Fruit for thought

Regardless of the size of your garden, courtyard or balcony, it’s possible to produce home-grown fruit.

Fruit trees come in a range of sizes: full-size (four metres or larger), dwarf (two to three metres tall), columnar (60 centimetres wide and up to four metres tall) and miniature (one-and-a-half metres tall).

Apples and pears need a cool winter, but there are still plenty of options for people living in warmer climates – look for dwarf peach, papaya, mulberry, macadamia, persimmon, almond or mango trees. Consider dwarf quinces, apples or blueberries for balconies and small gardens. Mail-order nurseries stock a large selection of fruit trees.

If you only have room for one full-size tree, plant two varieties 15cm apart in the same hole. This is particularly effective when combining apples, pears or plums that need a cross pollinator, but it can also be done with trees of different species. Prune overlapping branches to reap more fruit over a longer period.

Alternatively, you can buy trees grafted with two or more varieties of fruit, whether it’s a mix of citrus, stone fruit, apples or pears. Just remember to mark branches so you don’t accidentally prune off a variety.

 

 

 

 

Pruning is key, says Craig Castree, a Victorian-based horticulturalist and the author of Edible Gardens. “If you can’t reach the fruit when you’re standing with your feet flat on the ground, trees become too hard to manage,” he says. “Trim vertical growth to encourage horizontal growth, which produces more fruit and will be easier to pick.”

He also says: “No net equals no fruit.” So, protect your crop from local pests such as birds and possums.

Strategic pruning can reduce the space needed without a huge loss of fruit, from trees trained in neat lines or fan shapes (espaliered), to column-shaped cordons (trained to grow as a single stem). You can even buy stepover apple plants that act as productive bed edging and grow to a height of about 50 centimetres.

If you’re not sure about your pruning skills, try Fleming’s Ballerina range of columnar apple trees, which are bred to stay in shape.

Miniatures are perfect for growing in pots and dwarf sizes suit larger tubs. Meyer lemons, cumquats and mandarins are best suited to tubs. Buy wheels for your tubs so you can move them.

Some specialist suppliers graft trees to order. Choose from heritage varieties not widely available, or have a favourite fruit tree cloned onto dwarf rootstock.

Caring for container trees

  • Keep tubs in a sheltered, sunny position
  • Apply a slow-release fertiliser every six months
  • Keep soil moist at all times
  • Pick off pest insects
  • Trim the branches and roots every two years and change the potting mix to keep plants healthy
  • Instead of tubs, try bonsai bags, which can be used to temporarily hold fruit trees if you’re moving house
  • Apples and pears need different pruning to stone fruit; check before chopping.

words Jane Canaway

 

Winter Flavour

It’s hard to imagine life without oranges and lemons. A staple of cuisines from Spain to China, citrus is probably our most versatile fruit family. Best of all, they come into season now, when many others have ended. There are about seven species of native limes, plus cultivars, but sadly they are still rare in shops – which is ironic because new research suggests all modern varieties can be traced back to Australasian species from 30 million years ago. However, you will find new-season lemons, limes, satsumas – a lunchbox favourite – and navel oranges, taking over from summer’s Valencias.

You might even find tangelos, citrons, yuzu, Buddha’s hand or bergamot; there are hundreds of types and they’re all cousins. They’re also good for you, providing fibre, lots of vitamin C, B vitamins (including folate), antioxidants and trace minerals.

Few Greek dishes are complete without lemon, and it’s a healthy addition: squeeze it on salads, stir fries, risottos, roast potatoes, chicken, fish, water, tea – and an occasional gin and tonic. High levels of citric acid mean lemon is a good meat tenderiser and it can be used as a cleaning aid. It’s even supposed to fade sunspots. To preserve a glut, you can freeze juice in ice trays, make cordial and curd, or preserve lemons in salt.

Limes can be substituted for a change; generally they are more acidic. The sweetest citrus are oranges, which work well in cakes, desserts and salads. Try oranges with raw fennel for a summery crunch in winter. Or create the colourful Sicilian orange salad, using a range of sliced citrus dressed with olives, red onion and olive oil. Swap tinned fruit for fresh citrus to make a refreshingly different trifle; you can even make the jelly from scratch using fresh juice, and decorate with shavings of orange-flavoured chocolate.

