Saturday, 27 February 2016

Jackfruit Picking... What are the Chances?

Our jackfruit trees are our major garden experiment. 

We have only seen a couple of jackfruit trees in Sydney. One resides in a yard behind a friend’s house: it appears to be growing happily enough, but we are unaware of whether it has fruited in our marginal climate. Moreover, we have heard whispers that there are some healthy jackfruit trees growing in the gardens of people of the local Asian communities. So, we have little direct evidence of successful, Sydney jackfruit trees … and we have nobody in our circles with local knowledge of the cultural requirements of this splendid tree. In fact, during the planning stage for our garden five years ago, we visited a nursery in northern Sydney which sold an array of Asian herbs and plants. On asking the proprietor about jackfruit, we were told bluntly, “That doesn’t grow in Sydney!” End of conversation!

As a couple, the better half and I do have one personal trait in common. We don’t mind a challenge… Unwittingly, the nursery owner had just provided us with a ‘challenge moment’.

We are regular visitors to Asia, and Malaysia, in particular. On arrival, our hire car takes us to the first market or fruit stall to satisfy our hankering for the fruit delights of the tropics. For her, the only thing better than nangka is durian. For him, the one thing that is better than nangka is a good mango. Therefore, nangka (or jackfruit) is one of our absolute favourites… Into the car it goes, along with the durian and the rainbow mango… and the rambutan… and the mata kuching… I am sure you get the picture. I love the crisp, orange flesh jackfruits with their hint of spiciness. She loves the sweet yellow-fleshed nangka. But then there was the nangka we were given in Changkat Keruing: an odd colour, pinkish-yellow. But what a flavour! So sweet! Magnificent! We took the remainder of the fruit back to our lodgings in Ipoh. To relish it!  Via a family visit in Sitiawan, in Malaysian heat, in a loan car, the electronic windows of which would not wind up, it went back to Ipoh. Oh, dear! Let me tell you that car-fried jackfruit is not a pretty sight or smell! Our wonderful gift had perished… We have never come across this magnificent pinkish-yellow jackfruit since.... ever!

A roadside nangka seller near Batu Pahat, Malaysia

Back home in Oz, we took a bold decision. Let’s buy a piece of jackfruit in Cabramatta, Sydney’s Asian suburb, home to a large population of Vietnamese, Chinese and other Southeast Asian settlers. At $11 or more per kilo, it is not cheap. Let’s collect the seeds and sprout them. If the seeds grow, we will be blessed. If the seedlings grow well, we will have some of the beautiful Asian trees in our yard. If it fruits, we will be in heaven! That was four years ago… Our challenge had begun.

Past blog posts have detailed the history of two of our jackfruit trees. We have two stately, young trees standing in our back garden. One flowered last autumn, the other is flowering now… and there are beautiful, gnarled, knobbly fruits hanging from the tree. Large and expanding gnarled, knobbly fruits. I am not sure whether to be excited or nervous! Why? Because the weather will begin to cool little-by-little from mid-March until the cool of our winter truly sets in from mid-May.

I have read that in the tropical and sub-tropical northern regions of Australia, jackfruit can take from three up to eight months to ripen. Three months places our ripened fruit in April, mid-autumn. In eight months, it will be September-October, mid-spring… Through a cold Sydney winter, will they ripen at all? What protective measures do I need to take? Do I cover them? Or will they be fine left to their own devices? Will they over-winter in the style of bananas and papayas, then ripen as the weather warms through the spring?

Growing jackfruit trees in Sydney is a challenge. So much still to learn. Fruit or no fruit, however, we have two sturdy and attractive Asian trees growing handsomely in our yard. So, what are the chances of them fruiting?

Please watch this space...

Female inflorescence (left) and male inflorescence

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