25 February 2009

Pecans, passionfruit and pods

I am still learning about our pecan tree. It sits in the chook run and it is the most beautiful tree in our backyard. It's deciduous, madly green and lush during the summer and a slender skeleton with forking fingers during winter. For many years I didn't know what it was, and I still don't know what variety it is, but I'm happy it's there. Apparently the old varieties of pecan take 12 years to produce their first crop. We have lived here for 11 ½ years and nuts are growing for the first time.

I believe pecans are native to north America so there may be some of you who are growing them. If so, any tips you can give me will be gladly accepted. We don't have the disease pecan scab here and, from what I've read, apart from a ring barking native pest, the pecan grows without trouble here. But I wonder how we harvest the nuts. Do they fall off? We don't have a lot of them but I want to make sure I take full advantage of what is there .

A short stroll over from the pecan we're growing passionfruit vines. Both Hanno and I love passionfruit and I think we now have five vines out there in various stages of maturity. Not only are they a delicious fruit, the flowers are beautiful. This photo was taken as the flower was opening so you can see it's white tendrils and deep purple throat. Exquisite!

Another uncommon tropical plant that I've been growing here for about 10 years but am only now becoming serious about, are my vanilla orchids. I've grown them in pots until now, have had one or two orchid flowers but never any pods. It's a bit of a palaver to grow them for vanilla pods but that is what I intend doing this year. When the luffas are removed from their trellis, I'm planting a few vanilla orchids in the ground near the shade of the banana trees. The vines need to grow to a certain height and then have the top of the vine removed from the trellis to grown downwards. That triggers flowering, and eventually, pods. Then comes the hand pollinating, we have no natural pollinators of vanilla here, and then, when the pods are (hopefully) prolific and mature, they're picked and fermented. A long and tedious process to produce that sweet unique flavouring, vanilla. But I'm mad enough to do it. ; - ) I'll take some photos when I plant.

I forget who asked now, but someone wanted to know more about the bricks around our raised garden beds. I asked Hanno and this is what he told me. The brick size is 390 x 185 x 110 mm and they're a hollow brick with holes in the centre, which is good for planting small overflowing herbs because they soften the edges. Don't buy the solid type unless they're very cheap. We bought ours as seconds. I think they were a bit under a dollar each. If you buy enough for several garden beds, it will be fairly expensive but it pays off over the long term. Unlike logs, they don't decay or leech into the ground and they're easily rearranged to form different garden shapes. To lay them, set into the flat ground about two inches deep and secure them in with the soil you back fill.

I was contacted by Radio National last week. They are doing a program on frugal blogs and will be interviewing someone from slate.com and me for the program. I do that non-live interview today. Shane and Sarndra will be here too, bringing over more of their stuff to be stored here while they're in New Zealand. And when I came home from work yesterday, I noticed Hanno had placed two ripe luffas on the outside table. I'll have to check them out this morning and see if they need more drying time or if they can be skinned right away. I did the first of The Frugal Home workshops yesterday at work and it was a great success. The first two workshops have been booked out. Times are tough now and I hope to pass on some of what I know via these workshops. But now there is bread to be baked, a cake to be made and I'm sure, a hundred other things to do. It's good to be back home after two busy days at work.

ADDITION: I'll certainly let you all know when the program will be on. Apparently it will be in a couple of weeks. I believe they have podcasts too, so you might be able to download it if you miss it, or if you're in another country.



  1. I grew up in Grafton NSW and there was an oval next door that had pecan nut trees surrounding it. Your right, they are lovely trees.
    The nuts do fall off. As a child i used to scout around after school gathering pockets full of the nuts.

  2. Good morning Rhonda.....a question about passionfruit.

    I have a vine full of fruit, and flowers still coming, courtesy of my neighbour....his has grown over the fence and has made itself very much at home around my chook pen. I don't know what variety they are, but not the small dark purple I'm used to.....very large, and seem to only go a nice pink...my neighbour doesn't know either!

