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Monday, August 22, 2011

Dragon Fruit aka Pitahaya or Hylocereus

Locavores,  "Here be dragons......."
Hylocereus in bloom

This is the season for eating your dragons if you are lucky enough to have one of eating age (2 years from the nursery plants available in local Central and SoCal nurseries). 

Hylocereus polyrhizus

This is one of the magenta (or red) fruited ones. It came from Whole Foods @ 7.99 a lb this month. On the left the outside of the fruit is visible--red with green tips, about the size of a large artichoke. The taste is somewhere between a strawberry and a kiwi, or a watermelon and a pear. (Think it varies from white fleshed-hylocereus undulata -to red and pink-undulata and yellow--not to mention the  terroir. )

Why grow it? It's delicious, subtle and interesting. Found it best a bit chilled with a squeeze of Meyer lemon. Lime or lemon overpowers it. Pitahaya is spectacular in a salad with slices of kiwi and pineapple. (Recipes can also be found at

It's a cactus, it's low water, it grows easily around here, and is another native of the New World like chayote, red runner beans you can grow in the backyard almost anywhere in SoCal. (Consider: what if there are no grocery stores open after The Big One?) Anyway--pitahaya is local, ecological and at $7.99 a lb--worth growing.

That's not all you can do with it.
Young Dragons

The peelings of dragon fruit can be made into wine (hence, terroir)

6 lbs ripe dragonfruit fruit
• 2 lb sugar
• 6 pts water                                                            
• 1 crushed Campden tablet
• 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
• 1 tsp pectic enzyme
• 1 tsp yeast nutrient
• 1 pkt wine yeast

Single flower

Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, carefully trim the greenery from the fruit, wash the fruit well, and chop it coarsely. Put chopped fruit, acid blend, sugar and yeast nutrient into primary. When water boils, pour into primary and stir until sugar dissolves. Cover with a sanitized cloth and set aside to cool. When at room temperature, add crushed Campden tablet and stir. Recover primary and set aside for 6-8 hours. Add pectic enzyme, stir, recover primary, and set aside another 6-8 hours. Add activated yeast. Stir daily for 7 days. Strain through nylon straining bag and squeeze juice out of fruit pulp. Transfer liquid to secondary, top up if required and fit airlock. Rack, top up and refit airlock every 30 days until wine clears and no new sediments form during a 30-day period. Stabilize, sweeten to taste, wait 3 weeks, and, if no renewed fermentation, rack into bottles. Like most wines, it should improve with age. [Keller's own recipe]Jack Keller @ wine(

Pectinwhat’s that? Pectic Enzyme is recommended for all fresh fruit wines. Add it to the juice prior to fermentation to enhance the clarification process. See

Santa Rosa plum (W)

Campden tablet is used to destroy molds and bacteria. Amazingly enough (joys of the internet) there are winemaker kits for backyard fruit. (see eckraus above). Used to make a sort of May wine from excess Santa Rosa plums.

This particular plum tree was very  slow to bear. So slow that it was threatened with being replaced. Trees hear better than you might think.... in any case, the following year,  and years after it bore tremendous crops of plums which were turned into a fizzy, pink, rather brut wine with a very short shelf life. (No campden tablets available.) Goes to show this oldest of human activities--fermenting excess fruit--is not too challenging . If the Haphazard Gardener can do it, anyone can. 

So tame your dragons into a barrier fence, or grow them it big pots, eat them in a creme brulee', or make them into wine.  



Monday, August 15, 2011

Vermiculture Revisited with a side on Procyon lotor/update 5/15/12

Gardener’s adventures with red wriggler worms last year….they ate about 520 lbs. of garbage before rain and cold did them in. .

eisenia foetida

They’d have doubtless survived in a proper worm house. Sooo…. This year we created a worm palace--- a conventional  worm house with a spigot at the bottom enclosed in a , locked , screened  raccoon proof  enclosure.

 Raccoons (procyon lotor) hunt in part by their acute hearing---they can hear the worms crunching away at the compost, and it drives them mad mad mad with worm lust.

                                                image W
Let’s stop for a word from our sponsor here about raccoons. Never underestimate the intelligence, tenacity or daring of an urban raccoon. Once found a mother and 6 kits inside my room eating my cat’s food.

image W

Clapped my hands to shoo them out. Mother R calmly abandoned the kits, 5 of whom escaped out an open window. One kit couldn’t make the leap up to the window sill---too fat. Nothing phased, he shinnied up the wall and out. Not scared of me at all---they just don’t like loud noises---- no doubt due to ears so keen they can hear a worm burrowing underground.

image w

They plan to take over the planet if we continue to mess up. “Raccoons are noted for their intelligence, with studies showing that they are able to remember the solution to tasks up to three years later. (W) In other words these guys have “culture” and teach their off spring where the goodies are to be found.

image W

They are charming  but — désobéissant.  They’ve rid the garden of snails and keep it snail free, despite a snail- breeding border of agapanthas.

 Snails used to eat the dahlias as they emerged from the ground—not any more. If you sense a love/dismay relationship here with the raccoons---that's it .  Used to feed them. Ended up with about 30 showing up every night for the hand out. Nipped my ankles when I was too slow with the food. Quick ending to  raccoon soup kitchen.

Raccons with their Elephant Child curiosity have been known to dig up a dahlia tuber, simply to examine it. (Dahlias are edible—according to Aztec lore--, but resinous, like eating a very strong retzina) . To keep the raccoons away from newly planted bulbs, sprinkle the ground with chili powder (very cheap at Big Boxes in wholesale size jars). Chili gets on the very sensitive raccoon * fingers, and stings— though they hate it, it is non-toxic and non-lethal..

Having raccoon proofed the worm house , and carefully installed the worms according to directions, you are good to go. Almost immediately the worms begin producing worm juice, which you can use at once on your pet plant. Meanwhile the blessed worms are eating your shredded junk mail not to mention banana peels, coffee grounds etc. If worms did nothing but eat junk mail we could love them.
Guards against ID theft. Better than flossing.
So far the new worms, stunningly housed (is Architectural Digest out there? )
are doing exactly what they should be doing----  eating 5  to 10 lbs of garbage a week.
Teenage male raccoons run in gangs—and “cover a territory of 3-20 miles” (W). Does that sound  familiar?
 Raccoon mothers are single parents, like bears and a lot of other ladies. Raccoon domestic life is affectionate ; the mothers purr and chirp to the young , are careful guardians. … until it’s time to make the juveniles  leave home, get out there and fend for themselves This becomes  a horrible, noisy process
 Talk about tough love and 'failure to launch’. The young ones simply can’t believe their cosy, loving mother is throwing them out into the cold cruel world. They  complain bitterly, sounding like aliens from outer Space. Mom snarls back and nips them to get them going. It’s awful for everyone. (Families of raccoons for many years lived nearby in an old tree house—got to witness the whole telenova  several times.)
 Would be worm raisers, raccoons are Public Enemy #1. Those ousted  juveniles are ravenous until they get a new  territory figured out, because Beastly Mean Momma will not let them stay where they were. Plan accordingly.

Update on vermiculture 5/15/12- Worms are creating the most wonderful compost ever seen. Also producing worm juice which our orchids seem to like a lot. All worms survived and multiplied this winter, thanks to worm palace. We could actually use another worm box at this point, but the one we have is a total success.