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Prickly Pear are the perfect permaculture plant for parched places

 
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Here in sonoma county, northern california, home to Luther Burbank, I have had fabulous luck growing nopales by vegatatively propating pads I bought from the hispanic grocery store. I have 7-8 plants on the top and flanks of my hugelkultur bed and they are very happy. I planted about 12,  some did not make it, but the ones that did have really taken off.

I think the ones from the store are selected and grown for their qualities as nopales...few spines, tender.  So far I have not gotten any fruit but I harvest the paddles often (I LOVE them!).  It is amazing how fast to see the pads grow from small buds to harvestable pads, given a little water.  I noticed my pads were doing nothing, until I broke down and watered them with the soaker hose.  But I only did so twice all summer long....and we get no rain at all from May to almost November.  I also noticed that when the pads first bud out, they are covered in spines, but they seem to lose most their spines as they mature.  What spines they do have are easy to peel, I never need to wear leather gloves.

My favorite way to cook them: seared trimmed of spines and whole in a hot, dry cast iron pan with another smaller cast iron pan nested on top as a weight (or similar pan)...I usually do 3-4 minutes per side. Sprinkle with soem garlic salt. Eat as is or add to salads, ratatouille, pair with roasted peppers, as a layer in a dagwood sandwich, added to ground beef for stuffed peppers, tacos filling, etc.

Also, brushed with olive oil and grilled...yum!  
I substitute diced nopales for okra in jambalaya...very good.  I also blanch diced nopales, then drain and add to diced jicama, jalepeno, cilantro, pinto beans, in a cumin lime vinegrette as a side dish.
 
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Location: North of France
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I'm looking for a cultivar that would do well in my zone 7 garden, or even in my greenhouse if needed.
Is there a cultivar that makes tasty pads AND tasty fruits?

Thanks.
 
gardener
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André Troylilas wrote:I'm looking for a cultivar that would do well in my zone 7 garden, or even in my greenhouse if needed.
Is there a cultivar that makes tasty pads AND tasty fruits?

Thanks.



I think Opuntia Ficus-Indica is the one you want. It's available in Europe and stateside as food and fruit, and is 'ranched' to raise for people food. I am propagating pads I get in the store right now... very thin broad paddles and looks to be pinkish to reddish large fruits... I am at 6b barely, I see you mark yourself as 7. South facing Hugel might be a glorious place to put them, sheltering them, giving them thermal mass. Burra is at 9b and the pictures she's posted elsewhere it looks like she has that variety growing almost weedlike and they are producing fruits heavily...  

Joseph Lofthouse sent me some Humifusa and Polyacantha (which I have now found grow feral in this area) and the Poly had been pried off the floor of his greenhouse where it had taken up making roots. It's happily making new pad for me right now (they both are). My location is considered a high desert with altitude and varying between 6a and 6b, so if the first one doesn't grow well here (and it looks like it will, I think there a Ficus-Indica growing a few blocks from here in a planter) those two will. There are 3-4 more Opuntia that are supposed to grow up this way and I'm starting to search the fields and ditches for some.

Part of my ploy to hide my food forest is to collect more than one variety, so it looks like a collection/planting versus my staple crop. Though the majority/backdrop will be the food Opuntia...
 
Deb Rebel
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Yesterday I waded a friend's pasture and found a 4' plus tall Cholla and took a sample of it. They are Opuntia Imbricata or in the same family. Today I am going to another friend's place that I have seen small paddle and hopefully collect a few (they have the truck garden third of an acre and sell to everyone all summer long and would LOVE the cacti to be relocated). It just proves that Prickly Pear will grow here, just how well. To hide my food forest I am collecting other varieties though the majority planted will be food types... it is a lot less obvious to have a 'collection' of succulents. Heh.
 
Deb Rebel
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I succeeded in collecting three specimens of Opuntia Humifusa and relocated them to a temporary place in my yard. I have found there are supposedly seven native cactus species and four are in the 'prickly pear' style Opuntia. There are also a few imports in town and I've gotten cuttings of all of those. Still needing to identify those. My intent is to build a 'collection' to further hide the edibles (being grown for food mostly) added to my food forest.
 
