Loquats are one of the earliest fruits to ripen around here in the Springtime, usually around March and April, just before the first of the Baba Raspberries. Our Loquat tree is still pretty young, just having started its 4th year in the ground, but it was about 2 years old in a 1 gallon can when it came to live here. Although the tree is still small, we harvested many dozens of loquats this year, which was enough for us to enjoy without getting tired of them. The tree started bearing fruit two years ago, even though it was hardly 3 feet tall. When I first got it, it was a tiny little thing, maybe 12 to 18 inches taller than the lip of the nursery pot. Now, when it isn’t heavy with fruit, it is about 4 to 4 1/2 feet tall. For its size, the Big Jim is very productive and the fruit gets so heavy that the branches tend to bend downward as it ripens. Our chickens thought this was a great feature! The riper the fruit got, the more they could reach with a well aimed hop. Note: The seeds aren’t good for chickens, but they are also too big for my little bantams to bother trying to gobble.
The only down side of Loquats is they bruise easily and as result they are rarely found at the store or farmers’ markets. To be able to enjoy really good loquats, it is necessary to know someone with a tree or grow them yourself. And if you plan to grow your own, the tricky part is getting a tree with good quality fruit. Many local loquat trees are seed grown, leaving the size, texture, and flavor of the fruit unknown until years later. Be aware, some of the loquats sold at nurseries are seed grown, since they are very easy to germinate and hard to graft. Although some seed grown trees bare delicious fruit, but others are only mediocre to bland.
Since a fruit tree is a long term time investment before enjoying the first fruits, I chose to plant a proven named variety, rather than take a chance on a seed grown tree. I sampled the fruit of a number of different grafted varieties from other gardeners before settling on ours, “Big Jim.” I also like the flavor of Gold Nugget, but the size of the flesh of Big Jim was an added bonus.
“Big Jim” was originally propagated by a gentleman from San Diego, Jim Neitzel. Big Jim loquat tree has very large, roundish to oblong fruit, ranging in size from 1-1/4 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, more than double the size of some other varieties. Most of time each fruit has 2 to 4 smooth brown seeds; the more seeds, the bigger the fruit. The fruit is pale orange-yellow, with an easy to peel, slightly thick skin. The flavor is pretty sweet, with some acidity, a bit like an apricot, but slightly more complex.
Loquats are an ideal Southern California backyard fruit tree. They don’t mind less than perfect sun exposure, can handle drought, they don’t need chill hours like stone fruits, and they have few to no pest issues. Our tree only gets partial sun in the warm months and almost no sun in the winter time, being near the north side of our backyard block wall. It has been very forgiving of less than perfect conditions. One added benefit, Loquats are an attractive tree year round.
Orange Fleshed Varieties of Loquats:
- Big Jim
- Early Red
- Gold Nugget (Thales, Placentia)
- Mrs. Cooksey
- Herd’s Mammoth
- Victory (Chatsworth Victory)
- Vista White
For more info on growing Loquats or more info the other named varieties, visit the Loquat Fruit Facts page at California Rare Fruit Growers.