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Persimmons, A Colorful Fruit of the Late Autumn

Persimmons are one of the last fruits of the season and among the most colorful with dramatic autumn leaves and bright orange fruit. October is the month that persimmons ripen in our area and the fruit can be used in many ways from fresh or dried fruit to an ingredient of cookies, puddings or salads. The bright orange fruit also makes a colorful addition to autumn displays.

The species originated in central China and the persimmon cultivars commonly grown in California, Diospyros kaki spp., were originally cultivated in Japan. Between 1870 and 1920, the USDA introduced several Chinese and Japanese cultivars to the southern and western U.S. but now most persimmons are of the D. kaki species and are grown in the San Joaquin Valley. The native North American persimmon species, Diospyros virginica, is not found in California and the fruit is inferior to the cultivated species.

Persimmons are deciduous trees and the leaves turn dramatic colors in the autumn. The bright orange fruit will remain on the tree after the leaves fall creating a beautiful specimen for photography. The bark of a persimmon tree is deeply fissured with distinct rectangles. The species is in the ebony (Ebenaceae) family and persimmon wood and bark are dark. Persimmon trees are both colorful and drought resistant. but adequate water is required for an adequate fruit crop. Persimmons grow as a single or multi-stemmed tree and reach approximately 25 feet at maturity. Inconspicuous flowers are borne in the leaf axils of new growth from one-year old wood. Most cultivars are parthenocarpic. The set fruit remains inconspicuous and green until ripening to a bright orange fruit.

Persimmon trees are either male or female and sexual expression can vary from year to year. Most cultivars are parthenocarpic and set seedless fruit without pollination. Persimmons are classified into two general categories, those bearing fruit that is astringent until soft ripe and those whose fruit is not astringent; within each category are cultivars whose fruits are influenced by pollination (pollination variant) and those that are not (pollination constant). Fertilization of pollination variant cultivars results in the formation of seeds and fruit with a different flavor and texture than from non-pollinated fruit. Persimmon trees often set abundant fruit and although some self-thinning occurs in late spring, the largest fruit result from judicious hand thinning to one or two fruit per twig in May or June. Persimmons are easily planted as bare root trees in early winter and the two main cultivars grown in California are readily available from local and mail order nurseries.

Persimmons are relatively disease and pest free. The primary insect pests of persimmons are mealybug and scale in association with ants. Vertebrate pests including gophers and ground squirrels can scour roots and girdle trunk stems. The ripe fruits are a favorite of many vertebrates including squirrels, rats, opossums, deer and, of course, birds.

The two most widely grown cultivars in California are the astringent variety ‘Hachiya’ with oblong, conical fruit and the non-astringent variety ‘Fuyu’ with flat, faintly four-sided fruit. Astringent varieties can be harvested when fully colored but still hard and ripened at room temperature off the tree, or stored hard in the refrigerator for up to a month before being allowed to ripen. Although tree ripening will improve astringent fruit, birds will likely destroy the crop as it ripens fully. Non-astringent varieties can be harvested when fully colored and allowed to soften slightly off the tree. Non-astringent persimmons will soften significantly even when refrigerated when stored with other fruit.

Although astringent fruit must be jelly-soft before being edible, the soft fruit can be used in cookies, breads and puddings. The fruit contains considerable pectin and will add significant body to a smoothie! Non-astringent fruit can be eaten like an apple or added to autumn salads. All persimmons make excellent dried fruit and drying will remove the astringency from hard astringent fruit. Astringent fruit can be dried by hanging from the stem, either peeled or unpeeled and results is a sweet date-like confection.

Persimmons should be harvested by cutting the stem with hand shears, leaving he calyx intact. The stem should be cut close to the calyx unless a short piece of stem is required for drying. Harvested fruit should be handled with care, even if hard, to prevent bruising.

