Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.
Q: How can I tell if my pomegranates are ripe? They are big and bright red.
Zina Powning, Sacramento
Bee garden writer Debbie Arrington: As someone who has grown backyard pomegranates for more than 30 years, I’ve had plenty of experience with this perplexing fruit. They need patience as they ripen in the fall and often are not ready to pick until November – or later.
Pomegranates grow on deciduous shrubs or small trees with multiple trunks that can reach more than 20 feet in height. The most popular red variety is the aptly named Wonderful.
Pomegrantes won’t ripen after harvest, so taking that extra time pays dividends in more juice and sweeter fruit.
Color alone won’t tell you when to pick a pomegranate. Not all varieties turn crimson red; some look pale pink, creamy white or mottled with yellow when ripe. Others go to the other extreme and become dark red-purple. Red, pink, white or purple, ripe pomegranates should have no trace of green on their leathery skin.
Likewise, the seed sacks – called arils – may be white, pink or purple when ripe as well as familiar red.
As the pomegranate ripens, the seed sacks swell, changing the shape of the fruit. Instead of perfectly round, the pomegranate becomes blocky and almost hexagonal in shape, reflecting the swollen seed chambers inside. The stem and blossom ends of the fruit also flatten.
In addition, the pomegranates get very heavy, pulling down the tree’s branches.
Watch closely as the pomegranates start looking blocky. Then, pay careful attention to the fruit’s skin. It will start to develop a matte finish or feel rough instead of glossy and smooth.
As those arils get bigger, they strain the pomegranate’s thick skin to the point of bursting. The skin will start to split, especially when exposed to rain or high humidity such as fog. If left on the tree, the fruit will split wide open, exposing the seed sacks.
When the first pomegranate shows signs of splitting, it’s time to harvest the whole tree – even the small pomegranates. They should all be ripe.
When harvesting, use pruning shears or sturdy scissors to cut the stems as close to the fruit as possible.
Still not convinced they’re ripe? Here are two more tests. Pull and gently twist a pomegranate. It should slip easily off its stem when ripe. (Still, it’s better to cut them off the tree than pull.)
Tap the fruit with your finger and listen. A ripe pomegranate will sound almost tinny.
Once harvested, pomegranates will keep for several days at room temperature; just keep them out of direct sun. They may be stored whole, loosely wrapped in plastic bags and refrigerated, for up to three months.
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