Jujube


What:    Fruiting Tree and Plants Fundraiser For Youth Group
Where:  wood’sEnd Church Parking lot  in Edgewood
When:   This Saturday June 2nd, from 8:00 am until 1:00 pm.
Why:     Help raise money to send young kids to summer camp
 
This year we are taking our plants off farm for one day and offering them to the public.  A portion of the proceeds will go to the wood’sEnd Church Summer Youth Camp Program.  Trees and plants will be available in the wood’sEnd Church parking lot this Saturday morning, June 2nd.  wood’sEnd Church is located in Edgewood on the west side of Highway 344 just north and across the street from Wal-Mart and south of the library.  So tell your friends and spread the word for a good cause in our community! 
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This year’s grafting is finally complete.  We ended up grafting about 280 new little trees.  This is exciting because it allows us to grow and evaluate many antique or rare varieties we normally would not have available.  Names like Bell-De Boskoop, Karmije De Sonnaville and Caville Blanc D’hiver evoke thoughts of the faraway countries and places they came from.   Chenago Strawberry, Pitmaston Pineapple and Apricot on the other hand are intriguing because their flavor is reminiscent of a different fruit than apples.  Williams Pride and Westfield Seek No Further are obviously just the best there is.

This season we are doing things a little different. We bench grafted this scion wood to both semi-dwarf and full dwarf rootstock so we could offer a variety to those wanting smaller trees.  After grafting we planted into 3”x 3” x 8” tree pots and will grow them indoors until all frost is past.  At that point we will transplant and grow them for probably 2 years in the field. The first winter the whips will be pruned back to encourage branching and the second winter

Starting grafted trees in 3″ x 3″ x 8″ tree posts

the trunk and branches will be cut back again.  By the second summer, 2014, they should be ready to go to new locations.  About 45% were new types of apples and the rest were from the ones we have growing.  This picture shows a few in tree pots starting to leaf out

We also grafted sweet Cherries, about 8 types, European pears 6 kinds and European plums 6 kinds.  Earlier we had grafted about 14 new jujubes.  Matt is getting to be fast at bench grafting and with Connie and myself wrapping the grafting tape and labeling the varieties we have worked out a pretty good and simple system. All in all it was a fun and worthwhile springtime project

 It is funny to see a little 10″ tree with blooms on it! 

Some 10″ grafted trees blooming!

In the car and off to the next one.  This is a neighborhood store also but probably twice as large as the first store.  Again it is very well stocked, almost overflowing with merchandise and looks prosperous.   This store also has a restaurant tucked in back and a certain amount of cooking supplies.    A very friendly lady immediately came to help me.  When I asked her for Jujube  (and also Goji) she knew right what I wanted and brought them.  In our conversation she also indicated that the Jujube is a very good seller, in fact the size they offered was 16 oz.  It was larger and also a dollar more at $4.99.

16 oz. package of dried Jujube "Red Dates"

I asked about fresh Jujube and she told me they do not carry them because they only grow in China and have no way to get them here to sell.  Several times I tried to explain to her that we grow them and would she buy from a local supplier?  Finally she conceded she would although I am sure she thought she was just humoring me.  I was unable to find out exactly how much she sells of the packaged dried ones or her estimates of sales of the fresh ones, but with another visit and some samples I am sure we could get a more accurate assessment.

When queried about why she sells so much of the packaged dried jujube  she explained that her customers ate them almost daily.  They do not eat them whole like one would often eat dates but instead chop them or dice them and add to almost all rice dishes or stir fry.  She tried briefly to explain some of the Asian concepts of  food as medicine and how the jujube was considered an important part of this in Eastern culture. 

 There are a few interesting observations that make me believe that this is a market just waiting for a supplier.  Both stores while small, had a very loyal and good repeat clientele and had customers in them.  Both stores had the same brand and importer of product which tells me there is limited availability.  But most of all, the product I tried was not very good.  It was dry and had very little flavor.  I would guess also by its small size that the lowest quality is used for export and the best is consumed in China.  Virtually all dried Jujubes I have eaten here, even the types that were only made for fresh eating were better than the product I purchased.  I believe that with some samples and a taste test that these store owners would gladly carry a New Mexico  grown Jujube or red dates and that they would sell for a premium price. 

