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Cacti, Succulents and Tourism

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor

Friday, 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 »

Give us your opinion on Cacti, Succulents and Tourism.
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That sounds fantastic!!
Dante, Hyde Park, MA
Posted: 3/10/2014 3:12:22 PM
Annie, Houston, TX
Posted: 8/4/2013 7:00:13 AM
Hi David,

Yes, the fruits are prickly pear fruits, sort of pear shaped. The bigger fruit types can be a bit larger than a golf ball. The only problem with the little ones is that there's not as much flesh after the peel has been removed. But some of the bright red fruits are the sweetest.
Rick, Rapallo, YT
Posted: 3/4/2011 12:38:50 AM
Hmmmmm, cacti fruit huh. I can't say that I've ever ate that. Quite frankly I didn't know there was a cactus that produced fruit. What does it look like, round, long and thing like a banana, or maybe like a Kiwi? I tried to find a picture of one on the Net. They had the prickly pear cactus fruit that was red and round.

Have a great cactus fruit day.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 2/27/2011 5:24:30 AM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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