Tree of the moment: Feijoa

It seemed like everywhere I went during last month’s BOP Garden and Art Festival there was a feijoa flower winking at me, many of the shrubby trees being grown as hedges.

Feijoa flowers in New Zealand are mostly bird pollinated. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Acca sellowiana is native to the highlands of southern Brazil, eastern Paraguay, Uruguay, northern Argentina, and Colombia, but grows very well in much of New Zealand. Kiwis will spot the family relationship feijoas have with our native pohutukawa, thanks to the flowers and leaves being so similar. Both are members of the Myrtaceae (myrtle) family.

Originally named Feijoa sellowiana, German botanist Ernst Berger was honouring João da Silva Feijó, a Portuguese naturalist, and Friedrich Sellow, the German who first collected specimens of feijoa in southern Brazil.

A New Zealand newspaper gardening column of 1910 notes that the plant, introduced into Europe in the late 19th century, should grow well in Auckland. By 1925 Hayward Wright, who was a kiwifruit pioneer in New Zealand, was discussing the plant, and offering to show samples, at an Auckland Acclimatisation Society meeting, while in 1929, a newspaper correspondent was being advised that trees could be purchased locally.

A 1987 paper, available online, reports that an “Auckland nurseryman” (no name mentioned) introduced three cultivars from Australia in about 1908. Kate Evans, who is writing a book about feijoas, says in a NZ Geographic article that one account claims they were imported from Australia in about 1908 by our unnamed Auckland nurseryman; another gives the credit to Alexander Allison of Whanganui (another plank in the kiwifruit story). Allison’s property, Kate says, still boasts an enormous feijoa tree that could easily be more than a century old.

All of the interior of a feijoa is eaten, seeds, jelly and flesh. Image: Wikipedia

Known as pineapple guava or guavasteen countries, the fruit seems to divide people. I’m definitely not a fan, disliking the smell and the texture of the flesh. The Vege Grower made some feijoa chutney last year and, when combined with other foods, I’m finding I’m not disliking it, so maybe that’s the permanent solution to the produce of our dwarf Feijoa Bambina. Here are some feijoa recipes from a fan in southern California, and here are recipes from New Zealand.

Writing in the NZ Herald in 1934, Hayward Wright said of the feijoa: “It is bushy and symmetrical in shape, and in the spring is a mass of blossom, a fact which should win a place for it in every garden as a shrub, to say nothing of the fruit, which is destined to become one of the very best for jams or jellies.”

Depending on the variety you choose (here’s the Incredible Edibles range), you could plant for an almost year-round supply of fruit.

Layered hedging – from horopito and star jasmine at the front to the acacia shelterbelt at the back, and bounded on the right by a long feijoa hedge. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The 2019 edition of Fresh Facts (Horticulture NZ), reveals that for the 2018-19 season there were 225 commercial growers of feijoas in New Zealand producing 1,200 tonnes of fruit. The domestic market was worth $4 million and the export market $200,000. The trees have a productive life of about 30-40 years.

Figs & honey

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Our first summer figs. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Vege Grower came in the other night with an armful of figs. Yum. Believe it or not, this is our first-ever crop of summer figs – the forming figlets usually get blown off in the spring gales but with the winds about 3 weeks late the figlets were that bit bigger and able to hold on. We’ve still a lost a few in the interim, but reckon an armful is pretty good for a tree on a town section grown in a half wine barrel.

And it looks like we’ll have an autumn crop as well (that’s the one we usually get to enjoy). Technically, the autumn crop is the crop, the earlier one is known as a breba crop [from a northern hemisphere source]: A breba (breva in Spanish) is a fig that develops in the spring on the previous year’s shoot growth. In contrast, the main fig crop develops on the current year’s shoot growth and ripens in late summer or fall.

Our tree is a Mrs Williams, but there are plenty of fig varieties available in New Zealand, start your search at incredible edibles.

And with another 9kg of honey harvested yesterday, guess what we’re having for dinner?

Fruit & Vege Wisdom

Scooted off and heard Andrew Boylan of incredible edibles give a talk on Thursday night at Palmer’s and then up to Katikati on Friday morning for some more good advice from Gerard Martin of King’s Seeds at the final open day for the year that had a summer/Christmas theme.

