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5 Fruits for Containers

Growing fruit doesn’t need a huge garden. Here are five fruits that you can grow in containers!

If you have a small garden, no garden, or a nice garden but tend to move a lot, you might have always avoided growing fruit. Well, if you think outside the box, you can grow fruit in one. Here are some of our favourites for growing in containers, and how to succeed at it!

Cherry trees

Beautiful blossoms and delicate fruit – the cherry tree makes a good argument for itself. It is also one of the fruit trees that can do exceptionally well in a container, provided that you deliver on certain criteria. Because the cherry is a tree, you will need a large container – get the biggest one you can afford in terms of both money and space, but make sure it is at least 60cm deep and 45cm wide. Cherries prefer a sandier soil medium, so keep that in mind when planting. The trees also have a shallow root system, so they will need to be watered often. Mulching the surface of the soil will also help to keep them happy and healthy. Feed cherries in pots regularly with a fruit-specific fertiliser. Cherries need sun as well as quite specific conditions to thrive: warm, but not hot, summers and cold winters, but with no frost! The climates of the eastern Free State and the Ceres area of the Western Cape suit them perfectly, but they can be grown elsewhere if you are prepared to mollycoddle them. In areas where the sun is too strong during winter, such as the Highveld, you will need to shade them with a 50% shade cloth, and keep them safe from frost too. Most of the cherry varieties available locally are sweet cherries like ‘Giant Heidelfinger’, ‘Early Red’ and ‘Bing’, which are usually eaten fresh. You do also get sour cherries, which are better for cooking. When harvesting, pick your cherries when they are completely ripe as they don’t ripen after picking. 

Cherry galette

A galette is a fancy French word for a pastry base folded over a sweet or savoury filling to create a rustic tart that screams “Eat Me!” Simple to make and even easier to eat with a dollop of ice cream or cream.

Pastry

You’ll need:

  • 160g cake flour
  • 115g cold butter cut into cubes
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup sour cream or cream cheese

Place the flour, butter, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and pulse until the dough comes together. Place on a floured surface and bring the dough together. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Cherry filling

You’ll need:

  • 4 cups cherries, pips removed
  • 1/3 cup sugar + extra for dusting
  • 3 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Dash vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • Beaten egg to brush the pastry

For the filling, combine all the ingredients and mix well. Roll the pasty into a circle on a floured surface to about 30cm in diameter. Lift onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Add the cherry filling to the centre leaving a wide edge to fold over to form a tart. Brush the pastry with egg wash and sprinkle the extra sugar over the whole thing. Bake in a 200°C for 10 minutes. Cover with foil and bake for a further 30 – 35 minutes until browned and bubbly. Serve with ice cream or cream.

Orange

We say orange here, but you could just as easily grow a lemon tree in a container – some cooks find lemons more useful than oranges. Citrus trees do well in containers – wealthy aristocrats in the 16th and 17th centuries created whole buildings for orange trees in containers (which they called orangeries) as symbols of wealth. Some even had underfloor heating! Here in SA you don’t need to go to those lengths: a nice big pot with a well-draining potting mix is a good start. Add a slow-release fertiliser for flowers and fruit and you’re good to go. Feed orange trees every four months or so after planting, and water well twice a week. Position in full sun, and protect from frost in winter by covering with frost guard or moving the container into a sheltered position. 

Orange Ice Tea

A simple refreshing drink with a sweet orange flavour to brighten up any spring day. 

You’ll need:

  • 6 cups water
  • 3 teabags of your choice
  • 1⁄4 cup sugar (use a little to start and test it out, skip it if you prefer to leave out the sugar or use honey or maple syrup to sweeten)
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • I orange, sliced, for garnish
  • Mint leaves
  • Ice

Add a cup of water to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the teabags and sugar (if using) and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Take off the heat and let it stew for 10 minutes. Add the rest of the water and orange juice and place in the fridge to get nice and cold. Serve with the orange slices, mint and ice. 

