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Prickly Pear are the perfect permaculture plant for parched places  RSS feed

 
Author
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My friend taught me a great way to process the fruits to deal with seeds. After burning glochids off with a hand held propane torch or in a camp fire place fruit in a 1 gallon ziplock bag and freeze. Then add to blender when making a smoothy. The seeds settle to the bottom once the fruits are ground up and the juice pours off the top. If you have a high powered blender like a vita mix, grind the seeds to micro pieces and then drink them with the smoothy as they're high in protein so it's like adding protein powder to your smoothy.
A local brewery said they would buy all the fruit I can produce
 
Shawn Jadrnicek
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sent the last post too soon...the brewery likes to add to a sour beer for flavor and color. I grow Opuntia ellisiana for the edible pads as it's spineless and productive and I grow Opuntia lindheimeri for the fruit and as a living fence for my chickens. The South Carolina botanical gardens has an Opuntia exhibit with over 100 varieties on display. The director said one variety has fruit that tastes like jolly rancher apples but I haven't found it yet. Opuntia is definitely my favorite plant and great to see a thread on it.
 
pollinator
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I would love to obtain pads from a good fruiting variety; none of mine fruit very well.

 
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The easiest way to deal with glochids and spines is to throw the fruit in boiling water for about 5 minutes.

I would love to obtain pads from a good fruiting variety; none of mine fruit very well.


Feed them phosphorus (chicken manure) in the spring, once you notice new growth happening. This can stimulate fruiting.

Also, look around in your local area for ones that fruit more than yours, and see if it is in a different soil type or conditions.
 
Abe Connally
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Shawn Jadrnicek wrote:A local brewery said they would buy all the fruit I can produce



That's an interesting resource. What do they pay?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks, Abe, I'll give that a try.

 
Shawn Jadrnicek
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Abe Connally wrote:

Shawn Jadrnicek wrote:A local brewery said they would buy all the fruit I can produce



That's an interesting resource. What do they pay?



Thanks for the tip on using boiling water to remove the glochids. That will save me a ton of time. The brewery said they would pay $1/pound but I don't have a lot of fruit yet so we'll have to see in a few years.
 
Abe Connally
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Shawn Jadrnicek wrote:Thanks for the tip on using boiling water to remove the glochids. That will save me a ton of time. The brewery said they would pay $1/pound but I don't have a lot of fruit yet so we'll have to see in a few years.



Wow, $1/lb is awesome! Last year, we collected over 50 lbs, just on the side of the highway in an hour or 2.

 
pioneer
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Last year I compared fruit from two different local "decorative" opuntia plantings (basically, snagged with permission from people's front yards) to fruit from wild opuntia growing on our property and fruit from Mexico found for sale in an ethnic grocery. They all had a similar color and flavor, but they exhibited extreme variation in the amount and sweetness of the pulp. Only the purchased fruit had a ratio of pulp to seeds that seemed favorable (which is to say, more pulp than seeds) and only my wild opuntia fruit (which were tiny and 85% seeds) had as much sweetness as the store fruit.

I have a lot to learn about fruiting opuntia, but one thing I already know is that I need to taste the fruit from a new-to-me plant before I get too excited.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Prickly Pear fruits taste a little like slightly sweet dirt to me.

 
Abe Connally
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I've tasted a lot of different varieties, and even within varieties and plants, there are huge differences. O. Robusta has the best flavor of the ones around me.

Like with anything else, it'll be a mix of genetics, soil, and local conditions
 
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Tyler, may be you do not have good ones!

BUT, the taste changes if you eat it all or if you make juice to remove the flesh.
Quite strange but it is my experience....

The taste is MUCH better, for the same fruits, if I mix it for extracting the flesh and remove the seeds.
It makes the sweetness come out more, and it is more slimy, but I can drink a pint without any weight on my stomach.
And no risk for my teeth....

I just blend all, after peeling.
Then I squeeze through a mosquito net with the hand. All comes out at once, and I just throw the seeds, as the juice really goes out easily (not the same as guavas!)
 
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Loving this thread. I find it odd that the opuntias are such a Human friendly group of plants. They make a fruit, a vegetable, alcohol, and I've heard that the mucilage is an effective treatment for sunburn and minor cuts (though I've never tried this).

I posted some months back about the cacti that I'm working with. I thought it would be fun to share more of the information that I've learned, in the off chance that someone else here is actively growing the same cactus, or is interested in growing it. There's scant information online about its culture. The following is a short summary of everything I've learned.

