Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Arid zone fruit tree tour part 2

From the rows of fig trees we walked back to one of the least seen nut trees in Australia. The Pistaccio tree trials had involved many varieties in the hey day of the farm but were largely unsuccessful due to a lack of chilling in the winter which led to poor bud burst in the spring. To complicate things more for good pollination a male and a female tree is required (or grafts of male material on female trees) and they are wind pollinated. Having said that the trees we looked at had set fruit after not a very cold winter (very few frosts) and very little water. However there was one better performing variety in the trial – so perhaps this was the variety they left in the orchard.

Everyone was holding up very well despite the heat as stepped over the small rabbit proof fence into the bush tomato plantation. This was another trial that was looking at the success of cultivating bush tomatoes. Although the water was now turned off these hardy little plants were still flowering and fruiting and we were able to taste all the different flavoured berries at varying stages of drying. A very acceptable bush tucker – we all agreed. I have eaten too many fresh berries in the past and got a headache - which turns out to be a side effect known by Aborigines from where this plant grows (latz 1995, Bushfires and Bushtucker).
They were also spreading from the original rows through suckers as Solanum centrale, like many bush tomatoes is clonal.

The other plant being protected by the rabbit proof fence was Asparagus. Raghu was very taken with Asparagus as a great plant for central Australia – a man after my own heart. Any plant which likes salty water, ignores hot weather and seems to withstand all pests has got to be a winner.

Our last stop was a brief car ride back down the road to the dates. These date varieties had been gathered from all over the world……

Varieties were trialled based on their horticultural potential which is also affected by such factors as simultaneous ripening.
Although known as a tree of the desert, they are actually from desert oases, and they need up to 400litres of water a day when in full production. The trees at azri were scaping by with less than 100litres but many were still fruiting. Commercial dates usually need to be pollinated to ensure a good crop. There is a beetle which does this job overseas but here it has to be done by harvesting pollen, mixing it with water and spraying it onto the female inflorescence. Quite a labour intensive process!
One unfortunate pest from overseas has been introduced called the date scale insect and it is also widespread throughout alice springs. Unfortunately this limits where the date material can be exported for horticultural purposes but in reality it doesn’t bother the dates most of the time.

Dates don’t like summer rain or humidity and do less well the further north you go.
We managed to snaffle a couple of dry dates from the tree which were very nice, and were bright red when not dried. We were told that they could be picked at this stage and would dry quite well in the sun or shade.
Thanks again to Steven pearce for his fab photos!

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