A Day at the Pom Grove
Posted on: Monday, August 25, 2014 by Darryl McCullough
Last Friday I enjoyed a visit to a test grove for pomegranate varieties, at the McTeer Farm in Haines City. The event was sponsored by the Florida Pomegranate Association, a small but dedicated group working toward making pomegranates a commercial crop in Florida.
The two-acre plot receives some support from IFAS, and direction from Dr. Bill Castle of the Citrus Research Education Center. Dr. Castle has devoted considerable study to this unique fruit in recent years. He doesn't think that pomegranates will be a substitute for citrus, but rather a diversifier that might add to the bottom line.
There are more than five hundred varieties of pomegranates, and the CREC collection alone has more than eighty. The challenge is to find which of them will not only prosper in Florida's humid summer weather, but also produce a marketable product.
The McTeer test plot has 180 trees, of more than 40 varieties. Their trees are still fairly young, the oldest having only five years in the ground. So it's too early for any final conclusions, but owner Emory McTeer summarized the early results for the fifty or so in attendance. His favorite for taste, at this point, is Azadi, with Angel Red a strong second and Russian #8 showing potential. As for yield, the Big Yellow, often called Vietnamese, is highly productive but the fruit is not of high quality. Girkanet is notably high-yielding, and Wonderful, the grocery store variety widely grown in California, has worked fairly well. Other varieties mentioned by Emory include Salavatski, Al-sirin-Nar, and Vkusnyi, and also Shari, Christina, Gainey Sweet, and Larkin (Marianna).
Laid out in generous 12-by-18 spacing, the pom trees were a lovely sight, but the sun damage to the fruit skins was quite noticeable. Though not harmful to the arils inside, it presents a challenge for fresh-fruit sales. It can be prevented by repeated spraying with Kaolin clay particle film, although at commercial scale this might be a cost issue. Several of those I spoke with think that the main commercial potential for the fruit is as juice, or processed into packaged arils.
For any of us with an interest in growing pomegranates, Dr. Bill Castle will be speaking at the Tropical Fruit Society of Sarasota meeting August 26. The site is the main meeting room at Selby Gardens, and times and other details are available at the club's website. If you have an acre or so sitting around and would like to help IFAS explore the commercial potential of pomegranates in Florida, this would be a great opportunity to speak with Dr. Castle about support that might be available.