Grapefruit adds flavour to a salad too – it is particularly tasty with avocado, rocket and prawns, or in a Vietnamese-style slaw with chicken or crab.

QUICK CURD

Make an easy lemon curd by whisking 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, 175g caster sugar, 80g butter and 2 lemons (zest & juice). Stir continuously over low heat until thickened. Store in an airtight jar in the fridge.

words Jane Canaway illustrations Clementine/The Illustration Room

 

Cooking tip: Add lemon juice before scrambling eggs to retain their golden colour.

The Time is Ripe

Summer’s harvest begins to add fragrance to our shops and gardens in late Spring and just as Summer fruits start to taste their best, the price drops. So, now is the time to enjoy peaches, cherries, grapes, plums, apricots, nectarines, mangoes, raspberries, pineapples and strawberries.

Wild strawberries, whose Latin name Fragraria means “fragrance”, have been used medicinally since Roman times. They were grown from runners until new species from North and South America arrived in Australia in the 1750s. These species had larger fruit, so growers experimented with cross breeding. Initial plantings produced no fruit, until growers learned that some plants were male and others female.

The modern strawberry is a cultivar, first produced in France around 1766. Choose strawberries by their sweet fragrance and glossy exterior and check carefully for bruising or marking.

India’s national fruit, the mango, adds flavour to many different dishes. Add mango to a super-spicy chutney or curry, a smoothie, or simply enjoy it on its own. Grapes and chunks of sweet pineapple add interest to a summer salad.

The stone fruits chosen for easy transportation by supermarkets are probably the least flavoursome, so if you can grow heritage types at home you can enjoy their old-fashioned scent and taste.

Look for dwarf trees of many heritage fruits, some of which are small enough to grow in pots. Most fruit offers a broad range of vitamins and antioxidants; strawberries are particularly high in Vitamin C.

Many fruits are treated with chemical sprays to retain freshness. Strawberries top the list, but grapes, apples, peaches and nectarines are often sprayed too. Pineapples, mangoes, papayas, kiwi fruit and cantaloupes are hardier and less likely to be treated.

Don’t let that stop you eating fruit though – just make sure you wash it thoroughly, or buy or grow organic. Hunt down a pick-your-own farm and discover where and how your fruit is grown.

words Jane Canaway

illustrations Clementine/The Illustration Room

 

Cooking tip
The enzymes in fresh kiwi fruit,
papaya and pineapple can be used
as meat tenderisers in marinades

Asparagus is the stuff of folklore and mystery

Flourish, September 2016

The ancient Greeks discovered the delights of asparagus and it’s no surprise they associated the firm, thick shoots – emerging each spring from winter-dormant soil – with virility.

There is no proof asparagus is an aphrodisiac – nor that it can cure cancer – but it is certainly a delicious, nutritious plant worth enjoying during its brief season.

Asparagus is low in calories and high in antioxidants. It is high in B vitamins, folate, vitamin C, potassium, sodium, iron and fibre.

Experts disagree on whether it is a natural diuretic and can lower blood pressure – and thus whether it should be avoided by those with uric acid kidney stones or diabetes.

Purple asparagus contains anthocyanins – potent antioxidants that aid in the growth of healthy cells.

When cooking asparagus, light steaming or stir-frying will preserve more nutrients than boiling, but stems can also be eaten raw (add to a salad or blend in a smoothie).

Try it in soup, in a quiche or omelette, tempura style or with smoked salmon and pasta. Blanched asparagus can be frozen or preserved in brine, vinegar or oil.

Asparagus can be costly to buy as the roots must be three years old before harvesting. White asparagus, which is grown in the dark, is even more labour-intensive. On the upside, plants last 15-20 years.

However, it is easy to grow from seed: six crowns, planted 20-40 centimetres apart during winter, will feed a family. Asparagus grows across Australia but performs best in areas cold enough to induce dormancy.

PARMESAN SPEARS

1 bunch asparagus, 2 tbsp olive oil, salt & pepper, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated), balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 230°C and drizzle olive oil over a single layer of asparagus on a baking tray. Spread with parmesan and season to taste. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Serve with balsamic vinegar.
(For recipes and tips visit asparagus.com.au)

words Jane Canaway illustrations Clementine/The Illustration Room