The Cactus

The cactus in question is Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa), a cactus that is native to my region. This species occurs over a wide range and has a diverse range of shapes, fruits, size, and cold hardiness. To my knowledge, botanists have not divided these groups into subspecies, and the result is a diverse group of plants all lumped under a single species.

Habitat

This plant occurs most frequently within my own region, in an area called the 'Sandhills', which is a band of heavily vegetated sand dunes passing through the middle of the state. While rainfall is high, the drainage of the sand and the water draw of the vegetation creates fairly dry conditions - especially in the Summer dry season. I've only ever encountered this plant growing in pine understory, where it exists as an edge species, growing in the halfway points between pine forests and Human created grasslands (lawns). The soil of this region is various combinations of sand, clay, silt, and sometimes pure sand. I'm growing my plants in a heavy silty clay with poor drainage, which really speaks wonders about this plants tolerance for a wide range of soil conditions.

Uses

The pad is edible, and quite tender. The outermost skin layer is rather tough in comparison to commercial varieties of other species, so I've taken to peeling mine. The fruit is edible, and there is a great deal of variation as far as color, size, and flavor. I'm personally most interested in the fruit, so what I have done is to make several foraging 'expeditions' around the time the fruit is ripening. I sample the fruits from as many plants as I can find, and I select the best tasting ones to add to my collection. So far, I've collected the following,

A purple fruited variety, with a bright magenta pulp and a sweet and sour fruit. It tastes highly of raspberries.

A pink fruited variety, with a clear transluscent pulp with some sweetness. It tastes somewhat like yellow watermelon. The pads are almost perfect circles on this one!

A purple fruited variety, with a reddish pulp and a sweet and tart fruit. It tastes vaguely like strawberry. Unfortunately, I lost my only two plants of this one after they were engulfed by weeds and died.

I've sampled many others, that as Tyler put it above "tasted like slightly sweet dirt".

In the past, the natives of this region were known to forage and consume it. In modern times, the plant is considered a nuisance weed because of it's spines and tendecy to colonize lawns. The plant has also earned it's fair share of admirers for it's large and showy flowers in shades of gold or yellow, with occasional orange banding. I posted a picture of a flower earlier in the thread. Because of its flowers, it is now mostly cultivated as an ornamental and there are nurseries producing and selling it for this reason alone. That I know of, I'm the only one growing it for fruit - I'm sure there's at least one other weirdo out there. This cactus also has a following among local foraging enthusiasts.

Culture

I've found a three foot spacing between plants to be effective. Large and mature plants expand to around three feet in diameter in a roughly circular growth pattern. As a wild plant, it's size is not exactly uniform from plant to plant however. I've also observed, that when in the full sun, this plant grows roughly towards the West. All of my plants are doing this - I wonder where they're going?

Full sun is crucial, this plant only barely tolerates shade. When shaded it grows extremely slowly, and barely fruits.

When it comes to pollination, the plant is self compatible and is pollinated by insects (usually bees). I've not tested to see if they self pollinate.

This plant tends to put on a large and rapid growth spurt in late Spring (right now!), developing both new pads and flowers simultaneously. See the below picture for an example. In Summer, the new pads reach a mature size. In Fall, the fruits ripen, mostly at the same time. Come Winter, the entire plant shrivels and 'deflates'. It collapses onto the ground and the pads take on a wrinkled appearance, and the plant goes dormant. I recall reading that when the cactus does this, it pumps a lot of the moisture out of its own body to prevent bursting during hard freezes. It would certainly explain the dead look...but come mid Spring it stands back up.

It does not compete well at all with weeds, due to it's small size and relatively slower growth. If it gets surrounded by weeds, the low air circulation and humidity causes it to rot and die. My hypothesis, is that this plant uses the pine needles in its native habitat to compete with weeds, especially where pine needles will eliminate most competition.

Companion planting with Alliums, such as tree onions, has shown promise however. The trick here is that the onions barely block any light or airflow, so the cactus still gets the lion's share of light.

It takes this plant two years to begin fruiting, when planted from a pad. In the first year it establishes, and by year two it fruits. It's rapid fruiting is certainly an advantage of its small size. The picture below is an example of a two year old plant, and the picture posted earlier in the thread is an example of a one year old plant. It's the same plant actually! The fruits are a little larger than my thumb, and older plants will yield dozens upon dozens of these.