References:

UC Davis Fruit and Nut Research and Information Website for Persimmons (2013)

http://fruitandnuteducation.ucdavis.edu/education/fruitnutproduction/Persimmon/

Pomegranate Fruit Facts (1996) - California Rare Fruit Growers

http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/persimmon.html

Beautiful orange persimmon ornaments. (photo by Rich Zimmerman)
Beautiful orange persimmon ornaments. (photo by Rich Zimmerman)

Posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 8:21 AM
Tags: fruit (15), ornamental (2), persimmon (1)

EZ as Pie-napple Guava

I've been growing pineapple guava, Feijoa sellowiana, for years now.  When I was first putting my landscape in, after I moved to Fairfield, I wanted to include things that you could eat. I also wanted to have things that were fairly drought tolerant.  I have a small yard, so I was somewhat limited in choices. I didn't have room for an orchard. I was attracted to the pineapple guava plant because it was different than the standard fruit. It has glossy medium green leaves that are silvery on the underside. It has an unusual edible flower with multiple red stamens.  The fruit is admittedly a bit homely, a green oval  about two to three inches long.  Another selling point for pineapple guava was that you didn't have to agonize over when it was at the perfect state of ripeness; when it was ready, it just fell to the ground and you picked it up.


Fast forward over twenty years. My three pineapple guava shrubs have done very well. Many jars of jam and chutney have been made and many muffins have been baked. The shrubs have been pruned back yearly in December (not the optimal time) so that I could give bagfuls of branches to the Master Gardener Wreath Workshop.  As the shrubs grew in circumference and density harvesting the fruit became a bit more challenging.  The ground is covered in Vinca minor, so sometimes the fruit would seem to just disappear when it hit the ground.  When it would fall inward near the trunk, it would take a lot of bending or scrabbling about on my hands and knees to reach back and get it.  Sometimes, while doing this, smaller branches would whip back and hit me in the face or arms.


 Harvest season always seems to take me by surprise. It usually starts in late September or early October and goes for four to six weeks.  Each year I find myself thinking “It’s too soon. Summer can't really be over yet, can it?"  This year was the same, I went around to the side yard to water and there they were scattered on the ground.  I picked up a few easy ones then peered into the darkness underneath the shrubs where I could see many more. Now unfortunately, I have been having a bit of a flare up of my low back pain. When I saw those fruit, I   thought there was no way I was going to be able to crawl around under those shrubs. Visions of clouds of flies and fruit flies feasting on rotting fruit flew through my brain.


Suddenly I thought of my EZ Reacher tool, which I usually use to get stuff that falls behind bookshelves or between the washer and dryer.  It worked perfectly to pick up the fruit. It didn't crush or bruise the fruit at all. I didn't have to put any strain on my back.  I didn't have any scratch marks on my face or arms from the smaller branches.  For the life of me, I can't figure out why I didn't think of this sooner.  I guess I had just mentally put that tool in the storage section marked "Indoors" in my brain. 

Now I am probably going to find out that I am the last person to figure this out and that the rest of you have been using this for years in your garden.  But just in case I am not the last person, thought I would put it out there, as it might save some pain and strain for someone else. 

Pineapple guava tool. (photos by Karen Metz)
Pineapple guava tool. (photos by Karen Metz)

Reaching into the tough places.
Reaching into the tough places.

Posted on Monday, September 30, 2013 at 9:45 AM
Tags: EZ reacher (1), fruit (15), pineapple guava (2)

A More Humane and Non-Toxic Pest Repellant

Once my husband and I had gotten the upper hand on preventing spotted-wing fruit flies from ruining our delicious Lapin cherries,  we still had the problem of birds chowing down on them.  In previous years, we had covered the tree with bird netting, but needless to say this was always a difficult procedure – both putting it up and taking it down. The bigger negative was that more than one bird got caught in the net…a traumatic experience for all concerned!

So one day while driving through the wine country and observing the balloon-like oddities suspended above the rows of grapes, inspiration struck! The balls had “evil eyes” printed on them and they were moving in the breeze. Putting two and two together: I had previously been advised by Gary Bogue (retired wildlife columnist for the Contra Costa Times) that hanging a yellow smiley-face balloon in the almond tree would keep squirrels at bay. The problem was that the balloons, though seemingly effective for a time, eventually ran out of gas, faded and got stuck in the tree.