    They're not ripening very quickly though, I thought there'd be a great glut of fruit through summer, but wondering if, with autumn creeping in, I'll just be left with green fruit.

    Do you know if they'll ripen successfully off the vine?


  3. Good morning Rhonda,

    Wow Radio National. Please give us lots of warning when that will be aired because I'd really like to be listening.
    I also love passionfruit but at the moment haven't got a place to plant a vine. My friend who lived in Orange N.S,W. for many years grew hers next to the chimney which kept the vines warm in winter. She cooked on a slow combustion stove year round and the chimney kept the frosts as bay.

    Have a great day,it seems you'll be busy.
    Blessings Gail

  4. I have never eaten a passion fruit and have not come across them in the markets here.

  5. "But I'm mad enough to do it."
    That made me smile! I am a lonely one in my circle of friends. I am the mad one always trying something new and creating as much as I can now by hand. In fact, I'm cooling the Lavender Body Butter mixture I just made so that I can whip it up and pour it into the pretty jars I found this morning to give as gifts this evening. I've also got a baby gift to embroider and cookies to bake for tonight, all before my little ones get up from nap. Guess I'd better get off the computer!

  6. Lucky you, to have a pecan in your back yard! The nuts will fall off in the late fall, but you can encourage the "late-fallers" by whacking at the branches. The outer husk should peel off easily when the nuts are ripe, leaving you with the familiar smooth shell.

  7. Hi Rhonda,

    I enjoy your blog so much.

    I live in the Southeastern US and pecan trees are quite common here, but they can be tempermental about producing pecans.

    We've had some very good years with the trees in our area, and then some bad years.

    The nuts will fall when they are ready. My husband walks home from work and during the fall he will come home with his pockets full of pecans he's picked up on his way home.

    We have several pecan trees in our yard, but evidently they are past the bearing stage. They are still very beautiful trees.

  8. I cannot tell you how comforting it is to hear you say you are still learning about the pecan tree some days I wonder if I really do know what I am doing with the vege garden but I guess it supplies us some food so I can't be completly dense!!!lol Looking forward to hearing the radio national interview let us know when it will be on. And have a fabuolous day.


  9. I took a picture of a passion fruit flower in my back yard just the other day ! Isn't it an amazingly beautiful flower ?? I just love them !

  10. I grew up in Virginia, USA. We had a big pecan tree in our back yard, and every fall we'd harvest the pecans by the bagful. They fall on the ground, and you get them from there. I never tried to pick any from the trees, but assuming from the non-edible quality of the ones that fell before they were hardened enough (on the inside), I'd guess that you wait for them to fall.

    Congratulations on your interview. Your blog is such a pleasure to read. Request - would you mind posting a simple bread recipe? Learning how to bake bread in my kitchen is a goal for the week, and I'm a complete layperson where that's concerned.

  11. Hello Rhonda, I am an avid Radio National listener and look forward to hearing your interview so please let us know when it is on.

  12. Good morning Rhonda, thanks for the sensible advice on the ant nightmare.

    I can remember picking pecans off the ground as a kid when we used to holiday up at Noosa Heads -- in the days when the main street finished in a dirt track at the caravan park where we stayed! Other than that, my information is nil.

    Please give us lots of notice about when the programme will air -- lots of luck today. Break a leg or an ear as applicable. :)

  13. Hi Rhonda.
    Another beauty of a blog! A very nice side benefit of the passionfruit vine is that it is also a natural host plant for butterflies. So if you see a few caterpillars on there, share some of your vine with them and you'll be rewarded with gorgeous butterflies. My blogs are finally beginning to come. I hope to see you and some of your friends there some day. Have a wonderful, productive day.... see you soon.

  14. Hi Rhonda

    Looking forward to listening to the the interview...please give us as much warning as possible of when it is due to air.
    Re. The pecans. we are just up the road from you at Bella Creek and have a couple of trees. Some years they produce really well and some years not so well but watch out for the cockatoos. We lose a lot of our crop to those beautiful but destructive birds.


