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Pick pomegranates before the rain makes them split

Tips for when to harvest and how to seed without mess

It’s a good year for pomegranates in the Sacramento region.

It’s a good year for pomegranates in the Sacramento region. Debbie Arrington

It’s pomegranate harvest time. And if you haven’t already, you should probably bring in your fruit.

Pomegranate trees tend to soak up moisture – and rain is forecast for most of this week. Trees will pump all that extra water into their fruit, causing pomegranates to split their skin.

Most commercial growers pick pomegranates when they’re under-ripe  to avoid splitting or other damage. When the round fruit turns blocky, the arils (the seed sacs) are at their juiciest and sweetest. That’s the best time to pick – when the fruit is at its peak. And that’s right now – early to mid November.

Judging by my own Wonderful pomegranate (the most common variety), this is a good year for pomegranates. My fruit are huge, including one that topped 2 pounds. Long before they started showing signs of over-ripeness, my pomegranates were under attack from birds and squirrels. (That's another clue they’re ready to pick.)

Off the tree, pomegranates will keep for several weeks. In the refrigerator crisper, they'll last three months or more. They'll actually produce more juice after they've sat for a couple of weeks.

By that time, the leathery skin can start to harden. If so, soak the whole fruit for 5 to 10 minutes in lukewarm water before seeding. That soaking also will remove any grit or soot the fruit may have collected during its long hang time on the tree.

Depending on size, pomegranates contain anywhere from 200 to 1,200 arils. Those juicy little seed sacs are what you want, whether to be eaten whole fresh or squeezed.

How do you seed a pomegranate without making a mess? Do it under water. Fill a large bowl with water. With a sharp paring knife, score the fruit around the calyx – the little cup-like structure on the blossom end of the fruit – and remove it. Then gently score the sides from the stem end to the blossom end. Holding the fruit under water, gently pull the sections apart. Then, tease out the arils into the water. Any pulp will float to the surface, where it can be skimmed off. Once all the seeds are removed, drain the bowl into a sieve.

One very large pomegranate
This pom weighed more than 2 pounds.

Did your pomegranate have an off year with little or no fruit? The next question: When did you prune?

Hard pruning of a pomegranate tree can lead to a season with no fruit. Pomegranates bear fruit on second-year wood – shoots the tree produced the previous year. If you remove all the new growth each winter, the pomegranate will have few if any fruit.

Instead, prune lightly in January after the shrub has dropped its foliage, concentrating on opening the center of the plant for good air circulation.

As a Mediterranean fruit, pomegranates do very well in our climate. Once established, they’re relatively drought tolerant, too. They’re a beautiful edible ornamental shrub (yes, they’re actually a multi-trunked shrub, not a true tree) with glossy leaves, bright orange flowers, gorgeous red fruit and golden fall foliage.

For more tips on pomegranates: https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu/agriculture/pomegranate/.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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