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prickly pears

 
Al Senner
Posts: 59
Location: southeast SD (zone 4b/5a)
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Does anyone grow Opuntia cactus? Does anyone grow in zone 4? Which are the best for eating? I cant find any specie names online.
 
John Elliott
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No to zone 4. I have seen a few pathetic looking specimens growing wild in Eastern Colorado, but you really need zone 8 and higher to get good nopal. This page gives the different species of Opuntia that are considered edible. It's not really a developed crop in the sense that it has cultivars. It's in the early steps of that domestication process, as farmers in Mexico select for desirable traits and flavors.

Try using the word "nopal" in your web searches and you may be able to get more information. I'm by no means an expert on nopal, but I do like a nice nopal and scrambled egg gordita.
 
Cris Bessette
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Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
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They grow wild and cultivated here and there where I live in the Appalachian mountain range, zone 7B-8A or so.
I've never seen any distinct varieties.

I have a number of Mexican friends here that introduced me to eating the cactus (nopales) but have only eaten one of the fruit of the cactus.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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Hey Al:

Having gone to college in Wisconsin and remembering that there was a prickly pear cactus native to that region(!!), I searched "Opuntia" and "Zone 4" and found this website: http://coldhardycactus.com/opuntia.php A quick search through the specimens didn't bring up any that specifically said "edible". You might consider contacting this person and asking them about the edible qualities of some of these. Alas, I am only familiar with eating the hot desert Opuntia pads and fruit, Opuntia engelmanii and ficus-indica. Also, I note that he has several cholla cacti that he lists as "opuntia" that have since been reclassified as "Cylindropuntia" (cylindrical branches as opposed to the pads of prickly pear). Some varieties of Cylindropuntia have delicious flower buds such as the Staghorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor) - but again, this is a hot climate cylindropuntia.
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 91
Location: Medellin, Colombia
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Hi guys,

does anyone have any experience on the best method for propagating the prickly pear cactus? there are some plants growing wild near my property and I would like to grow some as living fence and also for the fruit. I've seen videos where they take cuttings and plant them so that roots will come out of the spots where the spines are, some people cut the whole pad and plant it "upside up" while others cut just half and plant it upside down. I'd like to know if anyone has experimented with this or might shed any light on which is the best method.

thanks!
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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I just cut off a pad from the top and plant it halfway in the ground - they've always rooted. AND, I've left pads hanging around that I didn't get to for awhile - they rooted too, from the spine area. Hard to go wrong here.

If you're planning to use these as a fence - I'd do the first method - cut a pad and then bury it halfway. (usually I leave the pad lying around for a week or so so that the cut heals over - don't know that that's actually necessary). It will make for a sturdier base to the mature cactus.
 
Burra Maluca
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:...usually I leave the pad lying around for a week or so so that the cut heals over - don't know that that's actually necessary...


I think it's to discourage rot - a callous forms and protects it to a certain extent.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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I think that's exactly right, Burra. I know I've planted some that are "fresh" and they have done fine - so I might just be in the "lucky" category on that one!
 
John Elliott
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:I think that's exactly right, Burra. I know I've planted some that are "fresh" and they have done fine - so I might just be in the "lucky" category on that one!


It might also be that dessicating desert air that can dry a load of laundry before you finish hanging it up.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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John Elliott wrote:It might also be that dessicating desert air that can dry a load of laundry before you finish hanging it up.


...yeah....there's certainly that!! It still befuddles me that anyone would use anything but a clothesline here in the summer.
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Cactus pears, opuntia cactus, nopales, catus pads - whatever you call it - its one of my favorite plants. In "my opinion" they have all the characteristics we want from a plant. They provide food without any human input and they grow without any assistance. Take a cactus pad, throw it on the ground (must have contact with the soil) and then do nothing - just wait. Within a few years - it will grow and provide you with food - as mentioned both the pads and the cactus pears are edible. Life does not get any easier - do nothing food - just harvest.

Here are somethings I have learned - I have used the pads to create a living fence around my farm (I placed around 900 of them so far) - I started this last spring - late in the spring, and continued this fall. I will use them extensively for the areas I reforest this fall - I will place them around the perimeter of each piece of land I reforest (20,000 seeds on the ground are in the process of being placed). See http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/80/14353 for a discussion on reforestation using cactus pads. Besides providing food for humans and animals they may act as a fire barrier - I do not know about this - hopefully we will never find out.

- Its best to place/throw the pads in the ground, this time of the year - if you do this after April, its best to bury at least 1/4 of the pad in the ground (1/2 to 3/4 is preferable). In dry regions after April rains are becoming rare. I have never dried the cuts and it does not appear to be a problem.

- Its important to have the variety of opuntia that is appropriate for your area. A variety used to hot dry weather will not survive even light frosts.

