Archive for category Fruit

Growing Citrus Fruit in Pots

My dream would be to have an orange, lemon and lime grove stretching as far as the eye could see with a few Kaffir lime and other strange citrus dotted around. A dream inspired by a visit to Seville and walking through a magnificent orangery in nearby Cordoba, the dimension of the trees just tall enough to walk under, the colours of the fruit hanging against the shiny dark green leaves and the perfumes from the leaves, fruit and flowers was pure heaven and inspired me to grow citrus.

Further North, however the weather can be too cold and wet in winter to support citrus trees in the ground but just because we haven’t got an ideal climate, soil or conditions it is not going to stop me trying to grow citrus. I have found that we are able to grow some citrus fruit in pots and get a fairly decent harvest (for the size of the trees), these pots can be brought inside in winter bringing with them the scents and smells of an exotic orangery.

A few years ago my mum bought us our first Lemon tree (Citrus Limon) a small 2-3 year old dwarf variety called La Valette which produces pale yellow round aromatic fruit with a thin smooth skin. It bore 3 perfect fruit in its first year and so far fruits every year and sometimes twice, then my nieces, Ruby and Nelly, bought me a Kaffir Lime tree (Citrus Hystrix) for my birthday, a healthy looking brute which produces the wonderfully pungent leaves essential to Thai cooking as well as green gnarly fruit. Next i bought a lemon tree in Italy which is a standard form and produces long fruit with a thick skin (pictured above).

We are just at the beginning with our citrus adventure, not having grown any before, but our limited success so far is encouraging.

Care

Temperature Most citrus need heat which is fine in the summer but should not be subjected to temperatures below 0, although some are said to survive up to -5, (ours have survived -7 with protection outside) to be on the safe side make sure to protect against frost and bring them indoors if it’s not possible to put them in a light frost-free place outside.
Soil a slightly acidic soil that is light, well aerated, well-drained and rich.
Feed with a diluted seaweed folia spray, a special ‘agrumes’ fertiliser or the traditional feed of diluted urine during the growing season. Mulch with well-rotted compost in autumn.
Water Citrus need a good supply of water but should never be left soggy or water-logged. A good soaking every few days in the dry summer, once a week (or when soil has completely dried out) in spring and autumn and rarely in winter, only when the soil is really dried out. Citrus will benefit from a spray of water on the leaves at night in high summer.
Space Re-pot every 2-3 years in Spring.

Protection
By growing our citrus trees in pots we can give nature a helping hand and move the small trees around to find the best micro climate for our weather conditions during the year. By putting them beside a south-facing wall in spring and autumn they are outdoors to benefit from the sun and heat on warm days but get the radiated heat from the wall to protect them from temperature dips. In winter we put them in an open cave which gets full low winter sun during the day and keeps some heat during the night to keep frost at bay. In summer they go out into the garden to benefit from full sun, occasionally pulling them into the shade if it gets too hot for a rest. By growing in pots we can also ensure that they have soil specifically tailored to them and a watering regime to suit.

Varieties
Lemons Lisbon and Eureka and Villafranca are the most hardy and commonly grown. Mayer is recommended for conservatory growing and Citron de Nice is both hardy and resistant to cold. La Valette suitable for pots and fruits all year round, unripe lemons can be used as limes.

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Litchi Tomato

I grew Morelle De Balbis (Solanum Sisymbriifolium) or Litchi Tomato, for the first time in 2008. All I knew about it is was that it is grown in Jersey as food for the gorillas in Durrell zoo.

I bought a single plant from a farmers market at Coustellet in the Luberon, from organic growers, Rachel and Frederic Smets and their “jardin de nos grands-meres…” who specialise in ancient or forgotten varieties which they grow on their farm near Bonnieux . Their stall was packed with exotic looking plants for the potager many of which I did know but one, the Morelle De Balbis, stood out as I had no idea what it was so I had to buy one to plant to see what it would become.

It turned out what I bought was Solanum Sisymbriifolium or Litchi Tomato. Litchi Tomato is a fairly rare Solanum producing lovely white flowers followed by 4-5cm red fruits enclosed in a prickly husk. The husk splits open when the fruit is ripe.

