Capers are very low in calories and has 23 calories per 100g. They contain anti-oxidants, phytonutrients and vitamins A, K, niacin. Niacin helps lower your cholesterol.
How do they grow?
On a gentle ridge of Bunya Red Farm we had cultivated an area to plant our capers. The rich red soil is well drained with a pH of 6.4 – 6.8 across the paddock. Our first 150 capers were planted on mounds on 11th & 12th November 2011. As they went into the ground we added extra natural fertilizer. Each row was a different mixture, and one row had none at all. This was our test row, to see how our plants would manage on the existing nutrients in the soil alone. Experimenting with NatraMin Cal-S, Seamungus and alpaca poo, each were chosen for their benefits for soil and plant nutrition.
What are they?
Capers are the unopened flower bud of the caper plant (Scientific name: Capparis spinosa). The plant is a low growing, but well spread out bush. As ours have only been in the paddock for 15 months, the plants have not yet grown to the expected height of about 1 metre, or spread of about 3.5 – 4 metres. We are looking forward to getting closer to that size as each year progresses.
The caper plant comes from a Mediterranean climate. Here in the South Burnett, we experience cool winters (-4 degrees in 2012) and hot dry summers (we had high 30’s to low 40 degrees in December & January). All this rain is not in our normal weather pattern for summer. Fortunately our plants are holding up well in this prolonged wet summer. We have put down weed mat along the plant rows, covered it with lucerne mulch, and installed a drip irrigation system. Since January this year, rainfall has far exceeded the caper’s requirements.
As the caper bush grows, each season, the lower branches provide its own mulch cover on the ground. It also easily hides some of the buds that are to be picked. If the buds are not picked in time, they burst into flower. The flowers are beautiful, white petals with many long purple stamens. Each flower only lasts for 1 day.
The variety of caper bush we have are ‘spineless’ they do not have the spikes, or thorns on the bush. This definitely makes for easier picking. After the flower has been pollinated it sets an oblong caperberry which can be picked. If the caperberry is allowed to grow too large and round, it is bitter and not good for eating. The young shoots and leaves have also been eaten either fresh or preserved.
We started hand picking in October last year. Part of our daily routine during the season is to visit the ‘caper paddock’ – be it harvesting, by hand, checking for insects and caterpillars, or pulling the occasional weed, or just to enjoy the view and the fresh air. Normally we could pick until the end of March (as we did last year), however, this year’s continual wet and cooler temperatures have stopped picking already. This has limited our first season’s quantity of capers.
Once autumn weather has arrived in earnest, we will be mulching and feeding our caper plants in preparation for the much cooler winter temperatures. The plants are pruned right back to quite nearly the stump. The plants are dormant throughout the winter, allowing us to have a much needed break. Once the temperatures start to rise, and spring is in the air, the plants start to send out new shoots and branches ready for a new season ahead. It is also time to fertilise and check weed control measures are in place.