Papayas: Healthy and Easy to Grow.

I enjoy growing varieties of Papaya as they are fairly easy to grow and produce a lot of healthy fruit in a short period of time. Papayas make a colorful addition to salsa or smoothies, but the health benefit they provide make it a great fruit to add to a healthy diet.

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Papayas are a tropical fruit that originates in areas of Mexico and South America. They are now grown in all sub-tropical and tropical regions throughout the world. Because they thrive in periods of warm weather, areas with a tropical climate will grow better and more frequent crops of fruit. The fruit is eaten raw without the skin and is used in many products such as: jellies and jams, salads, desserts, drinks and even dried or candied.

There are many varieties of Papaya varying in fruit size, sweetness and color of the fruit and the growth rate and size of the plant. The main varieties grown n the U.S. are Red Lady an Maradol and various Solo varieties. Papayas are herbaceous and grow very straight with no branches, very large leaves and have no bark. When choosing varieties of seed, choose ones that are a ‘Solo’ variety, as they are monoecious(both male and female flowers) and will produce fruit. Male plants are only needed for pollination and will not produce fruit. The female flowers only produce, so the selection of a solo variety may be a better choice to ensure you get a fruit producing plant.papaya3Growing Tips

SoilThe soil is where it all begins, as well as, what sustains your plant as it grows so this is the most important step to consider. The soil should be rich and well draining with high organic content. The use of compost is probably one of the best things you can add to benefit your Papaya. I grow my Papayas on large mounded rows that I have amended with compost. Growing the plants on mounds allows for  good drainage, even in periods of heavy rain.

WaterThe next most important step is how much water to give your plants. Papayas have large soft leaves and evaporate a lot of water in warm weather, so they have above average water needs. Be careful not to over water, as this will lead to root rot ad why good draining soil is important. I use a micro drip irrigation line along my mounded rows. This allows me to conserve water and get the water to where I need it.

Sun LightAgain, the plants thrive in tropical climates, so full sun is where you should plant your Papayas. They love the heat and sun and if given these conditions will fruit almost year round in tropical climates. When planting also consider putting your plant in an area that is protected from winds, as they are a bit sensitive.

FertilizingThe Papaya is a heavy drinker and a heavy eater too. Be sure to regularly provide your plants with a good balanced fruit tree fertilizer. Again, compost is your best friend. I also use organic fertilizers like chicken manure(Black Hen brand, high in nitrogen) and then water my plants with Fish Emulsion.

Climate Papaya plants thrive in subtropical and tropical climates. Zone 10 to 11. They do not tolerate freezing temperatures and are damaged or killed if temperatures go below 32 degrees. They grow best in warmer months, so be careful not to plant seedlings in the fall when there is a threat of cold or frost. I like to plant my seeds in the spring.

Harvesting Generally, fruit is picked when there is 1/5 to 1/3 color change in the fruit. After picking, keep at room temperature to fully ripen. Ripe fruit will keep 4 to 7 days in the refrigerator.papaya2

Papayas have a tap root and do not like their roots disturbed, therefore, it is best to grow them from seed in the place where you want them. They are very fast growers, going from seed to fruit in under a year with some varieties maturing in as little as 6 months. If you do start the seeds in a container, be sure to transplant the seedlings before they get very big or the tap root will begin circling around the container and not properly grow once planted in the ground. It is best to transplant when seedlings form 2 to 3 true leaves.

I am currently growing some new varieties of Papayas that I grew from seed I got from Hawaii. I have Tainung #2, Solo Sunrise, Solo Sunset, Bella F1 Hybrid and Sun Gold F1 currently growing in the garden. Waimanalo Solo and Tropical Red are some other varieties that I have also grown with success. You can also try to dry and save seeds from store bought Papayas, however, seeds from locally grown Papayas will do better.

Papaya Smoothie Recipe:

  • 2 cups chopped peeled seeded papaya
  • 1 cup chilled pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup milk or yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sliced banana
  • 4 ice cubes
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Are all Mangoes created equal? Try some of the many varieties and experience the variations in flavor, sweetness and texture.

