A Dragon’s Hoard

A person lifts three dragon fruit out of a wheelbarrow full of them

Dragon fruit are known for their brightly coloured skins and interesting flesh, but they also make a great addition to baked goods. Gary and Suzanne Lee from Lee’s Dragonfruit Plantation tell us more about this vibrant fruit.

Tell us about Lee’s Dragonfruit Plantation.

We started growing dragon fruit (or pitaya/pitahaya as they are also known) as a hobby, after a family holiday to Vietnam. We ate dragon fruit for the first time over there and at that stage had never heard of them before. After researching what they were and finding that they grew on a cactus, we were very interested in them.
We grow dragon fruit for fruit sale locally and at state markets. We also have an online store selling cuttings to all non-restricted states in Australia. We are also expanding into guava, jackfruit, finger limes, and passionfruit.

For the uninitiated, what is a dragon fruit?

Dragon fruit are a sub-tropical climbing cactus vine which produces an amazing flower and fruit. The name ‘dragon fruit’ comes from the look of the fruit, which has a scale-like outer appearance. The flesh of the fruit comes in a huge range of colours. The flesh is similar to a kiwi fruit.

How many different varieties of dragon fruit are there? And are they really all that different?

We have collected around 85 different types of dragon fruit to date and are still trying to source more as they become available. The plants range in size and shape—they have small to large cross sections and can be straight or twisted. The fruit all have subtle differences in flavour with citrus, apple, berry, and coconut tones. Flavour is more related to each person’s individual tastes. The fruit all have subtle differences in flavour with citrus, apple, berry, and coconut tones. Flavour is more related to each person’s individual tastes.

How much fruit do you produce?

Lee’s Dragonfruit Plantation is still expanding and growing in size. We currently have around 3,000 dragon fruit plants and will put another 400 plants in very soon. As we have planted our dragon fruit in stages across the farm, not all are in full production, and we are unsure as to the total amount of fruit we will eventually produce. We have steadily increased our output of fruit to market and will continue to do so as the farm grows and the plants mature.

What are the challenges of growing dragon fruit?

Growing dragon fruit is a very labour-intensive job. We first have to put in infrastructure for them to grow on. We use concrete posts and have installed around 1,100 to date. They can also be grown on a trellis system, fencing, stumps, or trees. Planting is done via cuttings removed from adult plants. We generally plant 3–4 cuttings per post. As the plants grow and climb the posts, they need to be trained and have excess branches removed.
As dragon fruit are a sub-tropical plant, they require a reasonable amount of water and food. We are constantly watering and fertilising in an attempt to get the most out of our plants.
Pest control is another hurdle we are constantly working on. Fungus, bugs, birds, and of all things red foxes all need keeping out. Netting is one example we us. Unfortunately, there is a lot of work involved in the initial setup, but once all the infrastructure has been put in place, it’s not too bad putting netting up and removing it seasonally.

Where does your produce go?

We send most of our top-quality fruit to state markets in the eastern states. Seconds are sold locally from the farm or town markets. We are dabbling in drying and pulping fruit to use as much product as we can.

When are dragon fruit harvested? What does this involve?

Our fruiting season generally runs from December to around May. We can get fruit a little earlier and extend a little later depending on conditions. Here in Central Queensland, our season is a little longer than in the southern states, which is good for sales at state markets that have a lack of supplies at those periods. We pick the fruit by hand.

What are the best ways to use/eat dragon fruit?

Fruit are best eaten chilled either cut in half to scoop the flesh out with a spoon or cut into quarters, with the skin peeled off, and eaten. The fruit can be pulped and used in smoothies, jams, cakes, and drinks or used to garnish the tops of cakes and tarts. The fruit can be dried like apricots to be eaten later.

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