

 

September 27, 2015
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

American Pawpaw

American Pawpaw

Asimina Triloba

This native to North America and only cold hardy member of the custard apple family, Annonaceae, which includes the papaya and the cherimoya, was first written about by De Soto in 1541. The pawpaw was also mentioned in the chronicles of Lewis and Clarke. Thomas Jefferson thought so much of the pawpaw he planted it in his orchard at Monticello. Throughout the history of America, the pawpaw has been memorialized in songs and poems.

The pawpaw grows as a small shrubby understory tree. These deciduous, slow-growing trees generally mature at 15 to 25 feet tall with an 8 to 10 feet spread. Pawpaw goes by several common names such as Michigan Banana, Poor Man’s Banana, and False Banana. These names are derived from the fact that the fruit looks like a stubby, kidney-shaped banana 3 to 5 inches long and nearly 2 inches thick. It is the largest edible native fruit at 1/3 to 1 pound each. The fruit starts off pale green and as it ripens it will turn yellow with brown or black splotches. The egg custard-like, yellow pulp is interspersed with large flat brown or black seeds. The fruit ripen in late summer or early fall. These long-lived trees have 6 to 12 inch dark-green, elongated toothless leaves which are held in a drooping fashion. Their unusual dull purple, foul-smelling flowers have 6 petals and hang upside down.

The custard-like pulp of the pawpaw has the consistency of mashed bananas. It tastes like banana and caramel with a hint of citrus. The fresh fruit are eaten raw, used to replace bananas in recipes like banana nut bread, and to make jam. Some people like to blend the fruit with yogurt and cinnamon or eat it over ice cream. The unripe seed, fruit, and peel can be mildly toxic to some people, though sensitivity varies. Also, a few people are put off by the odd flavor and prefer the pulp cooked.

The pawpaw is hardy in zones 5 through 8 and range from the Great Lakes region to the Gulf Coastal plains and eastward to the coast. Pawpaw trees grow in the wild along riverbanks, in bottomlands, and in forests usually as a shaded secondary growth tree under taller trees. They need shade and protection from the wind the first three years of growth but produce more fruit when cultivated in full sun. They prefer deep, rich, well-drained, moist soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7. They tolerate many soil types but not waterlogged soil. Good drainage is the key to success.

Early spring or fall is the best time to plant. Plant your pawpaw tree in deeply tilled soil since they have a deep taproot and space them 8 feet apart. Container grown trees have a better survival rate than bare root trees. Keep the young trees shaded and consistently moist, but not overly wet throughout the growing season; this will reduce the possibility of transplant shock. It’s best to protect young transplants and seedlings from direct sun until they are three years old. Apply a balanced fertilizer such as a 20-20-20 liquid fertilizer every other week until early fall; this will aid in establishing the new young pawpaw trees.

Pawpaw trees are usually propagated by seed or by using budding and grafting techniques, as seeds are slow to germinate. They require a period of stratification for 70 to 100 days in a cold, moist environment. This can be accomplished by sowing the seed in late fall and letting them overwinter in the soil where they will germinate in July or August the next year. Another method is to place the seed in moist sphagnum moss stored in a plastic baggie in a refrigerator at 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Once their cold requirement is reached and they are fully stratified, the seeds can be planted. Sow the seeds in 14” to 18” deep tree pots to accommodate the long taproot. Use a well-drained soil mix and plant the seeds one inch deep. If a temperature range of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit is maintained, the seeds will germinate in 2 to 3 weeks and shoots will start to appear in about 2 months. These saplings will start to produce fruit in about five to eight years.

Since cuttings have proven to be almost impossible to root, the pawpaw is generally vegetatively propagated by techniques such as chip budding, whip-and-tongue grafts, and cleft grafts. Grafted trees typically bear fruit in about 3 years.

