Monday, February 20, 2012

Locally Grown Tropicals

Every aspiring locavore has her hangups. Foods native to far-away lands and warmer climes that you just can't pass up at the grocery store. I can't tell you how jealous I am of urban farmers in California, blessed with citrus trees and artichokes. Green with envy, I tell you.

What's a girl to do? Grow them inside, of course! The (perhaps vain) hope is that some day my lemons, tea, and other tropical treats, will be part of my 100' diet right along with the kale and tomatoes. Here you see my meyer lemon and dwarf banana, along with a very productive thai hot pepper and some scraggly rosemary that we transplanted from our CSA farm.

With most of these plants, I'll have to wait years before I see any fruit, if ever. 'Til then, it's quite a challenge to keep them thriving. Well, if we're being honest, it's a challenge just to keep them alive, especially in the dark winter months. A lot of these plants are rather finicky, and since I'm notorious for killing even the "thrives on abuse" variety of houseplant, it's a miracle I haven't lost any of these exotic friends. But hey, I like a challenge.

The first year I had the lemon tree, it flowered profusely and produced two teeny tiny lemons. They were the most amazing thing I ever tasted. I had hoped to see some flowers on my meyer lemon tree again this winter. Instead, it's spent the last few months regrowing the leaves it lost when I brought it inside in the fall. It might have been transplant shock, or stress from the hasty transition inside. 

My tea plant is looking great--don't let the browning leaves fool you. When I got it, it was a tiny stick with no branches. It's supposed to be a shrub, so I've been practicing my pruning skills and encouraging the plant to put out new branches. Here you can see new leaves unfurling where I cut it back. It seems to really love a good haircut.

And the dwarf banana, looking a little more dwarf than it should. This variety supposedly fruits when it's about three feet tall--we're looking at about a foot of growth right now. I almost killed this one several times this winter, until some research revealed that bananas actually prefer a sandy potting mix, the same that you would use for cactus. I had it in regular potting soil, and it became clear that I had been making a classic rookie mistake--over-watering. I re-potted the banana, rescuing it from certain death at the hands of root rot.

This crazy plant is a pitaya vine, or dragon fruit. It's a night-blooming orchid cactus--a vining cactus that grows on trees and produces the most amazing dinner plate sized blossoms at night. These plants grew all over the place in the Nicaraguan town I spent a summer in, and I have fond memories of seeing these flowers caught in my flashlight's beam. The fruit is equally incredible. Delicious pink alien looking things.

It took me almost 10 years to find a place selling the plants stateside--it turns out you can get them from Logee's, which is only a few hours from here. This plant has grown from about 1.5 feet tall to nearly 6 feet in the year that I've had it--talk about fast-growing! As you can see, I'm struggling to contain it. Supposedly, it will start to flower and produce fruit once the plant weighs about 10 pounds. I have no idea how I'm supposed to know how much it weighs...

Some people turn into crazy cat ladies as they get older. I aspire to be the crazy plant lady--surrounded by an ever-growing collection of bizarre tropical fruit plants. I'd say I'm well on my way. I just hope that by then I'll at least have figured out how to get them to fruit.

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