Posts Tagged 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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