Pawpaws are not self-fertile and are also self-incompatible, so they require pollination from a genetically different tree. Flies and beetles are the primary pollinators, but are not always dependable. So, it may be necessary to hand-pollinate your plants in order to ensure good fruit set. This can be accomplished by using a small artist’s paint brush to dab fresh pollen from the anthers of one plant to the stigma of another plant. This method is so efficient it may cause the plant to produce too much fruit. Thinning the fruit may be necessary to keep from stressing the overall health of the tree and causing limbs to break.

In their native habitat, the pawpaw is rarely troubled by any insect pests since the leaves and bark have natural insecticidal properties. The worst two insects that can cause problems are the pawpaw peduncle borer larvae and the zebra swallowtail butterfly larvae. Raccoons, deer, possums, bears, and squirrels will eat the ripe fruit and can compete for the harvest.

The fruit of the pawpaw is dark butter yellow with brown or black streaks and noticeably fragrant when ripe. It comes off easily with a quick twist or by gently shaking the tree. Unfortunately, the fruit does not store well, that is why it has never become a popular commercial food. Although it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, freezing the pulp usually changes its flavor.

There are a number of new varieties that are superior to the native trees. Varieties such as ‘Sunflower’, ‘Taylor’, ‘Sweet Alice’ and ‘Davis’ are preforming well in orchards across many parts of the country.

 

References and External Links:

  • Pawpaw Planting Guide, S.C. Jones & R.N. Peterson et al, Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Program Bulletin, 1990
  • Miracle-Gro Complete Guide to Vegetables, Fruits & Herbs, D. Schrock, Meredith Publishing Group, 2008
  • Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, M. Biggs, J. McVicar & B. Flowerdew, Firefly, 2013
  • Edible and Medicinal Plants, S. Brill, Harper, 1994

 

 

 

 

 

August 11, 2015
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Prickly Pear Cactus

 prickly pear

A prickly pear cactus with nearly ripe fruit.


prickly pear2

A newly rooted prickly pear pad cutting (3 weeks old).


prickly pear3

A young spineless prickly pear cactus.


Prickly Pear Cactus

(Opuntia spp.)

Although these plants look like living barbed wire and seem to scream “don’t touch”, they have been used in a multitude of ways for thousands of years. The stems, flowers, fruit, seeds, and sap of the prickly pear cactus have been used as foods, medicines and even tools.

According to the USDA, there are 59 different species in the genus Opuntia which is in the cactus family.  Prickly pear is not the name of just a single species but of many varieties. The most common cultivars are Opuntia humifusa (Eastern Prickly Pear), Opuntia phaeacantha (Western Prickly Pear), Opuntia engelmannii var. lindeimeri (Engelmann Prickly Pear), Opuntia basilaris (Beaver Tail Cactus) and Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian Fig Cactus).

These thicket forming cacti are native to all the Americas and range from British Columbia south to California and, in the East, from New England to Florida on southward to Mexico and South America. They have also been introduced to other parts of the globe from the Outback of Australia to the lava beds of Sicily. These small-to medium-sized evergreen shrubs prefer rocky, dry, well-aerated sandy soils with a pH of 5.5 to 7 and occur mainly in warm arid conditions but can adapt in many other climates (zones 3 to 11), soil types, and moisture levels.

Prickly pear cactus has done away with normal leaves in order to retain water. They have managed this by evolving highly modified flattened stem sections into pads or phylloclades and leaves into large spines, as well as smaller fuzzy tufts called glochids. The plants vary in height from 1 to 7 feet and spread as wide as 8 feet. In general, the thick paddle-shaped, green to blue-green pads range from 4 inches to 11 inches in length and as wide as 9 inches. The 3-1/2 inch bowl-shaped flowers are red or yellow fading to orange and appear on the upper tier of pads in early summer (May to July). Each flower yields a barrel-shaped cactus pear, covered in scattered tufts of glochides, that varies in size from 1 to 3 inches by ¾ to 1 inch across and are dull red to purple. The thin-skinned fruit is filled with red juicy pulp with many flat circular seeds.