Some of Gerard’s tips for a stress-free summer garden:

Mulch – supresses weeds and retains moisture in the soil (but you can mulch a plant too deeply; keep it at a maximum of about 50cm to allow the soil to breathe).

Water – a plant that keeps flowering will keep fruiting and a mulched plant that is watered regularly is more likely to stay free of disease and insect attack. Water thoroughly in the evening.

Stay on your toes – stake plants before they need it; remove seed heads to avoid treasures becoming weeds; watch for insects on the underside of leaves; remove diseased plants; deadhead to prolong productivity; train plants; sow every 6 weeks for a continuous harvest.

Bolting – some plants naturally bolt. Coriander and watercress won’t be under stress, they’re reacting to day length. Successive sowing will get you over any bolting.

Eggplants (aubergines) – when the plant sets its first fruit, take it off. This encourages other flowers to grow equally and produce better fruit. Put your plants in the hottest part of your garden.

Whitefly – Mix 4 tbspns bicarbonate of soda to 1 litre of water and add a drop of detergent. Spray on plants affected by whitefly, but keep the mix agitated so the bicarb doesn’t sink to the bottom.

Gerard conducts his own germination trials – a current one for beans has seen him remove a line of seeds from the shelf as they didn’t strike well.

And some of Andrew’s advice:

Blueberries – are surface feeders so have a shallow root system. Acidic soil is vital and they don’t like wet feet. Blue Magic will overcrop the first year so you need to remove the emerging fruit. Blue Sapphire, to be released next year, is the same.

Fig – Let the tree grow to the height you want and cut the top off. Keep cutting it back to encourage sideways growth. Mosaic virus (mottled leaves) doesn’t affect fruit but keep the tree fed (especially if it’s in a pot) and it will recover.

Feijoa – Don’t use them as a hedge as they fruit on last year’s wood (or trim alternate sides each year). The flowers are pollinated by big birds such as blackbirds, mynahs and starlings. Waxeyes may be in the tree but they’re not pollinating. In urban areas it’s not necessary to have 2 trees to achieve pollination but in the country it’s probably a good idea.

Passionfruit – Full sun and lots of water. Spray with copper in spring and summer as a curative for greasespot. “The fruit will look awful but it still tastes good,” Andrew says.

Avocado – Never plant another tree where one has died from root rot (Phytophthora). When planting a new tree, carefully extract it from the bag and under no circumstances disturb the root ball. incredible edibles is next year introducing a (they hope) dwarf avocado called Cleopatra that flowers heavily. The Hawke’s Bay breeder has a six-year-old tree that is 3m.

Casimiroa/sapote – Can be planted in the place where an avocado has died.

Pine nuts – It’s 8 years before you get a crop, 18 months before the cones have ripened … and then you have to get the nuts out! Andrew says he has nice, big pine trees.

Chilean guava/NZ cranberry – Keep trimming it and the bush will keep flowering and fruiting. Cut young plants 3-4 times a year to develop their structure.

Coffee – Grow inside in a pot in the hottest place you have. The bushes hate cold wind. Andrew this year cropped 500 beans from a plant in his office. Fiona roasted them in the frying pan, then the oven and smashed them up in a blender. They made a delicious brew, says Andrew.

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Chilean guava trained as a topiary. Photo: Sandra Simpson

 

Community gardening

When Anne and Al Gourley decided to have a vegetable garden, they realised they had no one to ask about how to grow veges.

“It was too late to get the knowledge from our parents, they had gone – and we realised a lot of our peers were in the same boat,” Anne says.

At about the same time, Al, a builder, spotted a bit of unused land in Otumoetai between the railway line and a council reserve and the idea for a Tauranga version of the English allotment system was born.

“Previously, it was just mown with overgrown plants by the railway line,” Al says. “There were people sleeping rough down here and the shed was always covered in graffiti.

“The council guy looked at me sideways when I walked in, but we’ve had pretty good support from them and from our neighbours.”

Al and Anne Gourley in the Otumoetai Community Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden opened at the end of 2010 and has 58 plots, each raised bed measuring 4.5m by 1.5m (so a gardener can reach into the centre from the side). It is run by the non-profit Let’s Get Growing Trust, headed by Anne, who works as a hospice nurse.

Plot-holders pay $20 a month to cover water, a starter kit, workshops and to employ a part-time worker. In return, gardeners have the use of communal tools, a bed of compost and the chance to grow their own food.