  15. Hello, here they sell feed for Pecan trees. I will try to take note of the 00-00-00 of it.
    My Mom shelled them I remember her hands. They would be stained green and then turn brown it would take some time for the stain to go away. Use gloves and or lots of lotion to block the absorption of the green in the otter husk. Then nut needs to be dried a few days from what I recall. They were in a screen outside. The nuts would be stirred and after a few days cracked open as needed.

  16. Hi Rhonda,
    My mum had passion fruit growing all around the verandahs at her house when I was growing up. They were so delicious - I used to cut them in half and attack them with a spoon ;)

    How wonderful you've been contacted for a radio interview. I bet you are pleased! How awesome to think you get to talk about your life and help many more on their way to a more simple life. You're doing a wonderful service to us all.

    I'm looking forward to listening, it will be nice to hear your voice! When I read your words it's like you're talking to me and I think it will be really neat to know what you sound like :)

  17. Hi Rhonda, I just want to let you know that I am quite curious about planting my own vanilla orchids as well. I only know that you have to hand pollinate the flowers and that curing the beans will take 3 months before it's ready. It also takes three years for the plant to reach maturity. I'm going to bookmark your blog to see your vanilla orchids grow when you plant them. As of now, I only know how to use them. :)

  18. belle, like a lot of fruit, passionfruit will ripen off the vine. If you can get it to a fully developed stage, pick it to ripen on the kitchen bench. It must be at room temperature to ripen.

    Daisymum, there are a lot of things I'm still learning, and I keep looking for more to learn. Don't give up, gardening knowledge is slow to come. You can read about it, but practical, dirty hands, out in the garden knowledge creeps up on you. You'll get there, just don't give up. Oh, and don't give up. ;- )

    Charis, bread making will be the subject of my post tomorrow. I'm baking now, I'll take a photo of the loaf when it's out and I'll write about what I do. I hope the bread turns out well today. :- |

    Sylvia, our butterflies are different here. They like other vines. We have a nice blue butterfly here that was almost extinct when we came here 12 years ago. Now it's quite prolific.

    Chantel, that's how we eat them. Yum. The program is called Future Tense, I'll have more info later.

    Elaine, I'm not sure that mine is the blog to follow regarding passionfruit, maybe we'll stumble through together.

  19. For the pecans- we pickup on the ground first when the pecans on the tree begin to open their husks.

    After we have raked all the leaves and picked up all the ground pecans then we lay a tarp plastic under each tree and use long pecan poles(we call) and rattle the branches.

    FYI...I grind the hulls and the meat and add that to the chick feed. I also use the finely ground hulls and meat as an additive to our coffee. It is a sweetener, so in my pantry this is something I saved four coffee bins of. It is yummy. We also crush the meat for the goats and sheep.

    I am happy to read that your climate is similar to mine, as a pecan can grow as I went to Onalee seeds and just received my order(I ordered loofa seeds because of you, in addition to a few other items. She was extremely prompt in her delivery and I cannot thank you enough for the link.

    oops I forgot to mention that we use the leaves for feed too,as we live in the desert every bit of the tree is and has been used on our farm.

  20. Looking forward to the interview & some pictures of those beautiful vanilla orchids.

    I always finish my online time with a visit to your blog as it gets me into the right frame of mind for all the rest of my day.

    Well Done :o)

  21. rhonda,

    i made your chocolate sour cream cake the other night and now there's nothing left but a plate to wash and some stray crumbs. the kids have already polished off 1/2 of the gingerbeer (i used mexican limes in place of lemon juice and it was delicious!)and tomorrow is bread baking day. i'll bet so many other of your readers/visitors know the look i get when i tell people what's on my chore list; making the laundry soap, hanging out the clothes, feeding the chickens, repotting seedlings, baking a few loaves of bread and doing general housekeeping while the kids cover their school work... it's either the "you poor thing" look or the raised eyebrow of "what a nutjob!" either way, it makes me happy to make a home for my friends and family and i don't see myself stopping any time soon.