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Thanks, Tyler and Abe for this information that is worth repeating:

Tyler Ludens wrote:I love the Prickly Pear!  Here is some Prickly Pear liqueur I made:

Recipes:

10 whole cactus fruits
1 pint vodka
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water

Singe the spines off the fruits, cut them up and run them through a food mill to smash them but not break the seeds.  Any other smashing or chopping process would probably work.  Put in a wide-mouthed jar with the vodka and lemon zest and steep in the dark for 10 days.  I experienced a time anomaly and only steeped mine about 5 days.  Oh well!   Shake the jar vigorously and then strain the pulp from the vodka.  Discard pulp.  Boil the sugar and water until thick syrup forms, let cool.  Add to vodka, and put back in the dark for 20 days.  Strain again, and decant into a booze bottle.

Prickly Limeade

2 limes, juiced
8 oz water or soda
2-4 oz Prickly Pear Liqueur (to taste; more liqueur makes a sweeter drink)

Over ice in chilled wineglasses, serves 2.  For more booziness, add Vodka.



==

Abe Connally wrote:If you cook them in any recipe, like for your liqueur, you could cook them down to get the juice, there is no need to remove spines. The spines dissolve in hot water.

We make syrup in a similar way, cut and boil the fruit until you have juice, add sugar and a little lime. Boil for a few minutes, then strain.  You could take that and add it to vodka or whatever you want at that point pretty easily..

 
Anne Miller
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I was able to get 17 tunas off what was just one clump of prickly pear.  There is another one about 10 ft away that is loaded to so I may go back for them.  I can't figure out why the deer didn't get these.

Here is a tip I found:   Pick the pears, put them in the freezer, thorns and all. when they thaw all the fruit is juice. just strain through several layers of cheese cloth and you are good to go. very easy.

To make a syrup:

2 1/2 pounds prickly pears
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 bunch fresh mint
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 20 minutes.

Taste to make sure that the flavors are balanced. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Use the syrup to ladle over fresh fruits.
 
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Location: North Carolina
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The first fall frost arrived here, which is right around when the O. humifusa is ready for a fruit harvest.

O. humifusa fruit has a soft exterior skin and a thin layer of sweet edible pulp, with a large seed mass inside. The seed mass, while sweet and pleasantly flavored, has a very thick mucilage. The seeds are large in comparison to other opuntia seeds, and rock hard. Because of this, the fruit is useless for fresh eating, but can be processed into a nice edible snack.

First, the fruits are harvested into a clean bucket. After harvest, the bucket is turned on its side and slowly rotated so that the fruit tumble against themselves & the bucket wall. This removes any loose glochids that are still present and also knocks off most of the hair. The fruit is transferred to another clean bucket and washed in water to remove any dirt or residual glochids.

Onwards to processing, the fruits are sliced in half with a knife. The seed mass is pulled away from the husk, and finally, the husk halves are dried to completion. The end product is crunchy like a potato chip, and tastes almost identically to a dried strawberry. Drying also removes the lions share of mucilage, making it hardly detectable.

I've attached a picture of some of the finished product.

Hopefully, next year I'll have some Opuntia stricta fruit to harvest.
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The dried edible fruit husk of O. humifusa
 
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Thought I would swing by here since I'm a big fan of all cactus and many succulents. I'm finally getting around to starting my mother-plant patch, the location is well drained but the dirt was too rocky, shallow, and a real pain to run a water hose to, but the dirt is far from poor. Its right next to a gravel drive way and I tried to grow some spare pepper plants there in the past, didn't work out. Spread some wood chips around, lawn clippings, a year and a flood later (silt deposited!), its rotted down enough to plant in. ~4" of good dirt.

Collected a few pads from a cactus that is probably older than I am, some of them have been out here for as long as I can remember, attempted some grafting with the green ones and the old 12"+ one, was the start of my first mother-plant, but I have several now. Although they make fruit and I have tried some jelly/jam when I was much younger, food is only one of the many reasons to grow them. The primary reason is for security and a little extra deterrence along fences, but if I'm going to plant them on the entire perimeter, I need a lot of mother-plants to take cuttings from. I plan to keep starting these little patches, as well as continue to dig up the small ones that routinely get mowed over and from places they aren't doing well at. A nice fence can be snipped or jumped but three feet of thorn covered cactus is a little harder to get through, even with a machete!

