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A Bit Of Experimenting With Fruit.

One of the TV chefs has been promoting a range of fruit and vegetable seeds with a difference this last year. Amongst the collection of oddities was the Cucamelon which looked quite different to anything I had grown before, so I bought a packet to give it a try. On the packet was plenty of information about the plants that was very helpful, but I thought that I would run my own experiment by growing a few plants on my exposed, windy allotment and some in the greenhouse at home to compare their growth and fruiting.

The greenhouse was not kept particularly warm, but understandably the plants grew away much quicker in their 6 inch pots compared to those outside which just seemed to sit there for weeks until it really started to warm up outside. Even then they did not grow as well and seemed to prefer to scramble along the ground than climb up the tripod of canes. The plants in the greenhouse grew tall up canes and flowered prolifically, although it was difficult to tell when the fruits were really ripe and were not going to be sour to eat. The plants gave a good crop of their small fruits and seemed to be far more productive than those outside. However, when the end of the season came and I reluctantly dug up the outdoor plants to try and save their tuberous roots for next season, I was surprised to find that there was a pile of mature fruits hidden away, on the ground, inside the cone of stems and leaves. Obviously the flowers had sheltered themselves inside the protection of the cone of growth out of the persistent wind and had been fruiting away totally out of sight. The plants had barely climbed 2, or 3 feet outside, whereas inside, had reached the top of the greenhouse tangling themselves into every nook and cranny. The conclusion has got to be that this tough little plant will adapt its growth to suit the environment and should grow and fruit just about anywhere in England if it will grow in the exposed windy conditions of my allotment.

When I dug up both batches of plants, I found some good roots with little tubers attached to them, not too dissimilar to Dahlia tubers. Perhaps the greenhouse grown plants had better tubers, but I decided to try and save all of them by over wintering them in pots of fairly dry compost. According to the instructions this should give the plants a flying start for next season and produce better plants with more fruits.

Articles concerning the edible qualities of the fruit describe it in various ways, but put simply it is not really a fruit that is sweet enough to eat without some cooking due to its thick skin and tendency to be sour if not fully ripe. They are very like both a miniature melon and cucumber, but are spoilt by their skin and big seeds. Traditionally they are served in alcoholic drinks which may well soften the fruit and where there tartness could be welcome in the same way as that of a slice of Lime, or Lemon is welcome. The other option is cooking them with other fruit for their sharp flavour and where their skin will soften, but add bulk. The same could be said of using them in things such as a Stir Fry, or the like.

Another experiment I tried was with seeds from shop bought Pepino fruits. The Melon Pear, as it is also called, is very much a greenhouse plant and I have sometimes seen mature plants on sale in garden centres. Packets of seeds are also occasionally available however, but I decided to try using washed seeds from commercial fruit. The seeds germinated and grew well and there were one or two small purple flowers on the plants at the end of the season, but they did not set. The plants do seem to tolerate some cold, but seem susceptible to mildew and whitefly in particular. Now some 2 feet high, I have taken them into the house for added warmth over the Winter. The hope is that in the new season they can go back out into the greenhouse to bulk up their growth and hopefully fruit next summer.

As regular readers know I love growing unusual fruit whether they grow on trees, bushes or tender greenhouse plants, so I was delighted to be told about a website that specializes in fruit that can be grown outside in this country. http://www.agroforestry.co.uk/
It is amazing what fruiting trees they both grow and sell including edible fruiting versions of things like Hawthorns and popular garden plants like Gaultherias. They sell trees that produce nuts that I have never heard of such as the Bladdernut and Apios Americana, which is the proper name for the true Ground Nut. (Not the well known Pea Nut that is different altogether) They seem to sell every imaginable fruit tree and many varieties of each of them as well as many trees that you have never dreamed of before. They also sell many herbs and other useful plants. Besides the retail nursery side to the company they carry out research on many plants and their habitat as well as their viability in the UK as a farmed crop. Furthermore they do lecturing to spread their knowledge to farmers and other growers who want to diversify. It is definitely a company who I shall buy a few fruit trees and bushes from occasionally!



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