One of the reasons I garden for food production is I can grow things you simply cannot find in any fruit and veg store locally.
One of those things I’ve chosen to grow is a plant called, in latin, Ugni Molinae; it’s more commonly known as Chilean Guava. It’s much more popular in Britain than in N. America, but I’ve seen it take off here and there.
I first saw one at the Fernwood Demonstration Garden for Kitchens, in the Fernwood neighbourhood of Victoria, BC. I asked one of the project leads if they had any superstars growing in the demo garden that not many people know about and he walked me over to this bush that had deep crimson red, cranberry sized berries on it.
“Take a few and bite into them!” he said. So I did. And wow… I immediately tasted red fruit, tropical fruit and — I couldn’t believe this — bubblegum.
“Wow, what is that!?!!?” I asked. Well, it was Chilean Guava. And guava is definitely the tropical fruit I tasted. I was so impressed, they gave me some dried seeds of the plant to start at home, though I was warned it would take 2 years to bear fruit.
It so happens in Victoria we have a rather expensive, yet super well stocked gardening store called Garden Works. I went by a week later having researched Chilean Guava a bit and finding the latin name (Ugni Molinae) and searched for the bush in a more mature form. To my luck, they had 3 plants. I bought two, at $15 each, happy to do so. Planted them in the fall, one in a 10 gallon potter, one right in the ground (they are winter hardy down to Zone 5, I’ve been told).
This spring, they started to take off. They are evergreens, so they don’t lose leaves in the winter, but in the spring, they get a growth spurt in branches and leaves before finally putting out flowers by about May. The flowers remind me a lot of Lily of the Valley, with their down-hanging bowl flowers (which are larger than Lily of the Valley flowers), and the fragrance is delicate but very, very pleasing.
Once the flowers are done (usually mid to late July) the fruit starts showing up. I’m at that stage now. My best guess (because there’s not a lot of information online about this fruit) is it will need 2 months on the plant to mature. If I recall correctly, they were harvesting these plants at the Fernwood garden in around September. All I know is, the fruit should be slightly soft (still firm, but gives easily to a squeeze), when ready to harvest. I’m looking forward to that. Our two bushes have done well in their first year on our property; surprisingly, the 10 gallon planter one is bigger than the one we planted in the ground.
How to get seeds
I spent an hour researching online about seed gathering from these fruits. Best I can tell is, it’s a similar process to tomatoes. You take over-ripe fruit, very gently mush them open, and put it in a jar with a loose fitting lid for up to a week for the fruit inside to ferment. The seeds have a gel sac around them like tomatoes do. The idea is to get that gel sac removed in order to get clean seeds you can then dry and store for future use.
In a week, you would rinse the slurry through a fine mesh screen and collect the seeds, which should be free of their gel sacs. Let the seeds dry on a paper plate in a well ventilated, dark area for a week or two, then store.
What I don’t know about Chilean Guava
So much I don’t know. For instance, as good as the production is on our bushes, I’d like it to be better; at the Fernwood demonstration garden, their bushes were dense with 1000s of fruit; ours is more sparse with fruit in the 100s.
Second, what’s the best way to prune, shape and train these bushes. Our 10gal planter bush is already 4 feet tall and gangly; I want it no higher and more dense, so will prune it this fall, but I worry about harming it.
Third — is the plant harmful to my dogs or not? I cannot find any information about this.
Fourth; any interesting ways to store and preserve these little cherries. Eating them fresh is awesome, but I’d like to preserve them, especially in a few years when I plan on having a whole row of these plants.