Gardening: A seasonal flavour to savour

By Meg Liptrot

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Meg Liptrot says every backyard should have a feijoa tree or two

Keep your autumn fruit bowl filled with these tangy green globes. Photo / Meg Liptrot
Keep your autumn fruit bowl filled with these tangy green globes. Photo / Meg Liptrot

One of my favorite fruits, the feijoa is here to be celebrated for its brief season. Its fresh flavour is impossible to replicate and the fruit should be eaten at just the right moment, plucked from the tree while the flesh is still white.

Every backyard should have a feijoa tree. They're one of the best, easy-care fruit trees you can own. The fruit is unappealing to most pests, so it comes off the tree intact.

Feijoas are rich in the antioxidant vitamin C and with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties found in lab studies, may even be classed as a superfruit.

The feijoa is a versatile small tree and can be pruned to suit the style of your garden. On our small property, we have eight feijoas grown in different ways. To help define the space from the courtyard to the path, I chose to plant and prune a couple of "Marion" feijoas into an archway. You can see in its bark, foliage and flowers that the feijoa is a relative of the pohutukawa.

I also have three seedling feijoas grown as a hedge along the fenceline in our silver garden. Clipping feijoas as a hedge will reduce the amount of fruit the tree can produce. Seedling feijoas are cheap to buy, but take longer to fruit than named cultivars, which are grown from cuttings made from more mature plant material.

The best feijoas I have are the three standard "Kakapo" trees at our front entrance, which were obtained for a kitchen garden design I was involved with at the Ellerslie Flower Show some years ago. We got them from Waimea Nurseries in Nelson,and they were the only feijoas we were able to source as "standards"; the trees had good trunks on them and lollipop heads. They were planted pride of place at the front of our property, albeit on the south-facing side of the house, which was the vacant space we had available.

Despite the less-than-ideal aspect, the trees have done well. Even better, the fruit are the best: dense, full of flavour, juicy and round. In the morning when I get the newspaper from the mailbox, there will be more juicy treats waiting to be enjoyed for breakfast. The best thing is that despite the drought this summer, they've still fruited well.

Feijoas are hardy, dry-tolerant plants, but when faced with very dry conditions, irrigation is a good idea, as long as you give them a good feed. The risk with watering and feeding is encouraging foliage growth over fruit production, so balance is key.

If you have chooks, create a run around your feijoas and the trees will enjoy the benefits. The only thing I've done for our trees is to lay a little seaweed around them and some mulch every couple of years. Blackbirds are one of the main pollinators of feijoas, and like to hang out in the trees during flowering time eating the juicy petals.

Even though feijoas are native to South America, New Zealand is the world's leading feijoa grower, as they're well suited to our climate. They've been grown here since the 1920s, and we now have more than 200 commercial growers.

Lothlorien in Puhoi started growing feijoas in 1971, and in 1993 they established a winery to add value to their organic crop. I'm partial to a drop of their light and drinkable feijoa sparkling wine. A friend and I designed the original label - the felty undersides of the leaves made good leaf prints, which we used for the graphics.

After 20 years of use, the label was replaced for the orchard's 40th anniversary last year. I'll keep my last bottle with the old label for posterity.


Feijoas in autumn

Pruning

• Feijoas should be lightly pruned in late autumn or early winter, after fruiting.

• Open up the tree to allow in light. Remove crossing branches, spindly stems, and any branches that are old and unproductive.

• You can prune them hard on occasion. Commercial growers will sometimes prune almost to ground level to rejuvenate an old tree.

New pest

The Australian guava moth was discovered in New Zealand in 1997. This pest is the only insect that can cause significant damage to feijoa fruit. If you are getting pest damage, spray your tree with organic neem.

Planting

• Autumn is a good time to plant feijoas.

• Plant in a sunny spot with good airflow, but ensure they have some shelter.

• Match your feijoa cultivar with the correct partner for best pollination and fruit set. There are a few self-fertile varieties, but they do better with companions.

• Early-, mid- or late-season varieties are available, ensuring a longer picking time.

Go to edible.co.nz for details.

In the kitchen

• For the best flavour, `touch pick' feijoas instead of collecting fallen fruit.

• Blend into smoothies, add to fruit crumbles, make jams, relishes, juice or wine. Try freezing the pulp, then strain to make a delicious sorbet when you miss feijoas out of season.

- Herald on Sunday

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