With the holiday season in full swing now, I thought it might be nice to write an article on something that you don't see but during this time of year....Pomegranates.
I have actually been reading a lot on these things lately. The California Rare Fruit Growers Association has proclaimed this year "The year of the Pomegranate".
Down in Florida, they recently had a Pomegranate Field Day. There is some excitement down there for this fruit. It is said that this has the potential to be the next cash crop in the Sunshine State.
I also just finished reading a book by Dr. Gregory M. Levin titled "Pomegranate Roads", A Soviet Botanist's Exile from Eden. It is about Dr. Levin and his 40+ years traveling in search of wild and endangered pomegranates. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, he found himself exiled from his collection of 1,117 pomegranates.
I remember as a child getting pomegranates every year in our stockings, What great memories!
So, with all this reading I have been doing, I figured it must be fairly easy to grow them. Let's see if I am right?!
The botanical name is Punica granatum. It basically is a large shrub or small tree. The mature height can get to 15 or 25 feet high, the pomegranate is multi-branched, more or less spiny, and extremely long lived, some specimens at Versailles are known to have survived two centuries.
The pomegranate tree is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region of Asia, Africa and Europe.
They do best in well-drained ordinary soil, but can pretty much handle anything you can throw at it, calcareous or acidic loam as well as rock strewn gravel. The tree adapts well to container culture and will sometimes fruit in a greenhouse.
Pomegranates should be placed in the sunniest, warmest part of the yard. This is a good plant for those really hot spots in your yard. There are very few, if any, places that are too hot for pomegranates. As for their cold hardiness, the pomegranate can be grown outdoors as far north as Washington County, Utah, and Washington, D.C., though it doesn't fruit in our nations capital. They actually prefer a semi-arid mild-temperate to subtropical climate and are naturally adapted to regions with cool winters and hot summers.
Once established, pomegranates can take considerable drought, but if you want good fruit production they must be watered regularly. Especially during flowering and fruit set.
When it comes to feeding,very little fertilizer is needed, although the plants respond to an annual mulch of rotted manure or other compost. If the tree is not growing well, a little 10-10-10 at the beginning of Spring and again in Early Summer will not hurt.
Photo courtesy of Flowers.VG
There are lots of places online to purchase pomegranate trees, a Google search will reveal many. The grocery store can supply you with some too. The pomegranate can be raised from seed but may not come true. The seeds germinate readily even when merely thrown onto the surface of loose soil and the seedlings spring up with vigor, usually within 45-60 days.
To avoid the possibility of having a "mystery" pomegranate, it will bare edible fruit, just the quality will be unknown, it is better to find a friend with an established tree. Cuttings root easily and plants from them bare fruit after about 3 years. Cuttings, 12-20 inches long should be taken in Winter from mature, one-year old wood. The leaves should be removed and the cuttings treated with rooting hormone and inserted about two-thirds their length into the soil or into some other warm rooting medium. One other point here to make, as seedlings, pomegranates may undergo severe fruit drop during its first couple of years of production, but this will change as the plant emerges from its seedling juvenility. Severe fruit drop should not occur with vegetatively propagated pomegranates.
If all goes well, you will have flowers. They look like this.
Usually, the fruits ripen 6 to 7 months after flowering. Of course, this will depend on the cultivar and the growing conditions. The fruit cannot be ripened off the tree. Growers generally consider the fruit ready for harvest if it makes a metallic sound when tapped. The fruit must be picked before it becomes over mature, when it tends to crack open. This can happen if rained upon or other conditions, such as too much humidity, dehydration by winds, or insufficient irrigation.
Pomegranates are relatively free of most pests and diseases. Minor problems are leaf and fruit spot and foliar damage by white flies, thrips, mealybugs and scale insects. A good insecticidal soap or horticultural oil will take care of most of these. Deer have been known to nibble on the foliage.
So, growing these things seems pretty easy huh?
The tricky part is actually eating them!
The interior is separated by membranous walls and white spongy tissue into compartments packed with transparent sacs filled with tart, flavorful, fleshy, juicy, red, pink or whitish pulp (technically the aril).
As a child, I remember ripping into a pomegranate, scooping out a bunch of the tiny red dots, and plopping them into my mouth. I would then suck all the juicy goodness from around the hard seeds and spit them out. Gross, but tasty.
There really is a more civilized way to eat them.
Something to keep in mind, pomegranate juice can easily stain your hands, clothing and countertops, if you aren’t careful.
Remember, there is no right way or wrong way, to get at the juicy insides of a pomegranate. An easy way to do it is to quarter the pomegranate and then place it into a large bowl of water. Pomegranate arils sink and everything else, skin, membranes, etc, float. Brush the arils free from the skin and membrane and they'll sink right to the bottom. The seeds inside the arils may be eaten. There are even some soft seeded varieties out there. Pomegranate seeds can be safely stored in the refrigerator or even frozen, for later use.
Pomegranate fruits are also often consumed as juice and can be juiced in several ways. The sacs can be removed and put through a basket press or the juice can be extracted by reaming the halved fruits on an ordinary orange juice squeezer. Another approach starts with warming the fruit slightly and rolling it between the hands to soften the interior. A hole is then cut in the stem end which is placed on a glass to let the juice run out, squeezing the fruit from time to time to get all the juice.
The juice is widely made into grenadine for use in mixed drinks. It can also be made into wine.
Health wise, Pomegranates are listed as high-fiber in some charts of nutritional value. That fiber, however, is entirely contained in the actual seeds which also supply unsaturated oils. The juice contains Vitamin C and B5.
Sadly, consumer demand in this country is not great. More pomegranate fruits probably wind up as decorations in fruit bowls than are consumed.
The history behind these fruits is extensive, it has been around for so long, the amount of religious symbolism is unbelievable. I will give you just a couple of examples and I encourage you to research the vast amount of information available.
Ancient Egyptians regarded the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity and ambition. I knew there was a reason why I wanted to grow more of them.
Pomegranates were known in Ancient Israel as the fruits which the scouts brought to Moses to demonstrate the fertility of the "promised land".
It is traditional to consume pomegranates on Rosh Hashana because the pomegranate, with its numerous seeds, symbolizes fruitfulness.
And lastly, in China, the pomegranate was considered an emblem of fertility and numerous progeny. Pictures of the ripe fruit with the seeds bursting forth were often hung in homes to bestow fertility and bless the dwelling with numerous offspring.
So if you have a pregnant friend and want to really mess with their head, go out and get a picture of some open pomegranates and give it to them, then send them to this blog to explain why you did it!