I try to pass around Opuntias on the webs as one of the best permiculture plants, especially if someone asks for cold tolerant cactus. I think some Opuntias grow as far north as Canada!

Extra pictures! (remove space bar)!

Dog + Cactus tax. https://www. dropbox.com/s/4yhm1ymz4zinj44/Dog_Cactus_tax.jpg
https://www. dropbox.com/s/u8caz1e895fkqn9/IMG_20171208_090239_636_sm.jpg
https://www. dropbox.com/s/p32xl9vo4kx3a9n/IMG_20171230_125258_sm.jpg
https://www. dropbox.com/s/7yqfru916vuxom0/IMG_20170530_135622_137_sm.jpg
Sept2016.jpg
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First Mother Plant
MVIMG_20180227_160958_sm.jpg
my mother-plant patch
my mother-plant patch
 
steward
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Nic: Nice cactus garden.

Here's what mine looked like this afternoon. The scraggliest looking time of year for cactus at my place.

scraggly-March-cactus.jpg
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Scraggly looking cactus in late winter
 
Nic Foro
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My actual cactus garden is up the road a little bit and is full of all sorts of prickly things.

Your corner patch look like it is holding up well for being in zone 4b, -20, -25 freezes, so the drooping / redness (stress) should be expected. I would absolutely use it as an excuse to build a heated greenhouse and up pot some pads, or build a cold frame off the corner of the porch! I'm in zone 8a to 9a, I usually bring everything inside before the first frost, and it all goes back outside around the last frost. (Late November to mid-March.) I'm working on building a greenhouse specifically for cactus right now, so I don't have to drag them a quarter mile on a little wagon anymore. (A few years of this will burn just about anyone out!)
 
pollinator
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Location: Southeast Arizona, Latitude 31, Zone 8A, Cold Semi-Arid, USGS Ecoregion 79a
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We're in the heart of Opuntia country here in southeast Arizona, and they're definitely among our favorite plants and plant products.

We've found one variety growing on the hills near us with more spherical (less egg-shaped) pads and fruits, both a little smaller than on other varieties, and recognizable spine growth that has the most delicious fruit, like a cross between strawberries and cherries. We've brought several pads home to propagate around our house (picture is of one growing new pads this spring). Otherwise it's very difficult for us to get any fruit before the deer etc. get them all! So far we've eaten all these fresh, but once we can manage to harvest more, this is the variety we'll use for jelly, syrup, etc.

There's another variety growing near us, more in the flat valley, that has large and copious purple fruit, with a ton of deep-purple juice. These aren't as tasty as the spherical red ones from the hills, but there tend to be a lot left even after the deer, so we collect them and are also propagating some at home. In looking for more uses for their abundance last year, I read about colonche, a mildly alcoholic fizzy fermented beverage. I actually started making it before reading about it, when on a whim I put some halved fruits in water with a splash of tepache I'd made from pineapple rinds and piloncillo (Mexican sugar cones, similar to the gur I grew up with in Bangladesh, known elsewhere as jaggery). When I had other fruits, like blackberries or blueberries, I'd add those, too. Doing it with halved fruits in water means I don't have to use a blender or juicer, which is a plus in my books. All the juice seems to get extracted into the water, and I didn't have any issues with wateriness or too much dilution.

This year my partner has promised to make us an unglazed olla for fermented beverages. My thought is that using that for tepache, colonche, and mesquitatol/o'oki navait (a quick-fermented alcoholic beverage made from steeped mesquite pods, apparently called "women's wine" by the Akimel O'odham in its fermented form -- vao in its unfermented form -- according to ethnobotanists) should pretty quickly build up a population of pleasant-tasting wild yeasts in the fired clay. (His ceramic art is also featured in the attached image.)

Barbara Rose of Bean Tree Farm near Tucson makes borscht with prickly pear fruit instead of beets. That recipe is in the Desert Harvesters' marvelous book Eat Mesquite and More, along with a recipe for what is essentially colonche under the name "Prickly Pear Wine or Soft Drink." Carolyn Niethammer's The Prickly Pear Cookbook also has some good-looking recipes.

