Struggling Tamarillist

by Daniel
(Kempton Park)

To whomever reads this

Two or so years ago I got some red tamarillos from my father in law's brother (he has a tree in his yard) and extracted the seeds from one of them to grow my own trees. I had them in little pots and planted a few of them out. I had one stand on its own (let's call her "Lonely") and the other surrounded by friends (Let's call her "Clique"). Lonely grew fine while Clique and her friends were a little slower, but (possibly due to being more exposed and therefore accessible as a scratchpost to my cats) Lonely soon slowed down and Clique shot up like there was no tomorrow (Clique is the only one in her friend group to bare any fruit thusfar but she does so in scores while Lonely has only given me about three to five in total)

Now I am moving house and definitely want to raise some of Lonely or Clique's children at the new place. My current neighbour has the orange/yellow variety tree in his yard, and I want some of hers as well.

Here's where my question comes in: Trying to germinate the new generation has given me zero success. The seeds get mold before they germinate. What can I do to prevent this? I tried using the seeds as is, as well as getting rid of the pulp around the seeds first. Both gave the same result.

I saw on this site I can put the seeds in some water and let them ferment a few days, so I'm trying that now. But are there any other hints that you can think of? I tried using less water on my second batch as I read that too much water encourages mold, but the seeds would dry out too quickly, so I increased the amount of water and they just molded again. Today is day 1 of the three day fermentation, and once the babies come out of the water I hope I can have some extra hints to ensure their success

Thanking you in advance


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Apr 21, 2021
Where to get the plants for your native food forest ?
by: Caroline

Thank you Daniel !

It is hard for me to say where you would get seeds in your area. I will tell you about where I got them in mine. I used to think these fruit trees were poisonous in my twenties ! When I wanted to start a garden I did a lot of research on what native plants grew in my area well. I went to a nursery and asked for indigenous plants and was given two edible varieties, Dovyalis caffra and Carissa bispinosa. In both myself and the nursery concerned, the knowledge of native food plants was minimal.

The way I garden now is zero cost. Its a challenge and a necessity. I've discovered many municipal plantings using these two varieties as hedges along the southbound railway line. But apparently they are everywhere. I've successfully grown Carissa from cuttings, and Dovyalis from seed for the first time, so I can't say how easy it is to get past the four leaf stage. I've grown some other trees from seed such as Syzigium cordatum and Harpephyllum caffrom. All of the seed was from street trees. But there is a need to expand this envelope !

Befriend people who know about local plants. Do ongoing research as you come across likely plants.

Google the SANBI website to check for edibles whenever you encounter a new plant that interests you and could be a potential food plant. Consult the book series by the Botha's which I recommend on my page

There may be a herbalist in your area who knows about local edibles and is willing to share their knowledge. At the Cape there are a few chefs who have explored edible food plants.

In the nursery I work is one gardener who eats the berries of many of the plants and I've discovered more edibles from him. At the propagation section is a man I discovered is an expert on imifino, or wild pot herbs. Ask at your local nursery who knows about eating the plants. An indigenous person, or someone from one of our neighboring states is more likely to know than the academically trained horticultural staff. I have studied horticulture in South Africa and I understand fully how alienated formal education is from indigenous plants, to say nothing of indigenous plant use.

Learn from these types of sources and learn to recognize the plants and you will find them in the most unexpected places. Then you can ask around or do research to find out if they propagate best by seed, cuttings or whatever... and there you go... you can start collecting.

You are not the first person who has raised this question. There is a need. In a nutshell, there is a massive gap concerning the public knowledge and commercial availability of local food plants. No nursery or seed supplier you can go to specializes in native food plants. Putting your 'collection' together will have to be driven by you alone.

Apr 20, 2021
by: Daniel

Hi Caroline

Yes, I certainly don't plan on planting a thirsty forest to "feed the poor". I merely enjoy the tamarillo fruit and would like a tree or two in my yard so I can enjoy them. As for the fruit you mentioned, where could I obtain seeds for them should I wish to plant a few?

Thanking you for your continued correspondence and advice



Apr 20, 2021
Eco evangelism must ! Native food plants best on all counts
by: Caroline

Dear Daniel
Thank you for providing me with a vehicle to promote native trees ! I apologize for using our otherwise very useful and informative communication on tamarillos to do this. Here are some links to the South African plants which are nutritionally and for us economically superior to tamarillo:
for the highest anti oxidant count of any berry in the world :

For a tree that is dead easy to grow from seed and with a legendary vitamin C content that knocks your socks off :

and for a berry with some of the highest pectin (food for gut microbiome) and of course the usual anti oxidant package:

I'm also currently growing Euclea racemosa and Sideroxylon inerme, and for wetter areas Syzigium cordatum is brilliant. All black berries and that means heaps of anthocyanins !

I so fondly hope that a talented horticulturist like yourself will come in on the side of native plants... The world needs this so desperately to maintain global food diversity, and you know the consequences of lack of food diversity.....
The reason we grow exotics, and the lesser known South African berries are not grown is all about what is available in nurseries. It is for this reason I have found myself a job in a 'rare' plants nursery to learn how to grow native food plants.