I was walking through the gardens today and noticed some of the first flower panicles forming on the terminal ends of the mango branches. It won’t be long and the bees will be hard at work pollinating for this years crop. Lets hope for a dry winter season because bees do not like wet conditions, thus leading to reduced yields.

Mango tree in bloom.

Mango tree in bloom.

With over a thousand varieties of mangoes in the world, not all of them taste the same or offer the same quality. Try some of the many varieties available at your local markets and experience for yourself the varying levels of sweetness and fiber content. Even though so many varieties exist, don’t count on your local supermarket offering much variety. The ‘Tommy Adkins’ variety of mango is most commonly found in markets because it ships well, however, they are often picked too soon in order to be shipped around the country. Picking a mango too soon doesn’t allow for all the sugar and starches to flow into the fruit, thus leading to a sub par taste. Do yourself a favor this mango season and try some new varieties from your local growers and farmers markets.

Baileys MArvel mango harvest.

Baileys Marvel mango harvest.

Glenn, Haden, Valencia Pride, Southern Blush ad Baileys Marvel

Glenn, Haden, Valencia Pride, Southern Blush and Baileys Marvel

Give these a try:

  • KentGrown in Florida, has a deep orange flesh, flavor is very sweet and rich. A larger mango up to two pounds.
  • Keitt Another popular Florida grown mango that is available later in the season. It’s flavor has the taste of peach and vanilla, hints of lime, coconut and berries.
  • Baileys Marvel This mango is firm, has no fiber and has a tangy and sweet flavor. Fruits are 1 to 2 pounds with a peachy blush color. Early to mid-season.
  • Valencia Pride This is one of the more popular mango varieties sold in Florida. The flavor is sweet, aromatic, firm and has no fiber. Never a bad choice.
  • Haden This is one of the first mango cultivars selected in Florida. Haden is a beautifully colored mango with a full sweet flavor. Early season variety.
  • Glenn This variety is a seedling of Haden and is also a Florida favorite. He flavor is slightly peachy and very sweet. Most popular early season mango.
  • Nam Doc Mai This is a delicious variety introduced to Florida from Thailand. It is one of the most desired varieties of Asian mangoes. The fruit is firm, aromatic, has no fiber and is very sweet. June to July.
  • Edward This variety has no fiber, is very sweet and aromatic. It is considered to be one of the finer tasting varieties of Florida mangoes. Golden yellow in color with a reddish blush. June to July.

    Time to pick the mangoes.

    Time to pick the mangoes.

For those of you with limited space or perhaps just a terrace consider trying varieties known as ‘condo mangoes’. These are varieties that have a compact growth habit and with selective pruning can be maintained at 6 to 10 feet. Some of these varieties can even be grown in a container. I have successfully grown and harvested a variety called Ice Cream in a large pot. Pickering, Fairchild and Cogshall are several other varieties suitable for small spaces.

Recipes:

Mango Smoothie

  • 1 large mango(optional add 1 banana)
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 6 ice cubes

Blend until smooth.

 Mango Salsa

  • 1 mango peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup red pepper chopped
  • ¼ cup sweet onion chopped
  • Cilantro chopped to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp diced jalapeno
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in bowl, chill and serve with tortilla chips or as an accompaniment on fish.

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Create and grow lettuce in a hydroponic system using worm casting tea.

    What exactly is hydroponics you ask? Hydroponics is a method of gardening and growing plants in a mineral nutrient solution, in water, without a soil medium. We are using a worm tea solution created by floating large tea bags filled with a worm casting media in water which is then pumped through a series of tubes. The plants are placed in the tubes, as the roots hang in the solution they absorb nutrients from the solution.  Hydroponics is a great way to produce edible crops, reduce pest and disease problems, reduce the need for expensive fertilizers, as well as, speeding up crop production. Worm Castings are one of the best organic fertilizers that easily dissolve in a water solution.

