Pomegranates have been glowing on my tree like Christmas baubles for months now. Every week they grow bigger and heavier and more handsome. I’m hoping they’ll hold til winter. I have always loved those Japanese images of fiery orange persimmons hanging on bare, snow-flecked branches. Snow is unlikely here in the inner west I know, but the other elements of the image are forming. The leaves of the pomegranate are turning and falling, and there is still plenty of blushing fruit clinging on.
Pomegranates are easy fruit trees to grow in Sydney and have been grown since the early days of the colony. I chose a variety called ‘Wonderful’ which was developed in California and is popular with commercial growers. It is good-looking and very juicy, with dark arils whose seeds aren’t too woody. Some of the Spanish varieties, such as ‘Elcite’ and ‘Elche’ have lighter-coloured arils and yellow skin so don’t look as good as ‘Wonderful’, but have a reputation for sensational flavour. The new variety ‘Ben Hur’ has been developed for home gardens. The breeders must have had in mind the kind of gardeners who like to grow big things, like ‘Mortgage Lifter’ tomatoes and ‘Queensland Blue’ pumpkins. The monster fruit of this pomegranate get to 1.5kg. Each.
Pomegranate trees will grow to a shrubby 4m if you leave them alone, but are usually pruned to a trunk with 4 or 5 main branches, all kept short enough that the fruit can be picked without a ladder. Mickey Robertson at Glenmore House grows her pomegranates as a hedge, and I wish I’d thought of that. At her place the fruit looks great studding the dense foliage and picking up the colour of the outbuildings. A hip-high hedge is also very handy for harvesting.
The pomegranate crop depends on pollination, so it’s important to draw bees into the garden with plenty of other flowers in spring. Not much troubled by disease, pomegranates are targeted by fruit fly. It’s hard to imagine something as fragile as a fruit fly piercing the tough leathery skin of a pomegranate, but it happens, and it happened to all my fruit last year. This year I practised double avoidance. I hung a bait in the tree, and also put mesh bags around 30 individual pieces of fruit. Project Protect Pomegranate was a great success – no maggots so far.
My romantic image of red fruit on a bare tree will most likely be blasted to bits soon. Pomegranates ripen slowly, but at some point the fruit will burst and spill those myriad seeds. At the first sign of a crack, I’ll pick the final fruits. The best looking ones can be a tabletop still-life. The rest will have their arils picked and stored in the fridge for a week or so, or be juiced and frozen in ice block trays for later use in cordials and pomegranate-celebrating cocktails.