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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

When Do I Pick This Pomegranate? I Don't Know What I Have!

Some pomegranates have wonderful color inside like
this 'Wonderful' pomegranate
Q. I planted about 30 pomegranate bushes two years ago. I bought them from a nursery and they told me that I was getting a variety of exotic species. But they had them in the nursery so long the tags were all gone. They are all thriving now and most have a fair amount of fruit this year.  How do I determine when the fruit is ripe? Do they get easy to pick, like they nearly fall off the stem or is that even a factor? Do the seeds need to turn red? They are getting kind of leathery on the outside but most of those have seeds that really aren't red at all. They are still a little tart but that may be expected.

A few are smaller and really red outside and really quite red inside, but those are really bitter.

So the real question I am asking is - how do I figure out when they are ripe?

A. If we were all growing the same pomegranates it would be a lot easier. But not all pomegranates mature at the same time and they not all look the same when they do.

Pomegranates can come in a wide range of colors
            Some pomegranates are yellow on the outside, some red, some striped, some dark purple. Also the seeds on the inside are not always red or dark red. Some of the prettier ones are but no a variety like Utah Sweet (which I think you may).

            They are a great variety but they do not look nor are they as pretty to look at as the Wonderful variety which is the most widely planted variety in the US. Some, like Utah Sweet, have seeds that are soft and nearly edible and in some cases people do eat them. Others, like Wonderful, have seeds which are hard.

Some pomegranates may tend to split when they are ripe
            Some have low tannin content and so are not bitter at all while some are quite bitter. Bitterness is an acquired taste and in some cultures is preferred. Think of the bitterness in beer or bitter melon. Some have a delicate balance between bitterness and sweetness that many people relate to the true taste of a pomegranate.

            Some ripen by September while some ripen near Halloween.

            Frequently the fruit will separate from the tree with a gentle tug and twist when ripe. It is true though that if you know which variety you have you can usually judge by its color and time of year.

            Another way is the calyx end or the bottom where the “king’s crown” is. When it flares outward it is a good sign it is close to being ready.

            Splitting of the fruit can be another indicator. If birds start to attack the fruit when they split that can be another indicator. Ground squirrels may also attack the fruit.

            In any case they are ready when you think they taste good. Start looking at them around mid-September and pick a nice looking one and sample it. If it tastes good, then look for some at the same stage of maturity and harvest. Harvesting ripe off the tree can last a month because they are at different stages of development.

            If not yet ripe, wait a couple of weeks and try another one. Keep going until you are satisfied you have the right timing. Mark it in your calendar. Take pictures of the mature fruit, send it to me and let me see if I can help you identify it.

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