It is quite an unpleasant plant really. It grows to rather large proportions, I did not know to expect but I thought it would grow something like a tomato but what I got was a monster over 8ft tall that crowded out a good 16ft square of its raised bed.  Not only is it huge but it is covered with the most vicious spines. I tied it up, cut it back but it still managed to get me every time I passed it. I can forgive any plant for horrible growth habbits if it tastes good but I really found the fruit of this plant disappointing.

Fruit
The fruit are almost heart shaped with a little point and have a smooth red skin, which is strong but not tough, and yellow juicy flesh. The taste is not mind blowing, it is neither sour or sweet. Seed sellers say that the fruit are acidic with the taste of a Litchi but I didn’t find the ones from my plant had very much taste at all. Baker Creek reckon they taste ‘like a cherry crossed with a tomato’ – but to me they don’t taste much like either.  They have an insipid flavour. Of course I have tasted only the fruit from a single plant so it is hardly a fair assessment. The fruit can apparently be eaten raw or cooked and are used to make sauces and jams. I did not try cooking them perhaps more flavour could be got by boiling them with sugar.

Harvesting
The fruit are impossible, well nothing is impossible but they are painful to pick until they are ripe. Once ripe the spiky casings pull right back and the red fruit are exposed and can just be plucked without much injury. Clever really.

Cultivation
These plants come from the tropical regions of South America and are not frost hardy. Best grown like tomatoes. Sow in heat in early spring and plant out after the last frost. Matures in over 90 days from transplant so may need a long warm season climate.

Seed Saving
I think the best way is like you would save seeds for an aubergine:  to pulp the fruit with plenty of water, in a large glass, rinsing and draining off all floating debris then collect the seeds that have sank to the bottom of the glass. Spread out on a plate to dry.

Would I grow this again?
Well maybe but I’d have to put it somewhere where it won’t be a danger, not near paths or bed edges so it can grow as it likes without spiking me or anyone else. What is does have going for it though is that it is tough and resilient, it will stand heat and drought which for me is important. My second gardening year here was hit by drought. No rains from September to September meant that I lost a lot of crops and that is one of the reasons why I am so keen to experiment with growing a wide range of food crops and particularly ones that will crop without water

Seed Sources
I’ll have some seeds left to share if anyone wants some seeds or they can be bought from

Le Potager d’un Curieux
Ferme de Saintemarthe, France
Unusual Edible Plants & Herbs, UK
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, USA

Other Sources of Info
Le solanum sisymbrifolium
A la découverte de la morelle de Balbis (Solanum sisymbriifolium)

Posted collated from 3 posts 30/4/2008, 24/8/2008, 15/10/2008:

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Herbs for the Kitchen – East Asian

I try to grow most of what I need for the kitchen and this group of herbs are a little bit special because they are all essential ingredients for South East Asian cooking and some of my favourite foods.  Luckily most of these are pretty easy to grow and can fit in well with our Mediterranean garden with only a little extra protection.

Chillies

Capsicum: Annum, Chinense, Baccatum, or Pubescens

Not a herb of course but Chillis are indispensable in my kitchen, for all kinds of food but particularly East Asian, so I grow a wide variety of hot, medium and mild peppers. Chillis can be used  fresh or dried, whole, pureed or powdered and all lend a different taste and quality to a dish.  I sow Chillis in heat from November-March, set out undercover in March-April and outdoors in May. They can be harvested (depending on variety and protection) from April right through until the first frosts. Chillis store well whole or powdered once dried or they can be frozen fresh for use during the year. Use in pretty much everything.

Oriental Chives (Garlic Chives)

Allium tuberosum 

These delicious allium leaves are a close relative of ordinary chives but the taste is so much better that I no longer bother growing chives. The long flat leaves have pleasantly hot sweet garlic flavour and the flower buds are a delicacy, crisp and delicious.  Once you get a clump started these plants are perennial and are in flower July-August. Sow spring or autumn and divide in autumn. I love this stuff so much I’ve got a 40ft row of it. Use The leaves and flower buds are lovely in soups, salads, stir fries or as crudités.

Mint

Mentha Piperita

Mint is one of the most versatile herbs we use it in all kinds of dishes; salads, noodles, soups, and puddings and not just East Asian inspired food. I grow a variety called Menthe Douce or Mentha Anglaise in France but we would know it as Peppermint.  Mint can be propagated from seed or by division. Mint, on our land is best in spring and autumn, in the hot summer months it can get tough and nasty so I cut it back in late July and it re-generates providing a late crop of fresh leaves late summer through autumn. Use a really versatile herb that can be added to to sweet or savory foods, fresh or dried to enhance teas, cordials, ice-creams, puddings, chutneys, salads and riatas.

