Why would anyone grow fruit that they don’t even like to eat? What draws me to this fast growing, fast fruiting and usually quite short lived little fruit tree?
Many years ago, I was first introduced to Permaculture and the idea that “easy” gardening is better for the soil and for the planet. There was a lovely and inspirational business in our local area which was called The Fragrant Garden. Set on a few acres, with a mud brick building complete with sod roof and waterfall window; amazing and delectable plants that were not available at ‘normal’ nurseries; truly fragrant help-yourself barrels of pot-pourri; beds and planters with informational plaques giving advice and ideas. I never had a lot of money so appreciated being able to buy unique edible plants in teeny pots. The mud brick building was a shop which my children liked, full of fairies and goblins, hand crafts and brick-a-brack. I liked the seed collections; some standard, some a little out-of-the-ordinary.
We often visited The Fragrant Garden and I was creating food forests and picking gardens and vegie plots and keyhole gardens and having all sorts of fun. I had my borrowed mulcher (chipper) and all the prunings went in and straight on the gardens. I worked under the premise that if it wasn’t edible, great for mulch or attracting beneficial insects to the garden, it had no place in my garden. If it had multiple functions, it was a prize.
I happened across the Tamarillo tree in it’s tiny pot one day and took it home (along with itsy bitsy carob trees). Planted it in the corner of my garden with my white mulberry, mandarin and macadamia nut trees and off it went. In no time there was a beautiful umbrella shaped tree covered in beautiful flowers, followed by dozens of pendulous fruit. The strange thing is that, of the whole family, only one of my children liked the things straight off the tree. Life’s an adventure
So I headed off to the local library to pore over recipes, photocopy and head home with ideas to use all these fruit. I can almost taste the jam, even now. Delicious and completely different to the ‘standard’ jams. Sadly, after only two years my tree just died; no idea why. I have yearned for Tamarillo jam ever since. I’ve even bought Tamarillos at the supermarket once or twice to make it. That’s expensive. Sadly, The Fragrant Garden eventually closed, too. My second husband and I were married there on the steps of the beautiful white gazebo, but the place was a shadow of it’s former self by then and closed shortly after.
I recently bought a second tree which was planted May 2012, lopped to approx 1 metre high to encourage branching out and with a bag of Bokashi buried beneath it for slow release soil nourishment. The label said it was a Red Tamarillo, but it definitely has yellow fruit. I think the fruit is a little sweeter than the red and the smell when you cut open a ripe one has a distinct passionfruitiness about it. Although the tree lost many leaves during our recent heat wave, which caused half of the fruit to be burned and drop off, I still got about 30 tamarillos.
What I’ve learned (about the tree itself):
- Tamarillo (Tree Tomato) is a native of Peru and is a sub-tropical tree which does alright in cooler areas if the temperature stays over about 10 degrees C (50 F).
- It is a good idea to lop the top of the tree at about one metre to encourage branching out. The tree continues to grow taller while the branches form so the eventually height will be over 2 metres.
- The tree is a soft wood with big soft leaves and won’t take kindly to constant wind.
- Young Tamarillo trees need to be protected from frost. Just leave planting until after the chance of frost has past.
- The trees need water but will not survive being waterlogged. They like a free draining soil. Mine is growing in a raised sheet mulched garden. Otherwise, consider planting on top of a mound or swale.
- My tree was growing straight and proud when it just started leaning over. Perhaps the weight of the branches, leaves and fruit was enough to tip the scales? Putting a stake either side of the tree and using a wide, soft material tied between the two stakes will support nicely without hurting the stem.
- Tamarillo trees are easily propogated from seed or from cuttings. Apparently those grown from seed grow taller and where the cutting comes from on the tree will determine the growth of the new tree. I have shoots low on the trunk of my tree (it isn’t a grafted one). I am going to pull these off the tree so they have a ‘heel’ and, although they will probably take if I just plant them in the garden or in good potting mix, I’ll put them in water until I see the roots starting (at least the first time, just to be sure).
I will include some recipes and ideas for using the fruit in another post, soon.
I know why I love Tamarillos; we have history!