Plum

Plum trees ask very little of you in return for a heavy crop of sweet and delicious fruit. When potting up a plum tree, add some sand or perlite to the potting medium for better drainage. Full sun, regular watering, a good- quality potting soil and regular fertilising with a slow- release fertiliser will make for a happy plum tree. Protect the early spring blossoms by either sheltering the tree with frost guard fabric or moving the container into a warmer place on really cold days. As with cherries, ensure that your single plum tree is a self-pollinating variety or get two plants. Popular varieties in South Africa are ‘Pioneer’, ‘Santa Rosa’ and ‘Harry Pickstone’ (all self-pollinating) and ‘Fortuna’, ‘Sapphire’, ‘Sun Kiss’, ‘Purple Majesty’, ‘Sun Gold’ and ‘Laetitia’ (cross-pollinating). The fruit will be ready for harvest in mid to late summer. 

Hot plum sauce

This spicy sweet sauce known as Tkemali is a favourite in Georgia (the Georgia south of Russia), where they serve it like tomato sauce with anything from fried meat to grilled chicken and duck or potato dishes. The colour is delightfully vibrant and the taste zingy with a bit of heat. 

You’ll need:

  • 5 – 6 plums (unripe or just ripe for a more acidic taste)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 – 2 red chillies, finely chopped
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • Dash pepper
  • 4 tablespoons coriander, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons mint, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons dill, chopped

Add the plums to a saucepan, add the water and simmer until the plums are mushy. Remove the pips and blitz in a food processor until smooth. You can at this stage leave it chunky, or put it through a fine sieve to make more of a clear sauce. In a mortar and pestle, grind the spice and herbs together with the garlic and chillies and add to the plums. Mix well and season to taste. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Cape gooseberry

This annual to perennial fruit bush produces little orange drops of sunshine that can be turned into wonderful jam or used for sumptuous pavlovas, or just added to yoghurt or a fruit salad for some healthy sweetness. Because they do self-seed easily and can become invasive, growing Cape gooseberries in a pot is often a good idea. It is also a good way to keep what can be an untidy bush in check. They don’t need anything special to grow and can actually cope with quite poor soil, but since we like to be kind to our plants, we recommend the normal recipe of a good-quality potting medium and a slow- release fertiliser. The container will need to be positioned in full sun and receive regular watering, and in mild climates you can grow them all-year round. Seedlings are often available from nurseries, otherwise just take a fruit or two home from a friend and grow your own bush from seed.

Gooseberry jam

Easy to make, and saves your gooseberry harvest for when it’s out of season.

You’ll need:

  • 250g Cape gooseberries, capes removed, and washed
  • 1⁄2 cup sugar
  • 1⁄2 cup water
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice


Add the gooseberries and water to a saucepan and heat until simmering. Cook for 10 minutes and stir in the sugar. Simmer for another 10 minutes until the jam starts to thicken. Cool and add the lemon juice. Store in a sterilised jar in the fridge until ready to use.

Blueberry

If you go and see a dietician, they will almost definitely tell you to eat more blueberries because they’re full of antioxidants to fight those pesky free radicals. Luckily, they’re also flipping delicious! (The trick, though, is to eat them in smoothies or by themselves, and not to make blueberry cheesecakes, muffins and ice-cream and then wonder why you’re not getting healthier…) Blueberries are a relative newcomer to South Africa, but their popularity is burgeoning and there is now a host of different varieties available – ‘Misty’, ‘O’Neal’ and ‘Brightwell’ are three popular cultivars, but chat to your nurseryman and see what varieties are available in your area. Most varieties are self- pollinating, but it is recommended that you plant more than one variety for a better crop or bigger fruit. While blueberries traditionally need a cold dormant phase, newer varieties can also cope with warmer winters, making them viable in even the warmer, sub-tropical parts of the country. Blueberries are frost hardy, grow in full sun and rich, slightly acidic soil that drains well. Different varieties fruit at different times, from October to January, but if you plan well, you can extend the length of this season using different varieties. 

Note:

Use a good-quality pot. Your fruit tree or bush is going to be around for a while, it will grow quite large and it might have to be moved, so you want a strong pot that can last and stand up to being moved. A big terracotta pot is ideal, because it also helps to retain water and keep the roots insulated against temperature fluctuations.

Blueberry pops

The ultimate in popsicles: fresh fruit frozen in an easy-to-eat shape for invigorating hot spring days.

You’ll need:

  • 5 cups blueberries or a mix of berries like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
  • 1⁄2 cup water
  • 1⁄2 cup sugar
  • A squeeze of lemon juice

Blend all the ingredients together until smooth. You can leave it as is and freeze, or sieve out any of the bits so that its more liquid. Fill ice cream moulds and freeze.  

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