The biggest pest issue has been slugs and nails. They climb onto the pads at night and eat slug sized trails in the exterior skin. They rarely do enough damage to kill a pad - in the picture below you can see scarring from slug feeding. I've yet to encounter any other pests of this plant.

The second picture is an example of a newly planted pad. So tiny!

That is all for now. I'll follow this post up later this year after the fruit harvest.

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Tyler Ludens
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Excellent post, Dylan.
 
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re: the trimming of the cactus to keep it from bushing out lower to the ground like its normal wont.

For areas where it is more naturalized, like the Sonoran desert, while not trimming the cactus can attract snakes, packrats, and such, attracting packrats is actually NOT an entirely bad thing, at least as far as the cactus is concerned. With the extremely hard dirt of the area, packrats, termites, and ground squirrels can be quite beneficial to the cactus. Their burrows aerate the soil and can add places for water to collect and their feces enrich the soil. All the cactus I have which have one of these three critters under them grow enormous, typically.

I know having packrats and other critters is not always feasible or desirable, especially if growing prickly pear in large amounts, but I thought it should be mentioned that they can be beneficial, too.
 
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Hi everyone. I've been enjoying this thread, so decided to contribute.

Here in South Italy the Opuntia ficus-India has long been naturalized. I recently heard a story from an old man here, in goes something like this:
Once upon a time in Sicily there man who didn't get along his neighbour and they fought and disputed with each other all the time. So one day in Spring when his neighbour wasn't around, the man decided to get revenge and ruin his neighbour's prickly pear crop. He sneaked into his neighbour's property and removed all the fruit from the blooming cactii. Come summertime, the neighbour's prickly pear didn't produce any fruit and he was most displeased. He got the last laugh however because come at the end of autumn he got a late crop of fruit and these were sweeter, larger and had less spines and seeds.

The normal fruiting will be from July-September. By removing the young flowering fruit in Spring however, you'll get a late harvest from October-December, extending the growing season by 3 months!
This process is called scozzolatura, see
for a short video.

Anyone else fimiliar with the process? I've never tried it myself. Now is the time to do it however, as the plants have just started to bloom. Not sure whether I have to remove all the fruit from each cactus plant or whether I can just remove half so I can get an early and late crop from the same plant. Any ideas?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I would try removing fruit from one plant and leaving it on another, not try to get both early and late fruiting on the same plant. I think you'd be more likely to get larger early fruit on the half-picked plant, but not late fruit. Just a guess,though!
 
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Hi Tj,

I have done that here in Sicily. And as Tyler has stated, we split the amount of plants and then have two crops.
In the next week or two will will strip our plants.

James


 
Tj Lees
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Thanks for the advice guys. Might be a bit tricky to split the plants as what I've got here is more of a prickly pear mess of a bush. Maybe I'll just try and remove them all for an autumn harvest, there'll be so many other fruit ripening in summer anyway.

James would you say now is a good time to remove the fruit, or should I wait a week like you? And I'm curious, do they tell the same anecdotal story about the neighboursnover on Sicily itself?
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Photo taken from the rooftop of an abandonned neighbouring property
 
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I've considered moving to an arid climate just so I can grow more varieties of cactus, prickly pear in particular. Thanks for starting an awesome thread.
 
Tyler Ludens
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David, can you try building special gravel raised beds for cactus? I adore cactus, and we have a few native kinds on our place. I've tried planting a few other types, but without special beds they don't seem to want to survive, except Spineless Prickly Pear which is very forgiving.

One of my favorite gardens in the world is the magnificent desert garden at the Huntington Gardens, which I loved to visit when I lived in Los Angeles. http://www.huntington.org/desertgarden/



 
David Good
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Wow, Tyler - that is a heck of a garden.

I think a gravel garden would be the way to go. One of my readers brought me some amazing prickly pear varieties from New Mexico and I lost most of them to rainfall except for those I had potted in almost pure perlite. I've considered setting up some sort of a rock bed. Maybe a truckload of gravel and sand would do the trick.

Thanks for the link to The Huntington. One more place I need to visit one day!
 
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One of my prickly pear species, Opuntia humifusa, is flowering today.

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Opuntia humifusa
 
Posts: 227
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duck forest garden hugelkultur
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Daniel Kaplan wrote:

Peter Heffernan wrote:Beware!
Prickly Pear rendered 58 MILLION ACRES UTTERLY UNUSABLE in Australia in the early 19th century, because birds so quickly spread seeds everywhere!
Be very careful not to make the solution into THE PROBLEM!



