It’s mid-September (let’s pretend I did not say that out loud), and the glorious Morelle de Balbis plant is bearing ripe fruit. This process began a few weeks ago but I withheld my judgement until several were ready for picking.
I’ve had several opportunities to try them now and can report that the taste is, in a word, insipid. I read several descriptions shortly after purchasing the seeds and the fruit I am picking from our yardshare garden does not meet some of the more flattering accounts. They do have a slight citrus note, but watermelon and cherries… Please. Either my palette is unrefined or others’ are overambitious. Mind you I am basing my entire assessment on a single plant grown in a rather wet year, but still.
The texture of the fruit is very similar to a tomatillo or ground cherry. I suspect that cooking might be in order for the remaining harvest. If I can manage to harvest it all. Those spikes are deadly. Like a tomatillo, the husks pull back from the soft part of the fruit as they mature. This leaves a little bit of room to manage them but not much. Davin was unable to pick even one the other day without spearing his fingers on those spines. He claims they are poisoned in some way and that the ensuing welt was bigger and more painful than it should have been for a spine of that size. This is one crop I’d happily leave to the critters, but I doubt they’ll be bothered when there are still so many passive foodstuffs left to steal.
So let’s tally up the score. Litchi tomato is a hostile and belligerent plant that threatens personal injury at every turn and produces tasteless fruit that is damned near impossible to harvest.
Will I grow it again? YES!
Regardless of the outcome I’m glad I tried this plant and will definitely grow it again, especially when I’ve got more space. The flowers are gorgeous and have attracted an abundance of pollinators to the garden. Watching it’s progress has been a delightful experiment and a good start to my explorations in Solanum Family oddities. In the future I will grow it for show only without the expectation of a useful food crop at the end of the season.
When I start a new plant from seed for the first time, I don’t always know what will be a hit and what I’ll be bored with by this time in July. The Morelle de Balbis is a big hit. My last update was posted at the beginning of July and I think the plant has doubled in size since. It gets more interesting and beautiful by the day. Fruit is on the way!
Back when I bought the seeds I hesitated. I knew it was going to be large, unruly and difficult to place. I am so glad I went ahead anyways and even managed to get it planted, unlike some contenders that didn’t make it in this year.
It’s thorny and a bit scary, but I LOVE it! And so do the bees.
When I wrote about the Morelle de Balbis (Solanum sisymbrifolium) last it was on April 30, 2010 when the seedling was still living in the greenhouse. It had just begun to produce its thorns and I was beginning to get a glimpse into what I’d signed on for.
It is now July 1 and the plant has been living outdoors in soil for just over a month or so. When it came time to plant, I decided to grow it in a large pot, rather than in the ground. The final mature growth of this thorny Tomato Family plant is estimated to come in at around 5′ tall. I had a feeling it was going to be fairly treacherous to grow. Planting it into a garden bed meant there would be a greater chance of scratching myself on the thorns. I am not a particularly graceful person. I bash into door frames fairly regularly. I live in small spaces and I garden in cramped quarters, which means I regularly come into close contact with plants whether I want to or not. As the Morelle de Balbis grows it becomes more and more apparent that this is not a plant I want rubbing up against my skin.
Shortly after planting. I used straw mulch to help lock in moisture and keep weed seeds from sprouting.
I did not have any room left in the big pots on my roof, so I decided to plant it in a container in “the new space.” Oh, didn’t I tell you? There is a FOURTH garden this year. The fourth is a yard share, located through a secret door in the back garden of friend. One of my goals for this year was to get a bigger garden space. And when it didn’t happen through the City allotment garden network, a friend stepped up and asked me to join their space. I am so grateful.
With other gardeners in the space, I had to be especially mindful of this plant’s placement. As a part of the garden’s revamp in the spring, we decided to make use of a sunny spot along a fence by lining up large recycling bins for container growing. I planted the Morelle de Balbis in the furthest bin along the fence where I hoped it would receive minimal contact.
About a month after planting. The Morelle de Balbis is in the centre and is flanked by two determinate tomato plants: ‘Black Seaman’ and ‘Whippersnapper.’ All are under-planted with different varieties of basil.
