Thursday, December 8, 2011

Growing Pomegranates

Two years ago we bought a pomegranate tree.  We chose the “Wonderful” variety because of it’s size, soft seeds, high water content and excellent flavor.  It thrives in a variety of well drained soils and grows best in full sun.  It will tolerate cold temperatures during winter down to 20° F.  Pomegranates are self-pollinating and typically ripen in the late fall in California.
The “tree” is more of a bush that is a native to the area of modern day Iran. Pomegranates have been cultivated for over two thousand years.  In fact, a pomegranate was found in one of the pyramids in Egypt, probably because they considered them a symbol of prosperity and ambition.  Thomas Jefferson planted them at Monticello and he got them from his mentor, Virginia law professor, George Wythe.  They didn’t have much luck growing them on the East Coast but then Spanish settlers brought the pomegranate to California in 1769.  They thrived here.
Pomegranates, considered a “superfood”, are high in anti-oxidants, and have been used medicinally for thousands of years.  According to the Ebers Papyrus, one of the earliest medical writings from 1500 BC, the Egyptians used pomegranates for the treatment of tapeworms and other infections.  The seeds and juice have long been considered a tonic for the heart and throat.  Ayurvedic medicine considers pomegranates a counterbalance to a diet high in sweets and fats.  Recent medical research has shown that pomegranate juice can inhibit the of growth of breast cancer cells as well as prostate cancer.  There is also research to indicate that the juice can aid in the reduction of skin cancers, diabetes and heart disease.  
For the last two years, our little bush has produced lots of flowers.  When the little berry looking bud forms, you think it’s the fruit but it opens into a beautiful red orange tissue paper looking flower.

We’ve had lots and lots of beautiful flowers over the last two years.

But they’ve always ended up like this on the ground.

This summer, we went away for a week and came back to find this, a little green pomegranate...

...and this little mutant pomegranate with it’s bottom on it’s side.  Hey, I was overjoyed to find any pomegranates at all.  I’ve read that every pomegranate has exactly 840 seeds.  Really?  Could this little guy have that many seeds?

We watched our little pomegranates closely all through the fall as they slowly grew larger and started to turn red.  Sadly, however, they cracked open before they could fully ripen.  I’m not sure if the weather/rain contributed to this disaster but considering this was it’s first year, it’s understandable.  I’m going to feed my little bush some composted chicken manure this winter and hope for the best next summer.  

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