We came up with our own solution: a volleyball which we painted with an “evil eye” on each side. It was suspended just above the tree top via a PVC pipe and Voilà! Out of 60 pounds of cherries, about a dozen of them had bird pecks , and these came from the lower branches where I suppose the eye wasn’t visible.

Later in the summer, we hung the volleyball eye above our almond tree and it seemed to keep the squirrel away as well. Our squirrel-crazed bird dogs alerted us every time it hit our neighbors’ almond tree…maybe that had something to do with it too.

The evil eye! (photo by Donna Seslar)
The evil eye! (photo by Donna Seslar)

Posted on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 8:37 AM
Tags: birds (14), evil eye (1), fruit (15), netting (2)

Pomegranate

A pleasure of the autumn garden is the sight of a pomegranate bush with its multiple red fruit in contrast against its still green foliage. Late September is the time that pomegranates ripen in our area and the fruit and juice can be used in many recipes from salads to dessert. The bright red fruit also make colorful additions to autumn displays from table decorations to wreaths.

Pomegranates, Punica granatum, originated in Iran and have spread throughout the Middle East and areas with a Mediterranean climate including California. They are both colorful and drought resistant. Pomegranates grow as a bush or small tree and can reach a height of 10 to 16 feet but can be kept smaller with judicious pruning.  The bushes are generally deciduous and bright scarlet flowers appear among young leaves in spring. The set fruit appears as relatively inconspicuous globes until late summer when the exocarp or covering turn a deep red.  When ripe, the fruits are generally between three and five inches in diameter with a distinctive calyx. Pomegranates are harvested by clipping the fruit just above the stem end rather than by pulling or twisting.  While pomegranates are beautiful on the bushes, they should be picked before autumn rains since the excess water will split the exocarp and spoil the fruit. Pomegranates can be stored under refrigeration for up to seven months but will dry out over time if left at room temperature.

Pomegranates are easily planted as bare root plants in early winter and many cultivars are available from local and mail order nurseries. The cultivar Wonderful is the primary commercial variety in California. A light harvest is available from the second year on and mature bushes are highly productive.  Pomegranates are relatively disease and pest free. The fungal diseases Alternaria fruit rot and Aspergillus fruit rot can appear if rain occurs during bloom and grey mold, Botrytis cinerea can occur on harvested fruit. The primary insect and mite pests of pomegranates are aphids, omnivorous leaf roller, leaf footed bugs and citrus mites,  The greatest threat to pomegranate bushes in home orchards comes from vertebrate pests including gophers and ground squirrels which scour roots and girdle trunk stems. A gopher cage is effective measure to allow a young bush to grow without interference.

Pomegranate fruit are actually berries. The red, fluid filled arils that surround individual seeds are held in place by a fibrous membrane. The sweet, bright red arils can be used in salads, smoothies, desserts or any recipe that can use a bright sparkle. Many Iranian and Middle Eastern recipes use pomegranate arils, juice or a molasses-like reduction of the juice for flavor and sweetness.  Pomegranates and their juice are a good source of Vitamins C and K and contain antioxidants including ellagitannins and punicalagins. The arils are a source of dietary fiber.

To open a pomegranate, slit the side with a knife and then plunge the fruit into a bowl of water. Gently open the fruit with your fingers and twist to separate the arils from the membrane that surrounds them. The water will prevent the juice from staining the surrounds and will facilitate separation of the arils which sink while bits of membrane and exocarp will float. Remove any floating debris and pour the contents through a colander or sieve to separate the arils. The collected arils can be used “as is” or they can be juiced. Pomegranate juice is the red fluid between the seed and the aril wall. Use a hand press juicer (i.e. a citrus press) rather than a centrifugal or grinding juicer to avoid breaking the white seeds open and imparting a bitter flavor to the juice.