Somewhere I read about burning the spines off and using them as cattle forage during drought. I suppose you'd have to be careful not to torch the whole place but it seems that you could keep them in check that way. Or you could have it as a backup food supply that your livestock wouldn't normally go for. Add another use to the stack.



Yes, this is true and why cattle ranches in Texas do not try to eliminate them. They burn off the thorns with a propane torch. But be aware they can spread and become a huge plant. In hot climates, they grow especially well under tall trees which gives them more minerals. The fruit on the plants under trees is especially delicious. My method of picking them is to use the longest tongs I have and pull the fruit off and put them into a bucket lined with a doubled plastic bag.

Use the tongs to pick up individual fruits, cut off the small end along with the tiny spines, and then cut them in half. Scoop out the insides with a spoon. This way you don't get stuck (much - sometimes a tiny spine still gets me) and you don't have to bother removing any of the spines. I usually do this to half a dozen or more and put them in a glass dish in the refrigerator to snack on.
 
Gail Gardner
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David Goodman wrote:I've considered moving to an arid climate just so I can grow more varieties of cactus, prickly pear in particular. Thanks for starting an awesome thread.



Prickly pear grows well even in central and northeast Texas (and probably other parts - those are just where I have direct experience). They also grow well in SE Oklahoma. Central Texas east of I-35 (where I was) and SE Oklahoma are not arid climates. They get a lot of rain and are very green with many trees.
 
Gail Gardner
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Prickly Pear fruits taste a little like slightly sweet dirt to me.



If you harvest the fruits from huge, healthy Prickly Pear plants growing in wooded areas it is absolutely delicious. Fruit harvested from smaller plants growing in full sun in hot climates doesn't taste like much and is far less sweet.
 
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I planted prickly pears as a fencing around my 6 hectares orchard which is located in northern Morocco on a 1300meters high foothill and it is doing great already most of them are flowering just months after they were planted .....great plant that requires little to no watering and maintenance ,  I am fully satisfied



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Khalid Aassila wrote:I planted prickly pears as a fencing around my 6 hectares orchard which is located in northern Morocco on a 1300meters high foothill and it is doing great already most of them are flowering just months after they were planted .....great plant that requires little to no watering and maintenance ,  I am fully satisfied


They should do well in that region.
Good living fence, plus lots of fruit with next to nothing maintenance,
It is a good natural choice for such environments.

 
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Prickly pear juice takes some getting used to, but now I sort of like it. I still have to sweeten it with some honey though.
 
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Prickly Pear, here in Italy, is very common.....it grows wild, even on the hot, sunny rocks. From a cut leaves touching the ground will sprout a new plant...The fruits ripen in late Agoust through September..
 
Khalid Aassila
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here are some more pictures of my prickly pears fence , I have used different shoots from different plants some have more spines than others , it is to be said that this plants grows very well here in Morocco and it is almost a native to the land , it was probably introduced in morocco in the 16th century by the spaniards who brought it from Mexico ...it multiplied itself and spread itself so well that it almost became now a native plant ........I do not know if you already know this or not but the seeds of the fruit contain a very useful and expensive oil that is used in cosmetics ...many in Morocco are now buying large areas in semi arid areas and they plant it all with prickly pears , everything is used in this plant which can also be used as feed for the sheep and cattle....I so much love this plant ...
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I've not tried rooting the pads that you can sometimes find at the grocery, but you might try that.  



Pads from the grocers are not likely to put out roots. The reason is that the grocer almost certainly uses nopalitos tiernos, tender young pads that have just grown out. These are the best to eat, but I have never gotten one to put out roots. By the following year, they will be full of stronger fibers and veins, and they have a very good chance. If you are in a place that gets cold in winter,  you should plant them early in the warm season so that they have put out roots and sprouted a first few new pads by fall.
 
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Our prickly pears really took a beating this summer.  I was/am afraid many of them died from lack of water.  We will not get to harvest the tunas as the deer ate all of them and we had a lot.  I ran across this recipe that I thought I would share.  I won't be able to try it until spring , but it sounds really good.

Nopalito Roll-Ups: a Tasty Tortilla Snack

1 1/2 cups finely minced nopalitos
2 Tablespoons finely minced onions
6 ounces cream cheese
1 Tablespoon sour cream
1 teaspoon chopped green chiles (adjust this according to how hot your chiles are and how spicy you like your snacks!)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
8 8-inch flour tortillas

Nopalito is the diminutive form of nopale and translates to the small, cut-up pieces of the cactus pad (the nopale).