This is just a small sample of the places one could start to market this product.  There are at least 6 other stores in the metro area catering to the Asian population and a few that are much larger.  The amount of restaurants serving Asian cuisine is staggering and the market for the fresh product delivered in season could be very good.   You would want to develop an appealing package  and maybe offer 2 or 3 sizes for the dried fruit.  Another search of “the Google” showed many ethnic associations or “clubs” catering to these specific  groups.  This would provide an excellent venue for direct marketing or to gain customers for a U-Pick-It operation.  In summary, I think the future is bright for anyone willing to take the ball and run with it promoting Jujubes locally.

 

 I have long felt there would be a good demand for Jujubes  if you could market them correctly.  Since our business model is to promote and develop fruit crops for small growers that will be profitable here, growing is only part of the  equation.  They can’t be profitable if they can grow them but can’t sell them.  Therefore a portion of our efforts are dedicated to also teaching growers how to build demand and market their product.  I have watched and taken note as many vendors at the farmer’s markets spend considerable time and energy promoting new or uncommon vegetables (think rutabaga).  They give samples, use discount pricing, promote in their newsletters and/or websites and give recipes and tips on how to use and prepare them.  Most of the farmers I have spoken to expect to spend a year to two years “educating the public” on their new food variety.  In unison they voice how hard it is to gain acceptance for something new.  Some people won’t like it, some will go back to the old varieties, some will not think it worth the price etc.  While necessary, that all seems like a lot of work and trouble.

 One of the reasons given for why Jujubes never gained acceptance the early 1900’s in this country was that they were promoted too soon.  They were passed out at events and gatherings by excited government officials as soon as the first crops came in.  Unfortunately these varieties were ones made for drying, not for fresh eating and the public turned their collective noses up at them due to the poor flavor.   Now we have many varieties that are good for fresh eating as well as different ones that are better for processing and ones made just for drying.  So it’s like starting over with an unknown fruit.  Add to that a product that has confusing name.  Jujube  Jujube.  To me it conjures up visions of the old candy by the same name that was really not very good   (I may be showing my age here).     It was the forerunner of the improved “Jujyfruits”,

JUJYFRUITS

which seems like the forerunner to the modern “Gummy Bears”. and of course my personal favorite, the “Gummy Worm”.

 Enough history, how do we build a market?   And how do we do it the easy way?  It came to me that we may not have to educate the public when there is an already educated segment of our society out there.  If we are lucky maybe all we need do is fill a demand!  So straight to “the Google” I went.  A quick search for “Asian food markets Albuquerque” came up with 8 locations.  Certainly they would use distributors to import the foods they sell and might be interested in a fresher, locally grown product.  So I hopped in my car and headed out. 

 The first one was a small neighborhood store which was packed with all types of food items, the vast majority of which I had no clue what they were.  I only knew the others if they had English writing on the package.  This store even had a small restaurant hidden in the back with 4 tables.  When looking through the shelves I quickly found what I was looking for, a 12 z.  package of dried jujubes or “Red Dates” for $3.99.  My Korean is a little rusty, so in my best

12 oz. package of Dried Jujube or "Red Dates"

broken English  I asked her if she sold a lot of these and she indicated she did.  As they had a small fresh food section I asked her if they ever sold them fresh or would they like to try and carry the product.  After much back and forth and many hand gestures on my part, I believe the answer is that they never have them fresh because of no supply and that there would be a very big demand for them. No doubt if I had walked in with samples we would have communicated better.

 In the car and off to the next one.  This is a neighborhood store also but probably twice as large as the first store.  Again it is very well stocked, almost overflowing with merchandise and looks prosperous.    Continued……..

 The jujube is considered rare (or at least very uncommon) in cultivation in the United States. It’s production can be measured in trees instead of acres, so its not surprising that there is a lack of knowledge and confusion about this fruit crop.  Add to that the cultural, diplomatic and language barriers with China and it is understandable that this fruit has not taken off with American growers or consumers.  This is an unfortunate situation because this fruit crop is extremely well suited to growing New Mexico. For small growers and producers of value added products such as specialty jams, sauces, pastries etc. this could provide the edge they need to be profitable.  When you include our growing asian population that has an existing demand, it makes for a bright future for the grower who is an innovator and gets in early. 

We currently are growing  11 cultivars Li, Lang, Shuimen, Shihong, Sugarcane,  Honeyjar, Redlands#4, GA866,Chico, Norris and Sherwood.  Based on our research and taste testing at Alcalde we will probably add the varieties  Tsao, Lin, Yu, Ant Admire, Don Polenski and Shanxi Li.  This will be our “mother” orchard block where we will develop scionwood for grafting new trees. From these we expect to have a continual supply and to also be able to possibly try crossing some of the best ones. We are very happy with the ones we currently raise and were impressed by Don Polenski and Shanxi Li at the tasting in Alcalde.  The others are the best varieties from hobbyists around the country.

