By Tania Phillips
A chance meeting outside the local post office changed the life of farmer Jane Richter and her husband.
Six year’s later Richter is growing passionfruits in the Glasshouse Mountains in South East Queensland and the vice president of Passionfruit Australia. She’s also expecting a bumper crop this year and has plenty of tips on how to cook and grow the fruit that have become her life.
“It sounds crazy, but my husband met a local passionfruit grower by accident outside the local post office one morning,” she explained.
“They got chatting and she talked about how great a lifestyle it was for her and her husband and that was it. Six months later we planted our first 2136 vines and six years on, here we are.”
Swapping their corporate jobs for passionfruit farming hasn’t been a bed of roses over the past six years thanks to weather conditions and pests that they “didn’t know existed” in their old jobs.
And after a disastrous year last year Jane and other growers are celebrating one of the best winter growing seasons on record.
“There has been a significant bounce back in all growing regions from a tough 2019 season, where last year’s drought, excessive rain and hail wiped out much of the 2019 summer crop – depending on which region we’re talking about,” she said.
“With the crop this last summer at about half the usual volume, the vines have a lot of unspent energy that they are now turning into perfect fruit.”
So as a grower Jane obviously has a taste for the fruit and tips for growing and eating them?
“Nothing beats a fresh passionfruit picked from the paddock and just cracked open with your hands and eaten straight,” she said.
“The sweet and tangy flavour is so unique and goes with many things. We love to squeeze them over yoghurt, add them to a salad dressing with finely diced red chilli or even add them to sticky barbecue sauce on slow cooked pork. The options are endless if you get a bit adventurous!”
Jane’s Tips for the home cook or grower.
Always look for fruit with smooth skin that feels heavy for its size.
Ignore any marks on the skin – you don’t eat the skin of a passionfruit and the ones that are totally spotless are sometimes only that way because they have had a lot of treatments applied. Keep them in a plastic bag in the crisper of your fridge and they will last for a few weeks.
Passionfruit will not tolerate frost so beware if you are in a frosty area.
They like to be in very well drained soil and hate their feet sitting in water so regular small waterings are better than big drenches.
They are a needy nutrient feeder – large amounts of potassium are a must to get flowering and fruit set to happen, so a good slow release fertiliser designed for citrus plants is ideal.
Don’t let the fertiliser touch the vine stem as it may burn the plant.
They have a shallow root system so be careful of digging around the root area. When they are in the growing phase, they do love some extra nitrogen so it’s not a bad idea for the men in the household to use their ‘garden hose’ on them each day for a boost of urea!