“We researched pretty thoroughly and this size plot, if intensively managed, can feed a family of four,” Anne says. “Our gardeners range in age from 8 to 90 and some are passionate about passing on their skills and some are passionate about learning.”

A bee enjoys a leek flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Katikati-based Incredible Edibles donated fruit trees and bushes, which have been planted around the perimeter of the garden. Large signs invite passersby to help themselves to this produce but to leave the plots alone.

“So far that has worked pretty well,” Anne says. “We have a bit of pilfering but only enough to be irritating.”

One of the unexpected spin-offs has been the relationships that form between the gardeners.

“There is a real sense of belonging,” says Anne. “It’s very motivating to work alongside others – gardening is traditionally a solitary past-time but, when you do it in a community, it elevates the whole level of enjoyment. We’ve all made some firm friends here.”

A sunflower offers tasty seeds (if the birds don’t get them first). Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Let’s Get Growing trust helps foster the ties by holding monthly social occasions on site, as well as semi-regular working bees. Gardeners range from pensioners to children, from entire families to singles, and there are also plots rented by the police and worked by at-risk youth (mentored by members of nearby St Columba Church), and by the Stewart Foundation for those rehabilitating from head injuries.

The garden – which in 2011 won the group/community award in the Great New Zealand Grow-off – is managed as sustainably as possible and includes a system of compost heaps, a worm farm and a beehive.

  • For more information contact Anne Gourley, phone 07 552 4529 or email. Each 4.5m by 1.5m raised bed costs $20 a month to rent (water rates, communal tools and a part-time worker) with a small amount of sponsorship available in cases of financial hardship. There is a waiting list for plots.
  •  There is to be an Open Day at the Otumoetai Community Gardens on Saturday, March 1, see the Events page for more details.
  • To find a community garden in your area in the Tauranga-Western Bay see the Groups page.

This article originally comprised two pieces published in the Bay of Plenty Times. It appears here with permission.

Vege news

A single plant that grows potatoes under the soil while at the same time producing tomatoes may be a world first for a Katikati nursery.

Andrew Boylan, co-owner of incredible edibles with wife Fiona, says the idea is all about space. “With shrinking urban sections it makes sense to develop plants that help home gardeners grow more in less space.”

 

The plant, which has the trade name Potato Tom, combines Agria potatoes with Gardeners’ Delight cherry tomatoes – and is, Andrew believes, a world first commercial release.

Solanum tuberosum, Potatos growing on plant.

Potato Tom. Image: incredible edibles

“The idea of grafting a tomato on a potato is not new,” he says. “But it has never been commercialised and, as far as I can make out, we are the first to do it.”

Tomatoes are members of the potato family (Solanaceae) so the two are naturally compatible. Ian Duncalf of Te Puna, a plant breeder of some note, says he worked out the grafting technique necessary for Potato Tom and had “fun” doing it.

“I had one at a friend’s place, as a bit of a trial, and went round there one night and saw all his guests really taking an interest in the plant. That’s what it’s all about for me, making people excited about something.”

Potato Tom, which can be grown in a pot, produces cherry tomatoes through summer and when they have finished, it’s time to dig the potatoes.

Note: Since my story was first published in mid-September, a nursery in England is also selling a potato-tomato graft, TomTato (and despite the use of  ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘hybrid’ in the link story, it’s still just a graft).

Kings Seeds, another Katikati business, has been surprised this season by the popularity of a Dutch heirloom pea that features deep-blue pods.

“We generally know what will be our top sellers,” says Barbara Martin, who co-owns the mail-order company with husband Gerard. “But this has shot up the list and taken us all by surprise.”

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Pea Blue Shelling. Image: Kings Seeds

The peas, simply called Pea Blue Shelling, can be eaten pods and all when young or left for the peas to develop out and be cooked for eating. The purple flowers are also edible.

Another unusual vegetable from the new catalogue is the flowering sprout Kaleidoscope, a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts. “They’re pretty little things,” Barbara says, “and if they’re cooked lightly they keep their purple colour.”

The “flowers” look like kale and grow like Brussels sprouts and Barbara advises topping the stalk a month before harvest to increase sprout size.

This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

Incredible Edibles

Have a hankering to harvest your own tea? Create your own coffee? Or maybe you’d like to make home-made cranberry juice.