  22. you are really living in paradise! Pecans, passionfruits and vanilla orchids - I have to go to the botanical garden to see those, and I am not sure whether i ever saw a pecan tree. Pecans are so expensive here that they are a very special treat for me, and from now on when i have some, I will always think of you and your garden.

  23. How wonderful to be able to grow such exotic things! We have had very poor summers the last two years in a row and I am hoping it won't be three years running! I culdn't even grow courgettes last year, so that's saying something : (

    Good luck with the radio programmes - you will soon have your name in lights!

  24. I love your site. I feel like I am part of your life and that I am living it as well through reading your blog. It also helped me to aspire to a more simple, frugal, fulfilling life. I know I have said it but just wanted to say it again. I work in an office so your blog helps me to unwind and get into a better frame of mind when I leave and sometimes I go to it early to get into a better frame of mind at work! Thank you!

  25. Radio National -- how exciting! With nut trees, I'd be worried about parrots.

  26. I have hickories which are a close cousin of peacans They naturally fall in the autumn but the first that fall are often dry inside or have other disgusting problems!! So if that is the case for peacans do not just assume they are all bad but wait another week or two usually here in michigan the nuts that fall in october are not good but by the first two weeks of november it is a race between the squrrels and the humans! hope this is helpful .

  27. Wow! Growing your own vanilla beans - look forward to hearing more. The thought struck me just this week to try that since I use quite a lot of vanilla in my cooking. I haven´t started to read up about it yet, but since the bean is the fruit I would have thought the hand pollinating would be done at the flowering stage.
    I hope to try growing a passion fruit vine in my greenhouse this year. Otherwise in Sweden it is just used as a pretty pot plant.
    Ramona K

  28. I read your blog regularly Rhonda and really enjoy it. I continually strive towards a more simple life..thanks for all your helpful ideas. I have learned to question everything before I do it..like is this ready to toss or can I use it for something..it may drive others crazy but it gives me great satisfaction and contentment.
    My pantry is calling..needs reorganizing and a clean up..I love using glass jars to store foods in!

  29. my aunt lives in Alabama and has a pecan tree in her back yard.
    They will fall off, you in time will have boxes and boxes full.


  30. My grandparents have pecan trees in their backyard, and as little kids we loved using this tool http://www.cleanairgardening.com/pecanpicker.html to pick up the pecans. They live in the desert, and most of the pecans fell from their husks, or fell with the husks partially open - just a little rolling with the bottom of my shoe would get the pecan out. Mid/late fall, when all the family gathered, we'd get a ladder, cherry picker and a brave uncle, don makeshift helmets and shake the branches. My grandpa would spend hours shelling, with a tool like this http://www.amazon.com/Duke-0100-Pecan-Cracker-Base/dp/B000FNK8JK - I think he found it very meditative. :-)

  31. Ronda, how lucky to have a pecan tree in your yard! We have many pecans in central Texas--what we call "Native" Pecans--small with a very hard shell, but with a GREAT flavor. Most people plant "Paper Shell" pecans--they have a softer shell and are usually much larger--easier to shell and much more nut inside. Here you just wait for them to fall out of the tree--most will fall out of the husk and leave the husk on the branch--usually in clusters of 2+. Sometimes the pecan will fall with the husk open and you just take it off and proceed with shelling. And occasionally the husk will fall to the ground whole in which case we would set them aside and open them when we had more time. They are often "green" tasting.

    I guess you know that you can freeze them in the shell (in bags, unwashed) if you don't have time to shell them all at once. And they freeze beautifully in jars or bags after they are shelled. They will easily keep 2+ years in the freezer--ha! if you don't use them sooner. Ours NEVER last that long. I LOVE to cook and bake with them.

    Congratulations on your tree. And thank you for all you do for us. The INSPIRATION you give me on a daily basis, and particularly when I just need a little boost, is incredible. thank you for what you do and who you are. BTW, I thought you planned to start selling soap? Ha, I know you've been busy...but I am still hopeful you will. If you decide you have a couple of bars you want to let go of please email me at dj319 at gvtc.com

    Thank you again.


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