Offers tips for growing your own juicy fruit.
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.