Unleash Your Passion! (fruit)

Firstly I hear you ask, why passionfruit?  Well nothing to do here but quote from my favourite fruit tree book The complete book of fruit growing in Australia by Louis Glowinski, a Melbourne based urban gardener:

“…the missionaries who accompanied the conquistadors to South America saw this flower a sign to the native peoples of the truth of Christ.  The ten petals and sepals represent the apostles present at the crucifixion, the halo of filaments represens the Crown of Thorns, five anthers the five wounds, the three stigmas the nails that pierced the hands and feet, the coiled tendrils the whips”  

Blimey!  See how imaginative tourists were before Lonely Planet told us what to expect!?

passionfruit flower

So if you’re still with me you’ll now realise the passionfruit comes from South America – like so many of our edible wonders in Australia.  The main change to the original vines in the sub tropics is that in around 1945 Moorrabin Nurseryman Clarence Kelly started using a European Blue Passionfruit root stock to graft onto.  Clarence then went on to trademark ‘Nellie Kelly’, the hardy black passionfruit most familiar to us all.  Here’s a stack of them in a nursery igloo.


So if you’re purchasing any grafted passionfruit, remember the trunk below the graft is root stock and will generally shoot finer leaves that won’t produce much in the way of fruit, instead taking energy from the rest of the plant.  So if you see non glossy, finer growth on your vine, track it back to the source and make sure it’s not from below the graft of a sucker in the ground.  As per last week’s pruning post…cut them off like a bad act at Eurovision!


Getting the most out of your passionfruit

Lots of water.  Yes now we’ve had a few seasons of excellent rainfall, it makes sense to plant these relatively thirsty vines.  Don’t get me wrong, they’ll survive dry weather, but your fruit will be lacking in pulp.

Feed them well.  I’ve been told to bury a rabbit at the bottom of the hole before planting, or an ox liver.  If you don’t have these handy, try an organic fertiliser such as blood and bone or dynamic lifter.  Remember we’re growing flowers not just leaves so don’t overdo the nitrogen component of the fertiliser (think tomato plant suitable fertiliser as a guide)

–  Pruning.  Spring is the time to take around a third of the growth off the vine once established.  Unlike fruit trees, the new season’s growth is the only way to get fruit so you want to encourage as much as this as possible.

Hand pollination.  Insects are required to pollinate passionfruit flowers, however if their not visible take matters into your own hand. Check out the clip below where a small paint brush is used.


Other Varieties

More recently gold and red varieties have become available that are suitable to our southern temperate climate – check out your local nursery and only buy plants that can handle a light frost.

panama red

Pruning Time

A common pattern you’ll see with all the productive plants humans have been poking around with for the last few thousand years is that they need us!  We’ve evolved these UBER productive plants by helping them perform to their peak.  So we prune for the following reasons:

– It keeps the tree size manageable and allows you to access the fruit.

– By clearing out the over crowded internal branches, you allow more light and airflow.  This means less disease and allows fruit access to more sunshine meaning it will ripen more quickly.

– When you reduce the amount of vegetation, you encourage you tree to produce larger and sweeter tasting fruit – perfect for home use.

Knowing what to chop

Not sure which branch to unleash your new loppers onto?  Try the five D’s:

Dead – no sign of life?  Get rid of it

Diseased – look a bit different to other branches, seeping gum, missing bark? Chop it!

Damaged – strong winds or lots of heavy fruit can break branches – remove these once you’ve harvested any fruit

Daggy – remove these branches if they look out of place and cross other branches, are too low to the ground etc.

Dark – by this I mean remove branches if they’re hidden in the middle of the tree and in summer are unlikely to see the light of day

Best times to prune

Speaking pretty generally here, but prune in Winter when you’re after more growth i.e. it’s a young tree and not yet the size you want.  Prune apples and pears early in winter and leave stone fruit until late winter.  Prune old trees before young ones.  Summer-prune trees that have reached the size you want.   Simply remove new vegetative growth.

Don’t cut off next year’s fruit!

A very important point to note is that you don’t chop off parts of your tree that are going to produce fruit!  Very few trees produce fruit on the CURRENT year’s growth.  So that means you need to leave some older laterals or branches on the tree.  You can tell the age of the wood by the colour and how close it is to the trunk.  Look for fat little flower buds on spurs (kind of little twigs of main branches) as these are signs where flowers will eventually become your fruit.  See the example below from an apple:

Tools of the trade

If you’re going to be doing your own pruning for at least a few seasons, then it’s worth investing in quality gear.  You pretty much get what you pay for, PLUS quality tools make pruning a lot simpler.  And unlike most things these days, quality garden tools will last and become something you can pass on to someone else one day.

Secateurs.  These are usually of the bypass type where the two blades pass each other.  Most models out there are a copy of the Swiss Made Felco brand.  I’m yet to hear a bad word about Felco’s products and they back everything up with spare parts etc.  Also it’s worth checking out Barnel from the USA.  Yes, there are still some old school quality manufacturers around so support them I say!

If you have trouble with arthritis or struggle to use normal secateurs, then you can get models to suit.  I purchased a set of these for my Dad and he’s been very pleased with them.  Fiskars are a Finnish company who like Felco make stuff to last.

Long handled pruners also often use a bypass cutting method or an anvil type – again choose a quality brand and you’ll never need another pair.  These will be good for branches up to 40mm across.  Larger branches can be taken care of with a pruning saw.  These are designed to get into small spaces and are available in hand-held and pole models for all heights.

Of course if you’re this guy – well just use your hand…

Something eating your garden?

What a joy it is to place my (whoops I mean their) hand in mother earth’s soil and plant a luscious seedling just like nature intended.   A few days later, keen to see how high the newly planted leafy babies have grown our excited gardener is met with the backyard equivalent of a napalm attack.   Quite simply, nature isn’t playing fair.

Okay, so I’ve written about Permaculture before and working with nature rather than against, but by growing human quality food you’re making some VERY attractive offerings to the local bird, bug and slug populations.

So unless you’re prepared to garden simply for the exercise and without the expectation of having it produce food for you then here are my top 5 ways to protect your harvest:

1. Let’s get physical

Birds and white butterflies can’t eat when they can’t get to.   In Geelong’s productive gardening mecca – Bell Park – I once saw elderly locals using old lace curtains covering cabbages to protect them from the green caterpillar producing white butterflies.  Copper tape is available to deter snails but I confess I haven’t actually tried it…here’s a clip showing 1) It works and 2) I need to get a life!


2.  The labour of little people

If you’ve got kids or your neighbours do, try offering $5 for every 50-100 snails and/or green caterpillars found.  The same goes for butterflies although you’ll need a net and the price per butterfly will have to go up considerably!

3.  Carlton United Bug catchers.  Simply bury a plastic dish (jar lids are not quite deep enough I reckon) or bottom of a soft drink or milk carton.  Fill with beer and the local snail population will be attracted to the yeasty goodness and promptly fall in and drown!

4. Pellets.  Pellets have come a long way, with iron based ingredients taking the place of more nasty chemicals that harm pets and wildlife.

5. Habitat destruction.  Not much you can do about birds and butterflies, but by keeping bags of potting mix and lose timber in a dry area they’ll be less reasons for snails and slugs to hang in your patch.  I mean how would they like it if we moved in with them?