Speaking of pleasant-tasting wild microbes, has anyone here found tibicos -- arguably also known as water kefir grains (some say they're slightly different) -- growing on prickly pear pads? I haven't yet, but will keep looking. We did collect some cochineal bugs living on some spineless prickly pear pads and fruit in the yard of an abandoned house recently, and I hope to use them to dye some fiber. We don't want them to infest any Opuntia near us, though, so we've been keeping them in quarantine until we're sure they're dead.

And speaking of quarantine, we've observed some specimens of Opuntia ficus-indica -- Barbary fig -- looking like they have vitiligo, or pale necrotic-looking patches, on the pads. Does anyone know what this is? It seems to be contagious, but some plants seem to be able to recover from it. (We had propagated some without being observant enough and ended up moving the seemingly-infected specimens to an isolated area in an outer zone, where some recovered with the apparent assistance of mesquite nurse trees, and others did not.) Or is it just sunburn, which could explain why being partially in the shade of mesquite helps, and it only seems to be contagious? We've been learning the importance of noting the mother plant's orientation and maintaining it when planting the pads in order to avoid that.
IMG_8279.JPG
We're in the heart of Opuntia country here in southeast Arizona
We're in the heart of Opuntia country here in southeast Arizona
 
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Peter Heffernan wrote:
Beware!
Prickly Pear rendered 58 MILLION ACRES UTTERLY UNUSABLE in Australia in the early 19th century, because birds so quickly spread seads everywhere!
Be very careful not to make the solution into THE PROBLEM!



I read somewhere that the solution for Australia was that they finally imported a bug ( a wasp I think) that lays it's eggs in the cactus and they eat and eventually kill it.  I've heard (but have never been to Australia) that now, due to the wasp, prickly pear is not the scourge it was and has become a more 'normal' part of the environment.  If my statement is false, let me know.  I sometimes lie, but I prefer to know when I'm telling a falsehood and try to reserve my falsehoods for jokes or when I fill out forms.
 
Mick Fisch
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My impression is that there is quite a variety among different prickly pear genotypes.  My grandma had a spineless cactus she grew in her back yard and the nopales were wonderful, steamed to get the slime mostly out, and then breaded and fried in bacon grease.  It was what okra wants to be when it grows up.  I tried doing the same from wild nopales several years ago and they were much more mucilagenous and not nearly as good.  (Of course, it couldn't be that she put lots of love into hers, was a better cook, or anything like that).
 
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Just wanted to confirm you can successfully grow nopales from the immature ones you find in the grocery store.  Probably not the fastest method though. My plant is 5 levels tall now and it took four years. Still haven't harvested any fruit but I eat the green pencas all the time. This is in my San Francisco backyard.

My favorite method of preparing is to shave the spines off with my kitchen knife perpendicular to the paddle, it goes fast this way. Then I chop them into 1" squares and sautee with onions, tomato, oregano and chopped chicharrón. One of my all time favorite breakfasts! Some people blanche them first to remove the slime but I find just sauteeing them longer evaporates the slime just fine.  

When I was in Sicily recently opuntias were everywhere and I harvested some and made my dish for a few locals. They had never thought to eat the paddles before! I hope it catches on.  
IMG_3585.JPG
My plant is 5 levels tall now and it took four years.
My plant is 5 levels tall now and it took four years.
 
Mick Fisch
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A while back I was reading some research about growing prickly pear in Crete, where I gather it is a commercial venture.  I was amazed at the per hectare yield, both pears and pads.  I think this is one of those "forgotten crops" that has HUGE potential on marginal land.  
Bonus, pass keep very well compared to most other green stuff.
 
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Abe Connally wrote:

Juniper Zen wrote:I've been buying tuna at the grocery store. Yummy! Anyone have a good place to buy paddles from and start propagating on my own?



The best thing to do is find some already growing in your area, like in a yard or a roadside.  Ask permission from the owner to cut a few pads.  You will get locally adapted individual plants this way.



Several households in the village grow prickly pear. The usual rural Dominican custom is to dump yard trimmings on the roadside; I acquired a hedge of prickly pear by picking up such discarded trimmings. If I don't want any more, I need to make sure my own trimmings are kept off the ground long enough to dry out thoroughly; if they touch soil while still green, they will root. I have only found one species being grown here -- the cochineal cactus, Opuntia cochinillifera. It can be recognized by the fact that the hot-pink flowers never open, but remain closed.
 
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