FEBRUARY 2001 NEWSLETTER
First of all - Our current movements - so you
can keep track!
As I write this we are back in Samoa, having spent
five weeks at home on the farm over Christmas. It is interesting
that whenever you are home you long to travel and whenever you are
travelling you long for home. Five weeks of manual labour working
in the humid tropical summer of northern Queensland trying to bring
the farm back under control has made us ready to head back to Samoa
for the final 3 month contract, which finishes at the end of April.
We intend to go back to Australia the 'long way round'
via Paris and Glasgow, Singapore and Bali - it will probably be
the last time we are overseas for some time, so we are making the
most of it. The mind boggles what the fruit will be like in the
western highlands of Scotland - but we will let you know! We arrive
back in Cape Tribulation on the 24 June, ready to begin the fruit
tastings on July 1.
Eating our first Mangosteens
I mentioned in the last letter that our Mangosteens
had fruited for the first time, 12 years after planting out our
first trees, from seeds that we had collected in Bangkok in October
1998. Well the good news is that we did get to taste our first fruit
before we departed for Samoa. And of course it tasted fantastic.
It was difficult to believe that our dream was actually becoming
a reality. Not enough fruit yet for a commercial harvest but probably
next year, if all goes well. Farmers should never start counting
their mangosteens before they hatch! About 30 trees had fruit -
maybe 10 to 50 fruit on each tree.
Picking them is going to be interesting as the branches
are so fragile. A fruit farm near us uses small children aged about
8 to climb the trees and pick the fruit - long armed pickers should
probably do the job. The trees need to be patrolled every few days,
and as they start to change colour from green to pink, they are
ready for picking and eating. So we were able to eat at least 30
fruit, and have left the rest to our neighbours.
Marketing our Salaks
For the first time Our Salak crop has been considerable
this year. The fruit had been ripening since early December and
bunches continued to ripen over the 5 weeks that we were at home.
A pick twice a week would yield at least 2 buckets of ripe fruit.
Some of the fruit had been hand pollinated and had produced quite
good yields, but we also found many bunches which had pollinated
themselves and still had produced a good yield. So we are hoping
that as the plants become older they will not need to be hand pollinated
which is rather time consuming.
The best of the crop we took down to the local fruit
shop at Mossman - Yum Yums - who has a good sideline on exotic tropical
fruit - and she promoted them to all the chefs from Port Douglas.
The owner, Afka tells us that Nautilus, THE posh restaurant in Port
Douglas had Salak soup on the menu, and has promised to get us the
recipe from the chef. Another posh resort had them on their breakfast
fruit platter and apparently they were well received there by guests
who had eaten them in Bali and were delighted to be able to eat
The rest of the crop was eaten locally - the fruit
are very more-ish and once you overcome the initial surprise that
they are dry and crunchy rather than moist and juicy, large amounts
can be consumed at a sitting. So we will need to really get organised
for the next season and have a marketing plan that we can implement.
Our Bangkok Durians
On that Bangkok trip in 1988 we also collected Durian
seed, particularly the variety called Montong - or so we thought!
We planted out 50 seedling trees which were so called Montong -
of the 50 we planted out we now have about 3 surviving, and 2 of
those 3 have produced their first fruit this season. Ten metres
up the trees - huge big fat fruit - but they didn't ripen while
we were at home.
However our neighbours have been keeping an eye on
them with instructions to taste them and see what they actually
are. Well the first ones fell last week - and Colin and Dawn our
neighbouring durian experts collected them for tasting. Their verdict
is that they are NOT Montong - surprise, surprise - but a variety
they call Strong Pong - can you believe the name, (they can't be
serious - it has to be a joke) and of course they have a really
strong smell, so that people walking up their driveway could smell
the fruit in their packing shed 50 metres away!But the good news
is that the flesh recovery is very high and tastes good and is also
quite red in colour.
The rambutan harvest has just started with the fruit
appearing in the market again. For many Samoans this is their first
experience with the fruit and many find it too sweet. I suspect
that this is more a reaction to the strangeness of a new food, when
the preference is for the traditional foods. However, for many others
the fruit is enjoyed and is sought after for eating and planting.
To encourage the latter, the government nursery has dropped the
selling price of bud grafted rambutan to about A$1! The fruit itself
is selling at around A$4 a kilo, which is still very expensive compared
to other fruits at the market.
The UN fruit project team have finally decided which
are the best rambutan varieties for distribution in Samoa. These
include Lebakbulus, R167, R134, R162, Gulah Batu and Rongrien while
some of the no hopers include Jit Lee, Selankeng, R3, R7 and R9.
It remains now to complete the fruit fly host status testing on
the best varieties before we can establish a protocol for exporting
the fruit initially to NZ.
Fruit appearing in large numbers in the local market
include a native passionfruit often harvested from the forest. Orange
in colour with a soft thick shell, I have yet to find out the proper
name for it. The taste is very sweet, but with virtually no acid.
I find the flavour objectionably musty, but Alison enjoys them and
even puts them on her cereal for breakfast.
The mango season has now finished, such as it was.
The trees grow well here but the high levels of nitrogen, the frequent
rains and the high humidity make this country a less than ideal
location for getting them to fruit. One of my challenges is to develop
a horticultural practice that will allow the many mangoes to produce
fruit. The key will lie in pruning after harvest to maintain an
open and low structure, minimizing fungal attack and encouraging
new leaf growth, which will delay flowering until the drier season.
The sun and rain tend to push the trees into flowering at any time,
when rapid fungal growth wipes out the flowers or young fruit. Half
the government research farm mango trees have now been decimated,
pruned back to open vase shaped skeletons. The other half will have
their centres pruned out, leaving any other cut backs until next
season. Hopefully they will be able to show some more fruit next
season. The densely planted mango groves, totalling about 400 mature
trees had about 10 Kg of fruit total, so it is unlikely they can
do any worse!
That's about all the news for now
Alison and Digby