Thai Basil

Ocimum basillicum 

Thai basil, also known as Thai purple basil, Asian basil, Anise basil is a magnificent plant; nice and bushy with pointed green leaves and purple stems and flowers. The leaves are delicious providing a strong, hot aniseedish flavour. It is most commonly used in Thai cooking where it is stir fried or added to salads, soups and curries. It is also deep fried and used as a garnish. Thai basil is grown much in the same way as European basil. I start the seeds off undercover in cells, usually March, then plant out when the weather is warm enough, usually April-May.

Use mainly Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, fresh or deep fried as a garnish

Coriander

Coriandrum sativum 

I grow coriander also known as cilantro for both seed and the leaf. Coriander is a delicate leafy herb that goes to seed easily so for leaf production it needs to be sown regularly through the year. I sow direct undercover October-February and outdoors March to September. I find it best to sow in half rows direct into a well watered drill with a light covering of sieved soil. To aid germination some gardeners recommend that coriander seeds should be lightly cracked. To do this rub the seeds between two flat stones or put them in a small plastic bag and crush with a smooth heavy object, before sowing. I find the seed does germinate well without the need for cracking. Green Coriander Seeds are one of my favourite spices so once I have finished harvesting leaves I leave the plants to grow on to produce seed and use some green in the kitchen then dry the rest for re-sowing and using in the kitchen.

Lemon Grass

Cymbopogon flexuosus

Tender perennial native to Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Burma,and Thailand, also known as East-Indian Lemon Grass, Cochin Grass or Malabar Grass. Lemon grass grows in grassy clumps and looks a little like pampas grass. I got started with a clump of Lemon Grass, which was given to me by our lovely Auzzie helpers, Graham & Renee in 2006, and really growing well in the polytunnel. I also grow a clump from seed which is also growing in the tunnel. Once the stalks are large enough they can by snapped off as needed. If the temperatures drops below 4c they will need protection. Last winter the temperature, in the unheated tunnel, was too cold and the clump got frost bite and rotted back. I cut out as much rotten material as I could and waited, fingers crossed. In spring the clump came back to life and is now romping away again but lesson learnt. This winter I will make a special winter jacket for it of sacking stuffed with straw. Use finely chopped or left whole to flavour steamed dishes, soups, stir-fries and it also makes a delicious tea.

Vietnamese Coriander

Polygonum odoratum

Also known as Vietnamese Mint, Cambodian Mint or Laksa Leaf. A tender perennial. Most commonly used in Vietnamese cooking in salads, soups and spring rolls it adds an aromatic heat reminiscent of mint, coriander but much stronger and hotter with a hint of lemon. In Malaysia and Singapore it is called Laska leaf and is essential to the soupy noodle dish it is named after. Propagation can only be done by division. I started with one small plant in spring 2007, which grew madly in the polytunnel. However because this herb cannot be grown from seed I’d bought a plant to start with from a herb specialist but – disaster- the plant carried with it mealy bug in the soil which thrived in the tunnel and devistated not only the Laksa but everything else growing in the tunnel in 2008. I’ve lost the herb in fact I had to burn the whole thing, roots soil and everything to get rid of the bugs and the tunnel is still not back into proper use. I will have to start over with this herb once I can find another source for the plant.

Kaffir Lime

Citrus Hystrix

Kaffir lime leaves and juice are an essential ingredient in Thai curries, Asian soups and some stir fry dishes. The leaves are very aromatic and are used fresh whole or shredded. The limes make a lovely pickle and the juice is a strong souring agent. I have a small tree growing in a pot, which my nieces bought me, and this does need a little bit of special care see growing citrus fruit in pots.

Originally posted on Mas du Diable 31/7/2008 it is here updated and republished.

Seeds and Starts
I am hoping to expand on what I grow and try galangal, ginger, nigella, curry leaves, sacred basil, which I think is Ocimum tenuiflorum (Sanctum) and Holy Basil is Ocimum Basilicum (Horapha). So if anyone has any seeds or starts for any of these I’d love to hear from you.

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