My greenhouse grown plants are coming along and at the rate we’re going weather-wise this spring, a few of these babies could be out the door before the typical May 24 planting weekend in this region. I’ve become more cautious than I used to be as we’ve had some fluke cold snaps and hail storms in the past that have sent me running to cover everything with a blanket or bring a thousand pots into my living room. But things have been so consistently mild this spring, I’m feeling daring.
Now if only the whipping winds would settle down.
The ‘Variegated’ tomatoes (above) are really starting to show their colours now. I’m particularly pleased with this one and pleased that I decided to grow them again. As I mentioned in a previous post, the tomatoes themselves aren’t much to write home about, but what’s fascinating is that they do start out variegated just like the plant, and ripen to red. It’s quite a visual treat. I’m hopeful that the year I grew them previously was just a bad year for this variety and the tomatoes will surprise me this time around.
This tomato plant looks really big already but is a ‘Black Seaman,’ a determinate (bushing) variety that grows nicely-sized slicing tomatoes if you give it a big pot. I’ve gone as small as a foot-deep but a bigger pot, if you’ve got it, will grow a bigger plant. My first experience with this variety was wishy-washy but it has since gone on to become a favourite. I never go a year without growing one and I always recommend it to container gardeners.
Remember when the naranjilla were teeny, tiny little things? They’ve had a slow start, but the seedlings are starting to come along to a decent size. They are very hairy now and you can see the beginnings of little thorns that will eventually turn into nasty rose-like thorns at maturity. Here’s a reminder of what it looks like at full size. Ouch.
The naranjilla’s cousin, Morelle de Balbis (Solanum sisymbrifolium) is also beginning to put out thorns. I have allergies to some hairy plants in the garden including beans (just the plants), sunflowers, and globe thistle. If I rub against these plants with wet arms, I break out in hives. Even at this tiny size the Morelle de Balbis is proving to be a hazard. I’ve felt some minor itches when accidentally brushing against it’s teeny little thorns. You can bet I’ll be exercising caution when this thing reaches full size and maximum thorniness.
It should make an excellent, although purely ornamental candidate for the street garden.
p.s. I took all of these photos with my cellphone; hence the weirdness.
What about you? How are your seedlings coming along?
We have been enjoying an unseasonably warm March here in Toronto that has lead into the warmest early April I can recall, ever. Temperatures are supposed to soar this weekend, sending gardeners (including me) into a flurry of activity. I have already sown spinach and mâche into containers on the roof. The chives have been shooting up slowly over the last few weeks, and I am starting to identify lettuce seedlings that have self sown where I let mature plants go to seed last season. I intend to spend this weekend cleaning up, amending the container soil, and getting all of the gardens into shape.
Meanwhile, over at the greenhouse, my little seedlings are go. I started tomatoes and peppers on March 5 and have sown the odd thing here and there since. I’m enjoying the simplicity of this stage of the growing season very much. I’ve been through this stage countless times now and you’d think it would get dull, but it never does. Every year there is something new and even the same old same old haven’t lost their appeal. On a basic level I am amazed by my plants’ progress every time I visit the greenhouse. I am relishing just observing the beauty of new seeds as they come out of the package and discovering the early growth stages of plants I have never grown from seed before. This is a happy time all around.
These are a pansy called ‘Caramel Spice’ from Botanical Interests. It’s a little late to start pansies and violas from seed as they are typically started in January. In fact, I just bought the first pansy cell-packs of the season yesterday. Unfortunately, these seeds came late but I figured I might as well give it a shot anyways. I can always try tucking them into a cooler spot once the summer heat hits and hope they make it to the fall cool-down.
This is cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), one of my fun experiments for the 2010 growing season. Cardoon is a gorgeous, and rather massive plant that looks an awful lot like an artichoke or giant thistle. In fact, they’re related. What’s interesting is that you eat the stems of the plant, not the flower bud as you do with an artichoke. But before you harvest it you’ve got to “blanch” it, much like celery, by covering the stems with a large box or some other cover to keep light out and soften the leaves. Perhaps a bit complicated but my curiosity has got the better of me so here we go. Another fun fact: cardoon is often used as a vegetarian rennet substitute in cheese making.
I like the seedlings at this stage; so perfect.