kind regards from the native food forester

Apr 20, 2021
Thanks for sharing the video
by: Caroline

Hi Daniel
Thanks for sharing this detailed video which is obviously made by a plant scientist. Fascinating.
I do not agree with his final proposal to 'Grow tree tomatoes massively for the poor' though. I think I need to explain for the purpose of readers who may be misguided by such well meaning ideas. It happens a lot and is especially rife in permaculture circles, where ideas about what to grow are propagated, and thus a lot of our planting ideas in permaculture come from New Zealand which has a very wet climate.
These are my reasons for the need to contextualize his suggestion.
Every country around the world has its own fruit trees and many are much more nutritious than tamarillo. These come first. Native plants support insect and bird diversity about four times more powerfully than exotics. But there is a profound economic reason too. Native plants are climate adapted and can be grown without the inputs needed by tamarillo. As you know it is very thirsty. At the Cape I noticed the adult trees need constant watering. Not good in a warming world, and not good in a place like Cape Town which has experienced day zero. In South Africa there are many nutritionally vastly superior tree berries that are adapted to our climate like Harpephyllum caffrum, Dovyalis caffra and Carissa macrocarpa, to name only a few whose culture I discuss on this website. There are about ten good berries which grow in our climate without irrigation that I know of, and indigenous plant experts know of many more. To want to apply a solution that works in a lab in Belgium en masse all around the world to 'help the poor' is such a typical European error. Nonetheless I do grow them myself, but I have many many more native trees than tamarillos because of the issues I'm talking about.
Thank you for mentioning the video. It is technically very good, if ideologically flawed, and for anyone wanting to grow tamarillo it will really help them become experts, as it is helping you.
What I found extremely helpful was the suggestion of water containment in the sapling stage. The holes in the container leaving a reservoir of water at the bottom, and the lid preventing drying out. This should be very helpful to anyone wanting to grow the plant, like myself. It would probably hugely improve the survival rate of my saplings. It also points to how very thirsty it is, and unsuitable for a dry climate.
Kindest regards from the green fanatic

Apr 19, 2021
If you're interested
by: Daniel

I'm glad you were able to gain something. If you're interested, this is the video that taught me the method

The first time I tried it they came up in scores and I only ended up using a fraction of them. My new place has a big yard so I hope to be able to use a lot more of them this time round

Apr 18, 2021
Its a pleasure. I am sure you will succeed at growing tamarillos.
by: Caroline

Thank you Daniel, it is a pleasure. I love your method of germinating seeds, and I understand your observations better. Something more, I never stop learning from the questions of keen gardeners like yourself who have a problem and are trying to solve it by whichever means possible, even writing to me. This way your asking gives me something. So I'm thinking now, if the tamarillo seeds are very prone to mold, as you have observed, it explains why they came up on only about 50% of the planters. I thought that the snails got them, but perhaps it was mold. Maybe the shere number of planters is what got me success. Thank you. I have had fabulous germination rates in single trays before, and must have been very lucky. I planted them into individual containers and then the survival rates of the seedlings over six months was low, about 20%. Molds may have killed them off. My three year old trees did well and then one succumbed to a pathogen that blackens the stem from the tip down. I pruned it back heavily and now its sprouting again. We will see if this helps. It is Solanum and can carry and be affected by the diseases of the Genus.

Apr 14, 2021
by: Daniel

Hi Caroline

Thank you for your response. You've given me a plethora of advice to draw from until I find something that works. I'm certain I will have success sooner or later. To answer your question, I saw a video where someone had them on moist kitchen towel in a cake box where they germinate before being transfered to soil. This worked amazingly for me two years ago. But with the fermentation method I'll try putting them in soil directly and see if I have anymore success. Thank you again for your advice.

Apr 14, 2021
Aluta confruita ! Trouble shooting tamarillo germination and getting good tamarillo seedlings
by: Caroline

Dear Daniel

Thank you for your witty and charming letter !
I've thought of several factors that are different in your MO. So I'll work through them one by one.
I'm wondering as I read... how do you know the seeds are moldy after you have planted them ?
Are they naked ? Maybe this may be the cause.
I plant mine like tomatoes with a little soil cover, and about twenty of them germinated a week or so ago, so the season seems good. If you have frost coming, or the weather is really cold, put them on a windowsill. They come from the tropical Andes, so they have some flexibility, but think tomato. The emerging seedlings look EXACTLY like tomoatoes, so careful while weeding !
I watered mine daily but lightly, flashing the watering can over my box of planters, like a light five second rain. The soil is sandy Cape Flats with some vermicast. I always add vermicast with seeds. It prevents damping off (mold attacking the seedlings as they emerge).
Tree seeds are clever. They know when they don't have ample soil somehow, hence I sow my tree seeds in trays with soil that is 10cm deep or in deep pockets I make with old milk sachets or milk boxes (the current lot of tamarillos germinated im milk boxes)
Yes, try fermenting by all means. I always ferment mine and I'm trying to imitate nature I suppose. The fruit falls and vrots on the ground.
Recently with a native fruit tree, I found that leeching was more effective than fermentation. They were much quicker to emerge. Some seeds have germination retarders in the fruit, so that stops germination when the fruit falls and vrots, because the time of fruit ripening isn't good for seedlings. Leeching with water may wash out these retarders.
With this other plant I used fresh seed straight from the fruit and steeped it in a litre of water for a day, then changed the water, gave it another day, and then sowed them. They are coming up so thick I don't know what to do with them all.
Just in case your attempts at germination fail, thoroughly wash some of the seed, dry it and keep for next summer, like a tomato, and try again.
Apparently all seeds can mold if they have too much flesh on them, but its easy to clean tamarillo. Put your scoop of seed flesh in a metal mesh sieve and rub and rinse about 4 times and you'll have pretty clean seed. When you rub try to push as much of the fruit pulp through the sieve as you can. Then lift the seeds and rinse them in a jam jar of water and repeat.
One last thing, tamarillos don't live forever, but they only get going after 2 years, in my experience, so your season may be coming still.
I hope all of this helps you, and once again thank you for such a charming letter !


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