Grow fruit that thrives in Bermuda’s climate
Why aren’t we growing more fruits? There are quite a few reasons, not the least of which is cost. At $85 or $175 for a single fruit tree it may be difficult for many to justify investing in one. However, there are cheaper options that grow well in Bermuda and bear fruit sooner. They include bananas, pawpaws, strawberries, grapes and passion fruit. Why not make more use of them.
Everyone is familiar with the gorgeous purple pink passionflower (Passiflora caerulea) that is often used for corsages. The flower is said to symbolise various parts of the Passion of Christ. Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) does not enjoy the same attention here as in other places. Passion fruit is easy and inexpensive to grow and can fruit in as little as one to two years.
How to grow passion fruit from seeds
To start the vines, get a ripe passion fruit from the store or from someone who grows them. As a word of caution, passion fruit from the store could be hybrids that do not reproduce true to the parent.
To clean seeds from ripe fruit wash them in a strainer to remove the pulp and dry them on paper towels. It is best to plant them right away. They take 10 to 20 days to germinate, or longer if the seed is older. When the plants are a few inches tall separate the seedlings into small pots filled with a good potting mixture. Once they reach 10 inches they can be transplanted into the ground in a sunny location. Make a hole twice the size of the root ball and mix compost into the soil before planting. Tamp the soil around the roots firmly and water. The vines will require a strong support for lush growth. An aging fruit tree, a fence or a wire wall trellis will serve this function.
Soil, fertilizer and water
According to the experts passion fruit vines prefer a light or heavy sandy loam soil with good drainage and pH of 6.5 to 7.5 (slightly acid to neutral). The root system is shallow and will need to be watered until it is well established. It is especially important during the fruiting period. Mulches will help keep the soil moist. If the fruits receive insufficient water they will drop off the vine prematurely. An organic fertilizer rich in nitrogen will support abundant leaves; one rich in potassium will encourage flower and fruit development.
I had been under the impression for many years that two plants were needed for passion fruit flower cross-pollination. After watching my two vines produce plenty of flowers for at least three years without any fruit forming I was ready to give up. I have only one vine now and discovered this fall that they will self-pollinate with the help of an artist brush. The normal pollinator in other areas is a large bee, honeybees will pollinate but not as effectively. I transferred pollen from the male reproductive part of the flower (pollen-laden inverted disc) to the female part (twin-lobed knobs) and within a few days fruit began to form. Pollination is apparently best under high humidity conditions. The fruit ripens in 70 to 80 days after pollination and drops off the vine once it is ripe. They are sweetest when the skin is slightly shriveled.
Pruning the vines
The vines grow rampant so a good third can be removed but allow enough growth to form a canopy to protect the fruit from sunburn. During the winter months after the harvest the winds lash the vines and they naturally decline. This is the time to prune them further. The plant lives for only five or six years so it is a good idea to start some more vines before the older ones decline.
Tasty, healthy fruit
Passion fruit has an intense tropical-flavoured pulp and seeds and is excellent in fruit desserts, sorbets, drinks, and on ice cream, custard or cheesecake. It is low in sodium, a good source of potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and a very good source of dietary fiber. As a homegrown, inexpensive and potentially abundant fruit, it can become a local winner.
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