Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Try a Pluot for a Sweet Smile

    The mild days of spring 2009 are starting to make this summer a great one for luscious, sweet, homegrown fruit. The cherry crop was excellent; apricot aficionados are very happy; the blueberries here in the Central Valley of California are the best ever (“ever” being about a decade, since the introduction to our area of the southern highbush blueberry, which is much more heat tolerant along with a lower winter chill requirement).
And now appearing at farmer's markets, some supermarkets and ideally in a backyard garden near you: the pluot. This plum-apricot cross is probably the sweetest, juiciest fruit you can grow. Pluots have predominantly plum parentage and smooth skins like plums.

     The sweet taste of homegrown pluots is preferred by many to the taste of the varieties available in stores. In other words, the pleasant taste of a store-bought pluot does not do justice to biting into one, freshly picked from the backyard orchard. And that is especially true for the Flavor Supreme pluot (right).

    "When people see a pluot for the first time, they think it is just another plum," says Ed Laivo of Dave Wilson Nursery. "Then, they taste it and their eyes get wide. The wonderful flavor catches them totally off guard."

     Yes, Ed is a salesman. But what he says about first reactions to a pluot only hint at the excitement that the initial taste generates. It’s always a treat to take a box of home grown pluots, especially the Flavor Supreme pluot, into the radio stations and wait for the feedback . My favorite response this year: when a couple of the female news reporters bit into the pluot for the first time, they had, we shall say, an “animated reaction”. How animated? An engineer came running into the newsroom exclaiming, “Who’s having an orgasm in here?!?” 

     People like the pluot. Better than sex? Well, it is safer, and more nutritious, with three grams of dietary fiber per serving (as well as protein, carbohydrates, Vitamin A and everybody’s favorite, 15 grams of sugar). Please, feel free to insert your own joke here.

    The pluot was developed by Floyd Zaiger, who began tinkering with Luther Burbank’s hybrid, the plumcot. According to the Zaiger webpage, each year the Zaigers plant tens of thousands of new seedlings, each tree the result of a controlled cross of two parent trees from their vast inventory of breeding stock. Parent trees for seed and pollen are maintained in movable containers, allowing the Zaigers to accomplish a very large number of crosses each spring.

     Besides pluots, the Zaigers invented apriums and the peacotum (peach/apricot/plum hybrids). Also under development: white apricots, flat peaches and nectarines, albino selections and fuzzy plums. Promising selections from the primary seedling blocks are advanced for further evaluation by propagating the varieties onto rootstocks in secondary orchards. The cream of the crop varieties in the secondary orchards are evaluated each week during the fruit season by a team comprised of Zaiger personnel, industry experts and Dave Wilson Nursery representatives.

     In the annual taste tests held at the Dave Wilson Nursery growing grounds in Stanislaus County, the Flavor King, Dapple Dandy and Flavor Supreme pluots are consistent Top Ten favorites among all their tree-grown fruit.

    Backyard gardeners can extend their pluot harvest season by planting those three varieties, along with several new introductions. The Flavor Supreme was ready in late June. The Flavor Queen, a pluot with green-yellow skin and an amber-orange sweet flesh, can be harvested in mid-July through August. That's followed by the Dapple Dandy, then the Flavor King. The fruit from those trees are sure to please your summertime guests. Other delectable pluot varieties include Flavor Delight (which has an early June ripening dates), Geo Pride and Emerald Drop (late July), Flavor Grenade and Flavorich, which can produce fruit after Labor Day.

    Because they can be trimmed to stand no higher than seven feet tall, pluot trees don't require much backyard space. A sunny spot and weekly watering will suffice. Pluots can be pollinated by another pluot or a Japanese plum tree planted nearby. For a season long harvest of pluot varieties, check out this harvest calendar at Dave Wilson Nursery.

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