The Indian Fig (Opuntia ficus-indica) is the most used culinary variety, but many other; are also edible. The young tender pads have an acidic, sweet citrus-like flavor.  They can be harvested in spring to make a mild mucilaginous vegetable when stewed like okra, cut onto strips and used like green beans in salads, or the whole pad can be fried like a steak. The pads may also be boiled, roasted, broiled, stir-fried, deep-fried, or pickled.

To harvest the pads or nopales, as they are known in the southwest, you need to employ thick leather work gloves, tongs or cardboard strips, and a sharp knife. The thorns and hair-like glochides have to be removed by burning them off with a torch or by rubbing them off with a damp towel. Otherwise, these bristles can cause strong skin or digestive irritation.

The cactus pear (or tuna in Spanish) can be harvested in a similar way to picking the pads.  Prepare the fruit by cutting off each end and then making a quarter inch length-wise slit. Then, run your thumb into the slit and peel off the thick rind. The red to yellow pulp can be used to make juices, syrups, sauces, teas, candies, pickles, and preserves. It has a sweet flavor that is a cross between watermelon, blackberry, and bubble gum. The fermented juice is also used to make a Mexican alcoholic beverage called colonche. The many black seeds in each fruit can be dried and ground into flour or used as a soup thickener.

Not only are these plants a good food source, they are very nutritious with high levels of amino acids, magnesium, iron, calcium, selenium, antioxidants, beta carotene, fiber, as well as vitamins B and C. Prickly pear cactus have been used as a traditional Mexican remedy for type 2 diabetes since they can lower blood sugar. They can be used to treat ulcers, colitis, sunburn and insect bites since they possess the ability to reduce swelling.  These plants may also be beneficial in fighting viral infections, decreasing cholesterol levels, preventing hangovers, and as a hair care product.

These versatile plants also have other surprising uses such as fodder for cattle, as a dispersant of oil spills, making earthen plaster, and as an additive in candle making.  As a landscape plant, they can be used as an evergreen screen or a security wall. In a survival situation the pads can be used as a makeshift canteen and the spines can be used to make needles and fish hooks.

The self-fertile prickly pear cactus can be propagated from seed, but the easiest method is to plant single stem sections or pads. Simply cut off a pad and let it callus in a warm dry place for several days. Plant the cutting by burying one-third of the lower end of the pad in a 1- or 2- gallon pot. Use a cactus soil mix or a commercial potting soil with perlite added for good drainage. Place stones around the base of the pad to hold it upright. Place the young plant in a sunny location, but out of hot direct sun. During the summer, rooting will occur in 5 to 10 days, but during the winter it may take up to 3 months. The new cutting won’t need to be transplanted for up to a year. When ultimately planting your young cactus, give it plenty of space to grow in a sunny location.

These extremely hardy plants are seldom affected by pest or disease problems. But, they may be troubled by mealy bugs, slugs, and snails. Rarely, these cacti can contract maladies such as anthracnose, sun scald, and various rots. But, all in all, they are tough, long-lived, highly useful plants.

 

References and External Links:

  • Eat Your Yard! N.K. Chase, Gibbs Smith, 2010
  • Field Guide to Edible Plants B. Angier, Stackpole Books, 2008
  • Peterson Field Guide – Edible Wild Plants, L.A. Peterson, Houghton Mifflin, 1977
  • “On-line Guide to the Positive Identification of Members of the Cactus Family.” On-line Guide to the Positive Identification of Members of the Cactus Family. Web.  <http://cactiguide.com/>.
  • “Prickly Pear Cactus: Uses and Risks.” WebMD. WebMD. <http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/prickly-pear-cactus-uses-and-risks?>.
  • www.ucdavis.edu/pub/brochures/Pricklypear/

 

 

 

 

July 12, 2015
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Elderberry – Sambucus canadensis

elderberry_container

An Elderberry plant in a container.


elderberry_close_up

A mature Elderberry bush along a fence.


elderberry_green_berries_fence

An Elderberry with unripe green berries.