 Last week Matt and I took a short road trip to Alcalde, NM. to attend a workshop on Jujubes.  A tiny hamlet on the road to Taos, just north east of Espanola, it is home to maybe 100 families.  It is also home to the NMSU Sustainable Agriculture Science Center.  At this location some research has been done into different fruit varieties in an organic growing situation.  Mostly this has been trials with blackberry and raspberry in 2003 thru 2006.  After that several varieties of Jujube were planted and monitored. One of the interesting things is that even though the location is 90 miles north of us the weather and temperature parameters are almost identical to our location.

The fruit production there is now under the care of Dr. Shengrui Yao. She received a M.S. in Horticulture/Pomology from Beijing Agricultural University and her Ph.D. in Horticulture/Pomology from Cornell University.  She hosted this workshop and tasting event for about 40 growers, gardeners and other government agency employees.  Shengrui is the perfect person to teach about this rare and unusual fruit from China.  She has the unique perspective of having been raised with a fruit that many in the western world have never even heard of, much less tasted.

 

Even with most picked this jujube tree's branches are bending under the fruit load

The Science Center has an orchard of about 40 trees of maybe 10 varieties that are 6 years old. They have just planted 100 young trees, 25 each of 4 varieties. She is trying to get grant money to fund research for these as a commercial crop for New Mexico and seems to be the only person at any university or research facility in the U.S. that is studying them.   There are about 700 cultivars in China today, however there are maybe only 40 in the United States.  With relations and import rules being what they are it is unlikely that we will be seeing new cultivars anytime soon.  The good news is that many of the varieties here are every bit as good as any of the commercial crops in China, so we may not really need any new types.  Another interesting note is there are no developed hybrids of Jujube, all named varieties are cultural selections. 

Our main purpose for going to the workshop was the tasting session.  Not only did we hope to try some varieties we don’t have, but also to test them in different stages of development to see where

Jujube in various stages of ripening, the side facing the sun turns mahogany colored first

is the ultimate ripeness for fresh eating.  More about that later.  The jujube is not really broken into classes and there are many ways it could be.  For example some varieties are good only for fresh eating, some only for dried and some work for both.  Another way is the fruit shape.  There are elongated, oval, round, gourd, teapot and apple shapes. However I think the best way to classify them might be by maturity: early, mid and late season varieties.  Some of the late season varieties require a longer growing season to mature than we can provide in the mountains.  Albuquerque or further south like Los Lunas would be fine for them though.

Even though jujubes have been cultivated in China for more than 4,000 years their use on the mainland is changing. In 1990 almost 90 % of the jujubes were sold as dried fruit. That has changed to 60% dried, 30% fresh and 10% processed.  This may be in response to the cultural changes that have happened in China more than the fruit’s development.  As China gains a middle class more people have refrigeration and so don’t require a dried product for storage and also more have a disposable income to buy a processed product.

For our purposes here inNew Mexico the benefits to growing the Jujube are many.  I won’t say that they thrive on neglect, but they are hardier than many fruit trees.  Once established they are very drought tolerant.  The bright glossy leaves are like citrus in that they hold in moisture and seem to have a shiny, waxy coating. 

Jujube trees have light branching. This one has good horizontal branches

They like our alkaline soil which most fruits do not.  The amount of heat they can tolerate seems to have no upper limit.  We know they are cold tolerant to -25f and just have not been really tested past that point although I suspect they can live way below it once established.  Most varieties are self fertile but will set a larger crop if you have two and that is what we are recommending at this point. They flower very late and avoid any freezes so you always get a crop. No known New Mexico pests or diseases.  Minimal to no pruning required.  This is about all you could hope for in a fruit tree!

As for taste: most have a sweet apple-like flavor and texture with a hint of almond aftertaste.  The fruit is not quite as juicy as an apple and of course if dried it is different altogether.  It is also called the Chinese Date because of the size and appearance when dried, however they are not quite as sweet or  gooey and sticky as palm dates.

I think if the United States got behind this as a commercial crop, our plant breeders could improve jujubes the way the crabapple was changed to modern grocery store apples.  In 30-50 years we could see a new fruit crop completely.  After all the blueberry got it’s start that way after WWII and now is a major crop and staple item in our diet.

See The Upcoming Part 2 for Tasting and Variety pictures.