Whether you’re a keen home food gardener or a permaculture fanatic, harvesting fresh fruit all year round at home is a holy grail. To achieve this, we need to look further field than the fruits we buy from our local stores. In a changing climate, we need to diversify our choices of plants, so no matter what the weather throws at us, we have plants in our gardens that will thrive and fruit well that season.
I now present the humble feijoa, Feijoa sellowiana, as a candidate. For many of us, feijoas are a background plant of our childhood, always there but not valued as much as they could be. However, feijoas are the most productive plant I know when watering is limited, hence they are on my ‘survival plant’ list, a plant for a future where resources are likely to be more limited. Feijoas laugh at hot sun and frost and need little care. They respond well to harsh pruning, making them ideal to keep in a town, or formal garden. They can be grown as a rounded shrub kept to 2 m high and 1 m wide or let develop into a small tree, best kept to 4 m high and wide. For many years I have grown them as a ‘hedged espalier’ along the driveway of my Melbourne garden, where pruned to 50 cm wide they reached 3 m high in around 5 years. These 5 plants produce a total of 10 kg of fruit each year, with almost no watering or feeding. As evergreen plants, they are best grown on the south or east sides of the garden, where they won’t block northern sun, although they can also be used for western shade if needed.
Feijoas are self-fertile, meaning that they don’t need a cross-pollinator, although they like company, and if you grow at least two plants within 5 metres of each other they produce more and larger fruits than if grown individually. Judging from the amount of people that have asked me why their plants don’t fruit, it seems a lot of feijoas would prefer to grow with a friend. In theory they are plants for full sun, and don’t fruit in the shade, but there are plants that do, such as in my mother’s garden here. Just don’t count on fruit if you plant yours in the shade – better to try a strawberry guava plant instead. Pollination can be by insects, such as honeybees, or by blackbirds, who come to eat the plump petals and inadvertently spread pollen from flower to flower. The petals are delicious and can be plucked from the flowers as a garden snack, used to garnish desserts or added to fruit salad, without compromising fruiting.
Learning to use the fruits we grow in creative ways is as important as diversifying the plants we are growing. New Zealanders love of the fruit has fostered inventive uses, from making wine to curries. I prefer to eat them fresh, relishing the Vitamin C hit at the change of seasons. I scoop the flesh out of the harder skin, although I have friends who devour them skin and all! When I have extra-large fruits, I peel and dehydrate them in slices, to enjoy throughout the year.
Look for grafted varieties such as ‘Mammoth’ to produce larger fruits; or White Goose, Triumph or Nazemetz are all worth seeking out.
As with other fruits, you’ll need to manage fruit fly with organic baits and sprays and by picking up fruits regularly when they drop.
Share the delicious homeground excess fruit with your community, look out for sharing tables and Food-is-free locations