Elderberry

(Sambucus canadensis)

The first thing I think of when I hear the word Elderberry is the song Elderberry Wine by Elton John. These plants have been mentioned in music and folklore for generations by many cultures from Newfoundland to the West Indies. In folklore, it is believed that evil spirits, witches and lightning can be warded off by planting an elderberry at the entrance to a garden or near a house. These accolades through the centuries are well deserved since these plants have so many uses. Their berries and flowers can be used in both medicinal and culinary applications plus their wood can be crafted into various items.

These large deciduous shrubs or small trees range in size from 6’ to 20’ tall with a spread of 5’ to 6’. They have opposite, pinnately compound leaves of 5 to 11 leaflets, and each finely serrated leaflet is 3 to 5 inches long, with the veins running to the tips of the serrations. In early summer, the elder tree bears finely branched, creamy-white, pleasantly scented, tiny flowers in flat-topped or slightly curved clusters (panicles) that are 3” to 10” in diameter. The glossy 1/8 inch purple-black berries ripen in mid-summer to early fall. The average mature (3 to 5 years old) plant yields 12 to 15 pounds of berries. The woody stems have smooth grey bark with intermittent corky bumps and the branches are filled with white pith that looks like Styrofoam.

The leaves, roots, bark, seeds and green berries are toxic due to containing glycosides that produce cyanide when digested. Only the ripe berries and flowers are edible. Be very careful when foraging for these plants in the wild since they have a couple of poisonous look-a-likes such as Water Hemlock and Hercules’-club. Always check with a local foraging or plant identification expert before eating wild plants.

The common elderberry has been prized for millennia for its many uses. The flowers can be battered and sautéed as fritters or added to pancakes to give them a light delicious flavor. Flowers can also be brewed into a healthful tea. Many people find the raw purple-black berries to be too tart to be appetizing, and since they can cause an upset stomach, they should be eaten sparingly. Once cooked, the berries ­­­­make wonderful treats such as muffins and pies. The berries can also be made into syrups, juices, jellies, jams, dyes, and, of course, wine.

The pithy centers of the stems of the elderberry can be hallowed out to make flutes, whistles, straws and stiles for harvesting maple syrup. The wood must be dried and cured first otherwise it will still be toxic.

The flowers and berries have been used medicinally for a myriad of ailments since the time of the early Native Americans. They are high in antioxidants as well as excellent sources of vitamins A, B, and C.  Syrup made from the berries can be used as a remedy for colds, flus, bronchial infections, asthma, and coughs. Elderberry infusions have a diaphoretic effect and are good for cooling a fever. Elder flower infusions when applied externally can heal rashes, swelling, burns, sunburns, and other skin inflammations such as eczema. Elderberries can be used as immunity boosters for the elderly and the immuno-impaired. There is now credible scientific research that proves the elderberry’s antiviral disease fighting properties. Studies show that elderberry syrup shortens the duration and severity of viral infections. Also, elderberries made into a wine or syrup mixed into a wine can help relieve neuralgia and arthritis. Thus, it is no wonder that the elderberry has been called “the people’s medicine chest.”

Recently, as my family and I were riding in the car, I was pointing out the many elderberry bushes that are in full bloom along the roadside in late June and early July. Elderberries can be found in the wild areas along the roadsides near creeks or low moist areas. So, plant your elderberries in a sunny to partial shade, well-drained moist location no more than 6’ apart. These shrubs have a shallow fibrous root system so they are sensitive to drought and deep cultivation. Elderberries are very cold hardy and live in Zones 3 to 11. They prefer a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 but will tolerate most soils as long as the soil doesn’t get too dry. Since they are only partially self-fertile it is beneficial to grow two or more cultivars to ensure cross-pollination, as this will give you a much better fruit set.

Ammonium nitrate is used for fertilizing elderberries in a commercial setting, but for homeowners it is safer to use 10-10-10 NPK and compost. In early spring, apply ½ pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer for each year of the plant’s age. Shrubs that are 8 years or older, give them no more than 4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per year.

Pruning is necessary because these shrubs are so fast growing and can become rangy. The most important reason to prune is to increase berry production. Two-year-old canes with lateral branches are the most productive and canes become less fruitful after about their third year. So, it is helpful to prune out older trunks, dead or weak canes during dormancy.

