Peter Cun­dall:

Of­fers tips for grow­ing your own juicy fruit.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS - with Peter Cun­dall

Ripe lo­quats are won­der­fully juicy, highly aro­matic and de­li­ciously sweet

Long be­fore I tasted the fruit, I fell in love with those big, dark green, cor­ru­gated, and won­der­fully-hand­some leaves of lo­quat trees. They cre­ate dense, ever­green canopies that look dis­tinctly trop­i­cal, yet are so hardy they eas­ily with­stand the cold­est Tas­ma­nian win­ters.

Oddly enough the flow­ers ap­pear in July, in our gar­den the frosti­est month of the year.

Hang­ing in rather drab clus­ters, they look a bit like tiny dull-cream roses and even pro­duce a faint fra­grance.

At one time they were used as at­trac­tive, fast-grow­ing screen­ing plants that thrived even in fairly poor soil.

They even sup­pressed weeds be­cause the large, over­lap­ping leaves stole all light.

Amaz­ingly, lo­quat fruit were vir­tu­ally ig­nored in Tas­ma­nia dur­ing the 1960s, prob­a­bly be­cause the un­ripe fruit was too sour.

They would dis­ap­pear within days of full ripen­ing be­cause bead y-eyed, highly ap­pre­cia­tive birds got in early.

Ripe lo­quats are won­der­fully juicy, highly aro­matic and de­li­ciously sweet. I re­call tast­ing my first, early one De­cem­ber morn­ing and couldn’t stop gorg­ing on them af­ter­wards, ca­su­ally spit­ting out the small, smooth, peb­ble-like pips.

Lo­quats have been called Ja­panese Plums, be­cause the fruit is rel­ished in Ja­pan while the re­mark­ably hard, dense and heavy wood is greatly val­ued by craft­work­ers. In fact they are more closely re­lated to ap­ples and orig­i­nate in China.

The trees grow al­most any­where, in­clud­ing the trop­ics and have few pest or dis­ease prob­lems. There is a vul­ner­a­bil­ity to very heavy, late frosts which can dam­age im­ma­ture fruit.

The plants are al­most im­pos­si­ble to kill. We have a chance seedling grow­ing in an in­con­ve­nient place and ev­ery year I use a chain­saw to cut it down to the ground, but it still keeps sprout­ing vig­or­ous new shoots.

Lo­quat trees can tol­er­ate a big range of

soil types and grow strongly in acidic or al­ka­line soils and even light clay. One weak­ness is salt in any form, so if con­stantly ex­posed to strong, salt-laden coastal winds they fail to grow.

Al­most all Tas­ma­nia’s back­yard lo­quat trees are seedling-raised. So ev­ery tree is slightly dif­fer­ent and the fruit can vary in size from that of a small plum to a large apri­cot. Some seedlings form pips so large there is lit­tle room for the flesh.

Luck­ily sev­eral named va­ri­eties have ap­peared and can be ob­tained from spe­cial­ist nurs­eries. Bes­sel Brown car­ries ex­tra-large fruit in Jan­uary and does well in cool dis­tricts. Whit­tens are plum-sized and the flesh has a sharp, sweet taste while ‘Chatsworth’ is a par­tic­u­larly heavy-crop­per de­vel­oped South Aus­tralia.

For an as­sured sup­ply of fleshy, sweetly-flavoured fruit, it pays to look out for more re­li­able named va­ri­eties or prop­a­gate by cut­tings taken from a suc­cess­ful crop­per. They can be planted any time of the year in Tas­ma­nia, al­though late win­ter and early spring is best.

Avail­able as con­tainer-grown plants, they need spe­cial treat­ment prior to plant­ing. All outer roots must be loos­ened and pot­ting soil scraped from the perime­ter of the root ball, oth­er­wise plants sulk for months. The aim is to en­sure root tips are in im­me­di­ate con­tact with new gar­den soil when planted.

Dig a hole larger than the root ball and back­fill around the roots with good pot­ting soil and com­post. Af­ter plant­ing, wa­ter deeply and spread well-rot­ted sheep or cow ma­nure over the sur­face. Per­fect drainage is es­sen­tial.

Lo­quat trees can also be grown in large tubs, but pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to wa­ter­ing dur­ing dry pe­ri­ods. Feed with weak liq­uid ma­nure at monthly in­ter­vals from spring to late sum­mer. Prune af­ter har­vest­ing to con­trol ex­ces­sive growth.

Har­vest­ing times vary from late spring in warm dis­tricts to late Jan­uary where soils re­main cool un­til Novem­ber.

The fruit are highly at­trac­tive to birds and they move in fast. Be pre­pared to throw pro­tec­tive net­ting over the canopy as fruit ap­proaches ma­tu­rity.

Lo­quats are not only great to eat they are ex­cel­lent sources of Vi­ta­min A, beta carotene, potas­sium, car­bo­hy­drates and fi­bre.

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