References:

UC Davis Fruit and Nut Research and Information Website for Pomegranates (2013)

http://fruitandnuteducation.ucdavis.edu/education/fruitnutproduction/Pomegranate/

Pomegranate Fruit Facts (1997) - California Rare Fruit Growers

http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/pomegranate.html

 

Pomegranate shrub with beautiful ornamental fruit. (photos by Rich Zimmerman)
Pomegranate shrub with beautiful ornamental fruit. (photos by Rich Zimmerman)

Red globes.
Red globes.

The red jewels inside.
The red jewels inside.

Posted on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 10:40 AM
Tags: berry (1), fruit (15), Iran (1), pomegranate (8), Punica granatum (1)

Tomato Trivia or It Is Just Too Hot to Be Very Serious

If you were to poll the Master Gardeners who sit at information booths and answer questions from the public regarding problems they might be having in their gardens, my bet would be that the majority of those questions deal with tomatoes.  And understandably so, as 93 percent of home gardeners in the U.S. grow tomatoes.  I thought, just for fun, I'd look at some other interesting facts regarding this fruit, er, I mean vegetable, I mean, er well, whatever.  

The Department of Agriculture states that Americans eat between 22-24 pounds of tomatoes per year, but most of that is in the form of either ketchup or tomato sauce. In recent years, salsa has passed up ketchup.  (Ketchup always has run slow.--sorry, couldn't resist)  At the grocery market, the tomato is the 4th most popular vegetable, running behind potatoes, lettuce, and onions.

Americans have increased their consumption of the tomato over the past 20 years by 30 percent, mostly in the processed forms of sauces, paste, and salsa.   I realize that I have no memory as a kid of eating salsa.  When did that get invented?  And even more important, what did we put on those chips?

Fresh market tomatoes are raised in all 50 states, the majority grown in Florida. However, California grows 96 percent of the tomatoes that are processed.  Worldwide, China grows the most, the U.S. second.  

The tomato is believed to have originally come from Peru, its Aztec name being "xitomati", which means "plump thing with a navel". The scientific name is Lycopersicon lycopersicum which means "wolf peach".

No one can agree on how many variety of tomatoes there are.  The estimates run between 10,000 and 25,000.  My guess as to why there is  this discrepancy is because new varieties are constantly popping up.  Isn't 25,000 enough?  I already have such a hard time every spring deciding what variety to plant.

The heaviest tomato recorded weighed in at 7 lbs. 12 oz., grown by Gordon Graham of Oklahoma in 1986.  After weighing, Mr. Graham sliced the tomato and made sandwiches for 21 people.

The largest known tomato plant was a 'Sungold' variety, whose height was recorded in the year 2000 as 65 feet tall.  It was grown by a company in the U.K. (I have a 'Sungold', and up to this very minute, thought it was doing very well at 6 feet.)

The tomato is the official fruit and vegetable of Arkansas while the official drink of Ohio is tomato juice.

The largest tomato festival in the U.S. appears to be the one held  in Arkansas which continues for a whole week and has over 30,000 visitors and tasters.  However, if you really want to have fun, you may want to go to Spain on the last Wednesday in August for La Tomatina where 30,000 participants throw 150,000 tons (not pounds, but tons) of over ripe tomatoes at each other.  Guess that is better than throwing over ripe watermelons.

Now to answer that age old question, is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?  Botanically, a tomato is the ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant.  Therefore it is a fruit or, more precisely, a berry.  But by US tariff laws, a tomato is consider a vegetable.  The applicable law define produce by its use and not its scientific classification. From a culinary point of view, a tomato is a vegetable.

So, Farmers Market Master Gardeners, this article may not be helpful to you in solving that one difficult tomato question, but you will have a lot to chat about while your partner at the table looks up the answer. 

Tomatoes. (photo by Betty Homer)
Tomatoes. (photo by Betty Homer)

Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:50 PM
Tags: fruit (15), tomato (12), vegetable (2)

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