Elderberries are rarely hindered by pests and diseases. However, birds can be a problem, so use bird netting and scare devices such as plastic owls close to harvest time. Some diseases such as tomato ring spot, mildew, and stem cankers can affect these plants, but can be prevented by good sanitation of old affected leaves and weed control. Unfortunately, there are no insecticides listed for elderberries.

When harvesting the ripe berries, you can simply comb your fingers through the berry clusters to knock the berries off into a container; however, there is an easier method that will save the time of plucking out the stems and branches later. The trick is to cut off full clusters of berries and freeze them. Once frozen, you can give the clusters a good shake and only the berries will fall off. Be careful to pick out any green berries since they are toxic. Other than the aforementioned preparations such as pies, jams, jellies, and wines, your harvest can be preserved by drying the berries which mellows their flavor. The syrup or the whole berries can also be frozen to preserve your harvest.

There a number of recommended varieties such as ‘Adam’s #1’, ‘Adam’s #2’, ‘John’s’, ‘York’, ‘Nova’, ‘Scotia’, ‘Sutherland Gold’ (a yellow-leafed ornamental) and ‘Black Lace’ ( a black-leafed ornamental by Proven Winners).

References and External Links:

  • The Berry Companion L. Bowling, Timber Press, 2000
  • Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants Brill, Harper, 1994
  • The New Herb Bible by E. Mindell, PhD, Fireside, 2000
  • “Eat The Weeds and Other Things, Too.” Green Deane, LLC. www.eattheweeds.com

 

July 12, 2015
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Bitter Melon – a delicacy of Southeast Asia and the Philippines

bittermelon_vine

A Bitter Melon vine along a fence.


bittermelon_ripening

A ripening Bitter Melon fruit.


bittermelon_close_up

A nearly ripe Bitter Melon.


Bitter Melon

Momordica charantia

The fruit of the bitter melon, with all its warts and ridges, looks like the mutant cross between a cucumber and an alligator. This member of the squash family, Cucurbitaceae, goes by a number of different names such as bitter gourd, balsam pear, African cucumber, goya and karela. The strange looking fruit of this herbaceous annual vine has been a staple food for thousands of years in Asia, India and Africa. Now, it is beginning to be seen more and more in western gardens. Bitter melon is thought to be indigenous to southern China and eastern India where it was first domesticated.

It is a rampant growing vine with 5- or 6-lobed leaves and vanilla-scented yellow flowers that when pollinated form very bitter warty, oblong fruit. Bitter melon vines can grow up to 13- to 16-feet long if properly supported.

The young fruit are prized in Asian and Indian cooking despite their bitter flavor. The immature melons are picked at 4 to 6 inches and used in many different recipes. They can be stuffed with shrimp or pork and steamed, sliced in soups and stir-fries, or pickled to name a few. Because of their unusual bitter flavor, it is best to pair them with other strong flavored foods such as Chinese black beans, chili peppers, garlic, or coconut milk to counteract the bitter taste.

In order to reduce the bitterness of the fruit, some home cooks peel them with a carrot peeler or scrape the warty skin off with a knife, then make a length-wise cut in the fruit to remove the seeds and pulp. Sea salt is then rubbed inside and outside. Let the fruit weep for 2 hours then squeeze out the juice, this will decrease most of the bitterness. An alternative method is to par-boil them, but this changes their consistency. The flesh should be a watery, crunchy texture much like cucumbers or peppers.

Bitter melons are a good source of beta-carotene, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamins C, B1, B2, and B3. With their antiviral and antibacterial properties, they are used in many medicinal preparations such as juices, teas, extracts, and bathes. The fruit is consumed to treat malaria since they contain quinine. Historically, they are used to treat type 2 diabetes since they enable the uptake of glucose and are even recommended by the National Diabetes Association. The roots are sometimes used to heal hemorrhoids. The leaves are used in poultices for skin irritations like acne, burns, scabies, ringworm, and measles. Bitter melon has been proven by western scientists to inhibit tumor growth and HIV-1 infections. They are also thought to be a remedy for rheumatism, gout, and gastrointestinal problems.