This plant is truly amazing - during the hot dry months of July and August, when the other plants and trees are struggling to survive, the opuntia cactus thrives - even new plants with shallow roots - they grow new leaves and fruits in the middle of the most difficult weather - I am amazed !!!

I am looking to obtain more varieties - in northern Greece (Thessaloniki) we have a variety that produces small pears - it can survive the winter colds that we have - no problem - the pads are tender and good to cook, but the pears are small and therefore a hassle to clean and eat. In southern Greece - the Peloponnese and the islands the opuntia has large pears and pads - the pears are about 3 times the size of the northern pears, so easier to harvest, but the pads are rougher. So I will be looking for opuntia that can survive the cold (zone 8 I think) and have large pears. If anyone has suggestions it would be appreciated.

I am experimenting to see if by simply placing the pears on the ground, new plants will sprout - I put about 20 in area I can monitor - I doubt it will work, but we will see.

We have huge areas of this planet that have become desertified - opuntia thrown by airplanes by the thousands, might be a good start to replant those areas - opuntia can be used as a ground cover with hardy trees and shrubs planted afterwards in between them - the opuntia will provide shade and will lower the ground temperature to allow other trees to grow - slowly over time a new soil layer can be created to allow more plants and trees to grow. Reclaiming desertified areas will take many years - it took many years to destroy the land - it will take even longer to reclaim it - its not an overnight solution.

That's all I know so far - I would appreciate it if someone points out where I am make mistakes (I am sure they are there) or can improve.

Also, for a living fence I would also like to grow wild asparagus, both for protection and the product - does anyone have any practical experience propagating this plant ? (seeds , cuttings ? what is best?)

Thanks

Kostas
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 91
Location: Medellin, Colombia
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Thank you Konstantinos,

your explanation is very thorough, however I find it difficult sometimes to understand when someone says "this should be planted at that time of the year" because seasons vary greatly between different parts of the world. I live in a tropical country with no seasons other than dry-wet (distributed 4 times through the year) and high up in the mountains where the temperatures are never really "tropical hot", so can you please clarify what you mean by "this time of the year" and "after april" regarding weather conditions?
 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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I grow a native type that I think is called Opuntia humifusa. It was very easy to propagate, so much so that just ignoring it would successfully root it as long as it was touching soil. In my experience as long as it is during a growing season you can clip off some pads and transplant them with or without letting the wound heal over and get 100 percent success.
The specimen I got the cuttings from is adapted to oklahoma so it thrives in hot humidity and just gets thin and slumps over during the freezing months. On Dave's garden it says it is hardy to zone 4b so you might keep your eyes open for a wild specimen in a microclimate.

This next season I should be getting some fruit off of it and will taste and decide if I want to propagate even more.

 
Konstantinos Karoubas
pollinator
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Sorry about that Juan - you are absolutely right - I should have said during the wet season

Kostas
 
Heidi Beckwith
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I don't have any experience with northern prickly pears, but being in zone 5, I am very interested if there are any that are edible, so keep us posted.

I have heard of another application of the plants though and that is their ability to absorb excrement. I read it in the book "El loro en el limonero"(A Parrot In The Pepper Tree) by Chris Stewart. On page 86 he talks about how people use it in southern Spain as a kind of outhouse. Does anyone have any experience with this? It seems slightly dangerous .

Heidi
 
Al Senner
Posts: 59
Location: southeast SD (zone 4b/5a)
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they have a few varieities at oikostreecrops.com
 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1752
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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The prickly pears growing wild on our land here in central Oklahoma made little tiny fruits no larger than the stub of a carpenter's pencil last year (the first year that I was paying attention and looked). We don't have a lot of them and I'm not particularly fond of the pads as food, but we do have some extremely barren spots where I'm considering trying to transplant some of ours. I'm also improving the conditions around a few clumps (mostly cutting back competing weeds and grasses) to see if they fruit better when under less competition.

Long run, I want to encourage them, because I see them as a perpetual-storage survival food. I don't really want to eat them, but if the stuff has officially hit the fan they would provide a reservoir of easily-foraged calories that could help get a family over that first desperate starvation hump before the new "garden or die" food garden starts producing.
 
Mike Cantrell
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Location: Mid-Michigan
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I've collected them wild in NW Arkansas. (Delicious! The tunas; I never tried the nopales.)

Haven't found any here in Michigan, although as Al mentioned, they're growing them for sale at Oikos Tree Crops, which is in Kalamazoo- zone 5b.
 
David Good
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I've never heard of a toxic Opuntia species. I've eaten a variety of wild ones and found all of them to have decent flavor - and some are deliciously salty. Like a tart, salty green bell pepper.

As for the outhouse approach, I don't worry too much about the potential "danger." If you don't have water and rainfall washing fresh stuff around, you should be fine. Plants don't take up the organisms that can hurt us. For instance, I'd have no problem at all eating bananas growing by a pit latrine, provided there aren't chemicals in it too. Contact via "splashing" would be my only concern.
 
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