Hartley Magazine

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Custard Apples

Now here are a delightful though little known bunch of closely related small tender trees and shrubs. From the Americas these are widely grown in most tropical and sub-tropical countries but are also surprisingly good as frost free greenhouse subjects. Although they are from such tropical areas they are quite tough and can endure short periods of near freezing. They are very easy to grow, relatively disease and pest proof and of a bushy nature so simple to keep within bounds with the occasional severe pruning. Some have lightly scented leaves and they make quite decorative foliage plants anyway. However most importantly they have three lobed green somewhat orchid like flowers followed by large edible fruits. These have a tough skin around a soft sweet white banana like or custard pulp embedded with big brown seeds. Not commonly available as plants you will probably have to grow these from these seeds. Some seed is occasionally sold by specialist seed  companies but you will have fresher supplies from the ripe fruits as some custard apples can be found in good supermarkets and ethnic shops and these will have viable seeds. These do not come true to variety but can be good enough for our purposes. Now there are several sorts- the smallest fruited are the Sugar apples, these have a very warty skin, dark green to black and the sweetest flesh. Much larger are the Soursops, these are leaf green odd shaped ovoids almost up to rugby ball size with soft spines all over and a fibrous flesh which can be squeezed for their juice which is delicious. Both these and others such as the Bullock’s Heart are the more difficult to crop coming from much hotter countries. However the Cherimolia / Cherimoya and Atemoya are the custard apples most commonly sold and these are from more mountainous stock, more used to cooler conditions and so can be more easily grown and will crop fairly easily. These are khaki green,  cricket ball to grapefruit sized, slightly heart shaped, flat faceted with a leathery skin improved hybrids and make by far the most productive plants. Buy one of these fruits and keep it in a brown paper bag till ripe which is when it starts softening. Cut open and eat the sweet flesh with a spoon, then sow the washed seeds in a gritty compost with warmth. The seedlings will soon emerge and can be grown on in any reasonable compost, with little special care other than nipping out the growing tip of lanky plants to keep them bushy. Once a few years old and head height train them by bending down branches below the horizontal as this will encourage earlier cropping. Then you will get the interesting flowers which are best hand pollinated with a tiny brush. The only cautionary note is to keep the humidity low as the fruits are swelling as they may rot if damp.