These plants prefer a well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.7. Like most melons, they need even soil moisture in a sunny location or planted in light shade with the vines extending out into full sun. Bitter melons thrive when given at least 6 hours of sun in a hot and humid climate.

Plant the vines at least 4 feet apart so they will have space to grow. Give the young plants plenty support by planting them along a fence or next to an arbor or trellis. Trellising reduces disease problems by increasing air circulation and makes the fruit easier to harvest. Bitter melon vines are prone to rot if in contact with the moist ground, so mulch beneath them with 2 to 3 inches of wheat straw. Use a slow release fertilizer such as 14-14-14 at the time of planting or a mixture of bone meal and composted manure. About midway through the growing season, fertilize with a liquid fertilizer and then again at about 60 days after planting. This fertilization program along with lots of water will keep the vines growing vigorously.

In warmer areas, you can direct sow bitter melon seeds into hills 3-4 feet apart after the soil temperature has reached 64-degrees F. Plant 8 to 10 seeds per hill and cover them with 1 inch of soil. Keep well-watered. Then once the seeds are germinated with 2 to 3 leaves, thin each hill to 4 plants each.

For better germination in cooler climates, pre-sprout seed by soaking in water for 24 hours. Then wrap the seed in a warm, damp paper towel, put them in a plastic bag and keep at 80- to 84-degrees F. Once partially germinated, plant them in deep plug trays or 4 inch pots. Plant-out the young plants in a prepared bed of well-drained soil once they are rooted to the bottom of the plugs or pots.

An alternative method of propagation is by rooted cuttings. Take 10- to 12-inch cuttings from an established vine. Place the cuttings in water for 10 to 15 days until rooted. Then plant in pots as an intermediary step before planting them in the field.

Pollination can be accomplished by hand if there are not enough honeybees or other pollinators in your area. Since bitter melon vines bare both male and female flowers, take a male flower, rollback the petals and dab pollen on each of the female flower’s stigma. The female flowers can be identified by a swelling like a tiny melon behind the bloom. Commercial growers bring in hives of honeybees each spring to pollinate their crop of bitter melons.

The first fruit usually appear about 2 months after sowing. Pick the fruit when they are 4- to 6-inches long, otherwise the older fruit tend to be fibrous and more intensely flavored. To encourage new fruit growth and prevent over-ripening, try to pick fruit every 2 to 3 days. After harvesting, the fruit will keep in a cool dark place for 3 to 4 days. Stored in a paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper drawer they will last up to 4 weeks. The fruit can also be sliced and dried in a food dehydrator then used for months.

Although bitter melons are relatively hardy, they can be plagued by many of the same maladies as other members of the Cucurbit family. They are susceptible to various rots and fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and downy mildew. These vines are also prone to watermelon mosaic virus. Insects such as fruit flies, spotted cucumber beetles, striped cucumber beetles, and spider mites can be a problem too. Ask your county extension agent or local garden center expert for cultural practices or contact sprays to solve any problems you might encounter.

Traditional varieties of bitter melon are named after their physical attributes like ‘Indian Long Green’, ‘Green Skin’ and ‘Large Top’. Some of the new hybrids such as ‘Indian Long White’ are better suited to growing in more temperate climates. While other new hybrids, such as ‘Mara Long’, are improvements on older varieties.

References & External Links:

  • Oriental Vegetables- The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook, J. Larkcom, Kodasha, 2008
  • Vegetables,Herbs & Fruits – An Illustrated Encyclopedia, M. Biggs, J. McVicar & B. Flowerdew, Firefly Book, 2013
  • “Growing Bitter Melons – Bonnie Plants.” Bonnie Plants. <http://www.bonnieplants.com/growing/growing -bitter- melon/>.
  • “Better Living through Bitter Melon.” <http://www.bittermelon.org/cultivation.html/>.