How to Grow Quince, Greece’s Fruit of the Gods, in your garden
When the quince made its way west from south Asia and the Caucasus into Ancient Greece, the fruit quickly took to the soils of Cydonia, a town in northern Crete now known as Chania. This is a region that became famous in the ancient world for the production of the finest quinces. Known as “kodymalon” back then, this hard, yellow fruit is scientifically the Cydonia oblonga, so-named for its new Greek home.
The ancient Greeks made good use of them, both in savory and sweet dishes. Raw, it can be bitter or sour, but once cooked it becomes divinely sweet – a taste profile that very much symbolizes its place in Greek mythology and legend.
Though you may have never before heard of the bright, golden-yellow, pear-shaped quince, it’s a nutritious fruit that you’ll want to add to your next healthy grocery list.
At first glance, the quince can often pass as a larger version of its cousin the pear. But it becomes a bright golden yellow as it matures – hence, it’s a longstanding nickname, “the golden apple.”
The quince is very adaptable. It grows well in a range of conditions, from the cooler parts of subtropical regions to cool temperate regions.
Coastal, tablelands, and inland districts of New South Wales can produce good quinces. However, a disease called ‘fleck’ becomes more of a problem under moist coastal conditions. The tree needs some winter chilling for good fruit production. Under dry, warm to hot inland conditions, irrigation will be required to produce good crops.
Quinces will usually propagate readily from hardwood cuttings of selected varieties, although cuttings from some varieties will not root easily (e.g. Champion). The cuttings should be about 25 cm long and taken during the late autumn–early winter period (no later than the end of June). This is the most convenient method of propagation, but the disadvantage is that resultant trees tend to produce suckers, which need to be periodically removed.
The Angers’s clonal quince selection, Quince A, can be used as a rootstock for the various quince varieties. By budding the selected varieties onto this rootstock, the trees will bear a little earlier after planting out and, when fully grown, will be smaller than those established on their own roots or seedling rootstocks.
Quince seedlings are satisfactory as rootstocks for budding and have the advantage that such trees produced do not sucker. Where seedlings are to be used, the quince seed is extracted from mature fruit, cleaned, stratified in the sand, and stored in a cool place or held moist in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until planting out in late winter – early spring. If the seedlings are well grown, they will be large enough to bud with the desired varieties during the following late summer autumn.
Trees on seedling rootstock should produce some fruit by about the fifth year. Those from cuttings will fruit sooner.
Planting is best done during the latter part of June or early July when trees are completely dormant. Planting techniques and post-planting care are the same as for most other deciduous fruit trees.
A suggested planting distance is 5 × 2.5–3 meters, which will require some 667–800 trees per hectare. Where seedling rootstock has been used, especially where soils are deep and fertile, the trees can be expected to grow larger and a planting distance of 6 × 4.5 meters should be used, giving about 370 trees per hectare.
All quince varieties have sensitive skin and are liable to superficial blemishes, especially if grown unprotected from the wind.
Harvesting and marketing
With most varieties, as the fruit approaches maturity, the deep green of immaturity gradually lightens and passes through various color changes until the yellow gold of full maturity is reached.
Despite its apparent firmness, the fruit will bruise and the skin will easily become marked by handling. Ideally, fruit for the fresh market should be harvested and handled when some color signaling approaching maturity is apparent, but before it is fully mature. Because of the limited fresh fruit market for quinces, some of the larger growers begin marketing as soon as the fruit is fully developed but still fairly green. This extends the marketing period.
By growing a range of varieties with differing maturity dates, the harvesting period may extend over a period of 2 months.
In warm to hot districts, harvesting may commence as early as mid-February extending to April. On the cooler tablelands, fruit is usually not ready until towards the end of March.
When picking, long pieces of the stem should be removed so that they will not cause skin damage to other fruits.