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Written by Wally Richards.
YOUR FOOD AND YOUR HEALTH GO HAND IN HAND
TAMARILLO (TREE TOMATO)
Growing up we had one or more tamarillos growing and during autumn into winter the fruit would be ripe and ready to eat.
If the flavour was a bit sour we would sprinkle glucose over the flesh and then eat.
Some lovely deserts can be made with the fruit which are very yummy.
According to Wikipedia: Prior to 1967, the tamarillo was known as the "tree tomato" in New Zealand, but a new name was chosen by the New Zealand Tree Tomato Promotions Council in order to distinguish it from the ordinary garden tomato and increase its exotic appeal.
The choice is variously explained by similarity to the word "tomato", the Spanish word "amarillo", meaning yellow, and a variation on the Maori word "tama", for "leadership"
The fruits are very high in vitamins A & C plus iron and low in calories (only about 40 calories per fruit).
In Palmerston North years ago the worst problem growing a tamarillo was the frosts in winter.
This was particularly so during establishing times which was in the first couple of years, after that the plants tended to become more hardy and even if they lost all their leaves to frost in the winter.
New growths would sprout from the trunk in spring and the tree would be away again for another season.
The large leaves and the soft growth was another problem as wind could cause a lot of damage breaking branches off the trunk.
Interestingly tamarillos do not fare well in hot tropic regions, they prefer a bit cooler and if they do survive the heat they dont set much fruit which will be very small compared to their cooler grown cousins.
My best ever tamarillo tree was grown under the eaves by a lounge window facing north east and sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds.
I would spray the foliage in autumn with Vaporgard and this reduced the damage from frosts in winter and as the lounge was heated it also gave some warmth and prevented frost settling so easy.
Because the plant retained all its foliage through winter it was away to a much earlier start in the spring.
All was fine till a few years ago the dreaded tomato/potato psyllid made an appearance and then growing a tamarillo was a contest between me and this insect.
The psyllids took out my big tamarillo before I even realised what the problem was.
I moved house about that time (6 years ago) and unfortunately brought the psyllids with me on the plants and containers I relocated.
The new residence is a warehouse with a house on the second storey so outside in is mainly concrete with a tall block wall on the south east border, the warehouse faces the north west so the area in between is a micro-climate and perfect for psyllids to reproduce.
It did not take me long to figure out that I had a really bad psyllid problem and when I grew a tamarillo in a container all would be well (or appeared to be so) and they would grow up to about 2 meters in the spring, looking good then the bottom leaves would yellow and drop off.
This would progressively continue up the trunk until all the leaves were gone. The plant then would start to produce new growths from the axis of where the leaf stems had fallen off and then these would fizz and the trunk would die.
Now I am a gardener that will not let anything beat me and will go to extreme lengths to achieve what I want when it comes to growing plants.
To this end I built a quarantine house between two of my glasshouses thinking that the psyllids would not be able to get to the tamarillo but little did I know that I would be carrying them in.
Fortunately about this time I learnt about using the cell strengthening products and had them to use for psyllid contyrol.
The following is what you can do to have more success in growing tamarillos, tomatoes, potatoes, capsicum, chili, okra and any other plants that the psyllids like.
You need to start the treatment either at the seed germination time or at the baby plant stage.
Wallys Silicon plus boron soil drench is used prior to planting seed or young plants.
Two weeks later, or when seeds have germinated and the plant has foliage exposed another drench of the same product is used.
Next we take two products and mix them together, Wallys Silicon Cell Strengthener and Wallys Silicon Super Spreader (which is used at only 1mil to 5 litres of spray and it drives the other spray into the plant.)
Spray the foliage all over till run off, including the trunk.
This is repeated every 2 weeks as the plant is growing to ensure that the cells are toughened up making it impossible for the psyllid nymphs to feed.
This means when they hatch out of their eggs they cant eat and die very quickly of starvation.
Once the plant reaches maturity you can reduce spraying to once a month.
Now an interesting thing occurred with my two tamarillos growing in the quarantine house which I built.
When they reached the quarantine cloth over the roof I nipped out the growing leader and then they produced side shoots which could not grow taller so they grew sideways making an umbrella like structure. The plants flowered and now I have lots of fruit finishing ripening.
The cost of tamarillo fruit is about a dollar each these days so well worth the effort to grow them.
If you grow them in a similar structure as I have done (like a shade house) which is ideal protection against frost and wind then nip out the plant as it reaches the roof you will get the same effect as I have.
Mine are just in 45 litre containers which means more feeding and watering through the growing season but I might see if I can repot them up into 100 litre containers and likely get a lot more foliage and hence more fruit.
If you have had problems growing tomatoes etc last season because of the psyllids then use the cell strengthening products.
Another aspect is that these products do grow better plants that also produce better even if there are no psyllids to worry about.