This week I found myself in Terre Haute, Indiana, and was able to score a tour of Jerry Lehman’s persimmon and pawpaw orchard. I took some pictures for the rest of you. They’re not great, but they’re a lot easier to get at.
I knew of Jerry for his American persimmon work, but he does just as much with pawpaws these days, and he seems to love the chance to show people around, so try to connect with him if you’re in the area. There’s even a guest book to sign.
He gets around the property on a golf cart. There is row after row of trees, and then when you think you’re done, you cross into a whole other section of even more. You can see his house off to the right there.
Jerry explained his naming scheme to me. The pawpaw named 275-56? That tree is located in the row 275 feet from his property line, and is the 56th tree (spaced 5 feet apart). The idea is that, when he is long gone and somebody is trying to recover cultivars a century in the future, they will still be able to locate everything.
The pawpaws are just starting to bloom now. The top flower is in male mode, and the bottom is female. They start female then turn male.
He doesn’t spray at all, but he does fertilize, mostly with aged composted wood chips. He does that by tilling it into the soil in between rows.
He had a number of Cold War era stories about agricultural exchanges with Soviet Russia. In the distance, you can see two plums he got from there, to trial them here. Alas, they are smaller and get the same diseases, so he didn’t see much market for them.
Here’s Jerry showing off his modified orchard ladder. With the wheels on it, it’s easy to move where he needs it (ie: he doesn’t have to bug his wife to help him).
I tried to use it to get somewhat more aerial shots. Not sure it worked that well, but here you go anyway:
Jerry talked at length about the days when Rosseyanka was still a rumor, and suspected to just be Soviet propaganda (even Luther Burbank failed to cross Am. and Asian persimmons!). He was the first to finally get his hands on some scion wood and bring it to the US. He’s got a row of Rosseyanka descendants, but has been mostly unimpressed with them so far. Still, he’s optimistic about the potential, since Rosey seems to cross readily with either species. Also, it’s the only “Asian” persimmon he can grow that far north.
Pictured here is a pawpaw interspecies hybrid (triloba x incana). He’s got several of these. The flowers are larger than triloba, start off green, and then turn much redder. The fruit? “Not worth eating.” He thinks it may still have landscape potential.
Tucked away in the back is an area fenced off from deer, which holds miscellaneous other fruits that have been specially imported.
The tree in the middle here is the original Deer Magnet. I asked if it’s just for wildlife, or still good eats. It is fine for eating. Deer Magnet and Deer Candy are so named because they seem to be preferred above all the other trees in the orchard by the deer, who will keep checking back in winter to see if there are still any fruit around.
That’s all my pictures. In harvest season he puts straw under the persimmons to prevent them from splatting when they fall, which saves enough fruit to pay for itself. He has no problem selling his whole crop, and brewers in particular seem to be interested in pawpaws.
No pest problems to speak of. The only “disease” he’s dealing with is Persimmon Leaf Drop (which he named), where they drop all their still-green leaves shortly after flowering. He originally thought this was due to poor water drainage, devised and experiment to prove it, and ended up proving that it wasn’t that. Now he thinks it’s a matter of low nitrogen.
Stop by there if you ever get the chance!