The Incredible Edibles range, which is a trademarked brand, forms part of Tharfield Nursery near Katikati, has developed a reputation for offering gardeners cropping plants that are a bit different – and on Thursday, March 21 members of the public are being offered a chance to tour the stock garden (see the Events page for details; bookings essential).

Launched in 2000 by Fiona and Andrew Boylan, the Incredible Edibles range is widely stocked in garden centres throughout New Zealand and two show gardens at the Ellerslie International Flower Show have won gold (2006) and silver distinction (2010).

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Andrew and Fiona Boylan (front) in their award-winning edible garden at Ellerslie in 2010. Behind them, from left, Caroline Elliott (nurserywoman), Sandi MacRae (designer) and Lindsay Robinson (builder). The garden was gifted to a children’s home. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As well as commercial production on the 5.2ha site, Fiona and Andrew also maintain a large stock garden filled with plants for observation. And even if they turn out not to be suitable for further development, plants are often kept for their curiosity value – probably the fate of the liquorice bushes, although Fiona says she hasn’t made up her mind yet.

“The root is actually the part which gets processed into what we eat so that’s probably not viable for home gardeners. But plenty of visitors are curious to see them.”

Carob is another that’s being watched – the trees need male and female plants to create the seed pods which lead to the chocolate substitute.

Fiona grows coffee as a pot plant in her office and says it should be a house plant in most parts of New Zealand as it’s simply too cold for it outside, but even indoors you’ll still get beans to crop.

However, tea, a member of the camellia family, is a good hedging plant and the Incredible Edibles website gives instruction on how to pick and dry the leaves to make your own cuppa – 1kg of green tip leaves will yield about 200g of dry tea leaves.

‘Everyone’s thinking about their health, and growing food instead of buying it,” Fiona says. “Despite our grandparents having extensive gardening knowledge, people are having to learn to grow their own food plants again and we try and help with any information we can.

“In my family garden in Thames we had 50 fruit trees and a big vege garden so it’s a bit ironic that I ended up doing this. We get a lot of emails with questions on how to grow, where to grow and what to do with fruit so we put recipes on the website and have led the way in the amount of information we put on our plant labels.”

The couple sell blueberries, feijoas and tamarillos to commercial growers as well as home gardeners, and regularly work with Plant & Food Research. Partnership plants include Tamarillo Tango, a lower-acid fruit, Blueberry Muffin and the bramble Thornless Jewel.

“I like to think of people planting a grazing garden,” Fiona says. “So as the kids go to school they can pick, say, a guava and go off munching it.”

As well as old-fashioned plants like gooseberries, currants (“we can’t grow enough of them”), brambles (which can be grown on a frame in a large pot), bay trees and rhubarb (“there’s an amazing market for it”), Incredible Edibles also specialises in the unusual.

The Japanese raisin tree (Hovenia dulcis). Photo: Sandra Simpson

The tiny, edible seeds of the Japanese raisin tree fall when ripe and should be picked up, have the seeds snapped off the stem, and put in a paper bag in the hot-water cupboard for a fortnight. When eaten they taste like raisins, hence the name.

The name of the ice-cream bean (Inga edulis) also describes its taste – the edible beans are cocooned in a fluffy white substance with a sweet taste.

Other exotic offerings include sugar cane, red banana passionfruit and cherimoya (custard apple), while recent releases include the dwarf Feijoa Bambina, Strawberry Sundae and dwarf apple Teacher’s Pet.

“When we look at whether to market plants we look at the taste, the size of the plant and ease of growing,” Fiona says.

“We’re pretty restricted by biosanitary regulations and quarantine so don’t bring anything in – all that we have is already available in the country.”

The pods of the ice-cream bean tree (Inga edulis) contain an edible white pulp. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple are occasionally approached by home gardeners who have something to share and which sometimes results in a new line.

“Someone bought in the naranjilla from their own garden. It’s a great ornamental plant with its big, hairy purple leaves and has strawberry-scented fruit that is used extensively for juice in South America,” Fiona says.

“We’ve also developed the weeping Cipo orange from someone’s garden.

“People who have older gardens probably have some really interesting things tucked away, things pioneers may have brought with them, although identifying varieties can often be difficult, especially with things like figs and feijoas.

“The only way everyone can get ahead is if we all share.”

This article originally appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been altered slightly for relevance and updated.