Rick Gush
February 25, 2011
Aloe plants

Photo by Rick Gush

My succulents are doing well this year despite frost damage to the rest of the garden. My aloe plants are even in bloom!

This has been a cold winter with a bit of snow. Some of the tender stuff in the garden, like the clivia, is frost-damaged, but most of the plants have come through fine. Some, like the succulents and cacti, have actually seemed to thrive. I originally planted a bunch of succulents in the hottest spot in the garden where the soil is really shallow, but it’s nice to see they’re also tough in cold conditions.

The flowers of the cacti and succulents are nice. In the middle of winter, the big patch of aloe blooms like crazy. Then, as soon as spring starts, all the ice plants come alive in a riot of blooms.  

A few years ago, when we started taking our annual vacations on Mediterranean islands in late October, one of the fun discoveries on Corsica and Elba was that October is a perfect time to harvest Opuntia cactus fruits. I’d eaten a few of the fruits earlier in my life, but I wasn’t very good about removing the spines, which ended up being fairly bothersome. The first year I harvested Opuntia fruits on Elba, I somehow figured out the trick, and we became ardent consumers of the fruit.  

The trick is simply to wear leather gloves and to use a really sharp knife to slice off the skins, making sure to discard anything that was a part of the exterior. The inside pulp is really sweet, with a nice flavor. My wife usually dissects the corpses further and removes the little seeds, but being the goat I am, I eat the flesh, seeds and all.

Mandatory packing for vacations now includes a nice pair of leather gloves and a fruit-harvesting basket. Once we arrive at our destination, I go hunt up a few long river bamboo canes, and I set up my harvesting equipment. Harvesting cactus fruit is fun, because almost nobody else harvests it. I manage to find a lot of undisturbed cactus patches from which I can take as many fruits as I like. A typical breakfast on vacation includes a bowl of cereal with fresh cactus fruits. Yummy! I also always manage to find someone else nearby who also likes cactus fruits, so I get to give bags of fruit away (one of my favorite pastimes), even while I’m on vacation.

We brought back cuttings of a couple of different Opuntia cacti and planted them in the garden.  We now get a lot of the smaller red fruits that are as sweet as berries. The bigger Opuntia cacti are just now getting big enough to produce significant fruit crops. It’s fun remembering when and where we collected the various plants when we’re eating the fruit. Pretty nice souvenirs!

Read more of Rick’s Favorite Crops »

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