Pomegranates appear to be easy-to-grow citrus alternative

07/11/2013 03:54:00 PM
Tom Burfield

He doesn’t see much of a future in Florida for the wonderful variety popularized by Delano, Calif.-based Paramount Citrus Association Inc. and sold as whole fruit and in juices and other products marketed under the Pom Wonderful brand.

“I don’t believe that’s going to be a hot number in this area,” he says.

Castle agrees with his assessment. “I don’t think [wonderful] will be a big deal in Florida,” he says, adding that several people have tried it with lackluster results.

Castle says the wonderful variety would not rank in his top 20.

“There are many other pomegranates besides wonderful that I think are wonderful,” he says.

Lykes Bros. trials

Tampa-based Lykes Bros. Inc., a diversified company with operations that include a citrus-growing division, began pomegranate trials in late 2010, says Suzanne Tate, pest and disease control supervisor and nursery supervisor.

“The citrus industry continues to face new challenges and diseases each year,” she says. “Lykes Bros. is constantly exploring alternative crops, new ideas and uses for their land.”

With Castle’s help, the company planted three rows with 23 selections of pomegranates and is caring for them like it would its citrus trees, Tate says.

“We want to know which one tastes the best and responds the best,” she says.

The trial went through two cold winters without any protection. “All except one made it through and seem to be doing fair,” Tate says.

The company has since expanded its trials, she says, adding “We still have a lot to learn.”

Similar to citrus

One advantage of pomegranates is they’re fertilized and irrigated like citrus, and they can be ready to bear fruit just two years after planting, Castle says. Citrus trees usually don’t produce significant amounts of fruit for at least three years.

But Cindy Weinstein, president of the Florida Pomegranate Association and owner of Green Sea Farms LLC in Zolfo Springs, says it’s been her experience that the trees take three years before producing commercially.

The fruit is set the second year, but it’s not mature, and there is a lot of f lower and fruit drop.

“By five years, you’re really in there,” she says.

Anecdotal observations indicate that they may need chill hours during the winter, Castle says.

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