To prepare your nopalitos, start with several prickly pear pads. The tastiest nopales are young and fresh, so harvest your pads from the top of the plant. There are several ways to get rid of the spines and glochids on each pad. The easiest is to put on leather gloves and use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer skin of the pad, taking the prickly parts with it.

Rinse the nopales, then cut them into strips about a half inch wide. As you do this, you'll notice how mucilaginous nopales are. Bring a pot of water to boil, and toss in the nopalitos. Let them boil for about five minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water. This removes most of the mucilage from the cactus pads.

Mince your nopalitos, onions, and green chiles by hand or in a food processor. If you use a food processor be careful not to over-process; you want a fine mince, not a wet mush.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor, combine the cream cheese (broken into knobs), sour cream, and salt and pepper until well blended, then fold in the vegetables.

Place a tortilla on the counter and spread it with the cream cheese mixture, getting all the way up to the edges. Roll the tortilla as tightly as possible, then wrap it in cling film and refrigerate.

Note: commercial tortillas are thinner and easy to roll tightly. Home made tortillas are often thicker and slightly less flexible. This makes them harder to roll super-tight, but they taste better.

Chill the rolled tortillas for at least an hour, then unwrap them and use a serrated knife to slice them into bite sized roll-ups. These make a great, spicy hors d'oeuvre or a picnic snack. 

Nopalito-Roll-Ups-a-Tasty-Tortilla-Snack

Nopales-Tomato-Salad

Nopales-And-Scrambled-Eggs
 
Tyler Ludens
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People might not believe that cactus can die from lack of water, but they sure can.  Some of even our wild ones died during the bad drought.

The deer almost completely destroyed one of my patches of Spineless Prickly Pear and they're going after another big patch, so I transplanted a bunch of pads into my kitchen garden.  Eventually I hope to get more of the food forest fenced so I can move them into that space, though I'll probably keep a couple on the drier margins of the kitchen garden.

 
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Location: Northeast of Seattle, zone 8: temperate with rainy winters and dry summers.
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I'm trying to get these going in the Seattle, Washington area. I'm running into a problem with slugs. The slugs take a few bites out of a pad, and then the whole thing rots and dies. Maybe I need one of those varieties that is extremely spiny.
 
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Location: AndalucĂ­a, Spain
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Dies anybody know what to do about the fungus that is attacling the prickly pears in Spain? We have quite a few growing in our property line, and I would love to have some more as a fence. But they are dying from this fungus and I don't know what to do about it.
 
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Location: South-central Iowa
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Chadwick Holmes wrote:Pennsylvania is no place for the prickly pear.... But I am a huge fan of alliteration so I had to come say hats off to the thread name!



Oh contrare! There is at least 1 native species there and may be worth looking into.
But, yeah, great thread title: PPatPPPfPP!
 
Kirk Schonfeldt
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Location: South-central Iowa
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Jenna Ferresty wrote:Does anyone know how far north they will overwinter and produce fruit?



Improved fruiting varieties are limited to about 0F. Texas A&M-Kingsville has been gathering germplasm for hardy fruiting opuntias since the 80s and that's about the limit for "improved" fruiting varieties, but to my knowledge there's been little modern breeding work done and there are lots of possibilities. There are many, many species of opuntias including low-growing prairie opuntias that grow into at least southern Alberta, Canada (z3?). There are certainly wild varieties from colder climates like Colorado with fruits worth processing. There are some spineless-ish nopales-type varieties that are hardy to about -10F I've heard (and would love to get my hands onto for growing in my greenhouse). I do miss nopales.

Glad folks finally mentioned its use as livestock feed as well. Widely, widely used in TX during drought after the spines are flamed off. Cattle and goats both seem to relish it. If you live in a dry climate with minimal frost, maybe some of the more spineless types would make a good cut-and-carry forage crop planted outside your goat/cattle pens (assuming you want to avoid the added step of flaming off the spines).

One last use for prickly pears I didn't see mentioned yet is that the inside of the pads make a fantastic and healing sunburn gel, superior to aloe in my experience. It should be a fairly simple matter to produce a shelf-stable gel/salve from it. There are some commercially-produced ones. Really works amazingly well.

Cheers!
 
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