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Worm castings or worm manure is the end result of the breakdown of organic matter by earthworms. The final product is humus like and contains nutrients and trace elements that are in a simple form. This allows the roots of the plant to quickly and easily absorb and use the nutrients. The digestive process of the earthworm also adds beneficial bacteria and microbes to the soil. The castings can be used in any concentration without fear of burning your plants. This nutrient rich process speeds up production and allows us to turn a crop of lettuce in just 30 days. Because the solution is made from a soil like substance and contains trace elements and minerals, we get a product that has a much better flavor than conventional hydroponic solutions.worm-castings

  The system is very easy to build and can be customized to various sizes. We have one system that fills an entire greenhouse. The pipe is simply six-inch PVC sewer pipe that we evenly drill holes to accommodate 3 inch slotted hydro pots. We grow the lettuce plugs in trays ahead of time then place a plug into each hydro pot. The worm tea solution can be kept in any vessel that will hold water. We used a 32 gallon covered plastic tote in order to easily access the submersible circulating pump and to replenish the worm tea bag.

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The addition of a bubbler or air stone is recommended to provide aeration and oxygen to the solution to benefit the growth of beneficial microorganisms. You can also add a tablespoon of molasses to provide food for the beneficial organisms. The addition of an aquarium heater may be necessary in colder climates, as the beneficial bacteria grows best in solutions with temperatures between 70 to 80 degrees. This modification along with the addition of a poly tunnel or cold frame may allow you to grow and harvest year round.

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For additional information and facts on worm castings please visit our friend the Worm Guy at: http://www.banddorganics.com/

hydroponic

A Gardeners Christmas: Organic inspired decorations for your tree.

This Christmas consider trying some organically inspired decorating options for the garden lover in you. They can offer some cost saving choices and bring a natural feel to your holiday tree.

organic-ornamenttillandsia-ornament3

Tillandsias, also known as air plants, are a type of bromeliad that grow in trees without the need of soil. Just dip them in water once or twice a week as needed and they are good to go. We use them on our trees placed inside glass ball ornaments accented with various types of mosses, raffia, etc. It creates a beautiful display that catches the light and showcases your tillandsia.

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A tree just isn’t complete without some garland weaved through the branches. We used pieces of driftwood strung together on narrow gauge wire or twine. You could also string together strands of nuts, seed pods or pine cones too.  You may also want to try grapevine or raffia garland options too.

driftwood-garlandPineConeGarland

There are a wide variety of natural and organic options for you to use to create your overall ‘natural’ theme. Be creative, some of your materials won’t cost a thing and can be collected around the yard, local park or the beach. A naturally decorated tree is a great sustainable option to conventional store-bought items. This is a great way to get the kids and family involved, perhaps a school classroom project or a community project at a local center. Whatever you decide, a natural and organically inspired Christmas tree can still give a beautiful presentation.

photo (2)acorn-cap-ornaments                                                                                    Acorn Cap Ornament

Edible Landscaping: Using edibles to get more from your yard.

A beautiful landscape does not have to consist of just ornamental plants and trees. You can incorporate edibles into your planting beds and containers and still present an appealing look. The bonus, having fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs at your disposal.The benefits are numerous, but one of the best things is the simple healthy nature of having edibles at your door step. The vegetables and herbs will be fresher and you will use only what you need, so you won’t waste by buying a larger amount of an item needed for a recipe. It is great exercise, gets you and your family outside which promote a healthier lifestyle. Being in the garden is also a great stress reliever and doesn’t cost a thing. You are also reducing your impact on the environment. The average mouthful of food travels over 1300 miles, so growing some of your own reduces our impact.

Fruit trees are a great way to introduce edibles into your yard. They represent the foundation of your landscape design, so take the time to plan where you will place them. Make sure to research so you understand how much room is needed, select a variety that thrives in your climate and does not need excessive care.

The next area of your edible landscape would be adding some edible shrubs and bushes. Again, researching varieties ahead of time will help you avoid problems and failures in the future. I have seen blueberry bushes used nicely as a hedge or perhaps a rosemary bush to add an herbal option.

Another garden area you will probably address also presents the biggest number of possibilities. Accent plants are the ones we use to add a splash of color, introduce some texture or just fill in a hole in the garden. Edible flowers like Nasturtiums or Calendula are a great way to add color and filler to a planting bed. Using an array of herbs will add texture to the garden, as well as, providing you with a selection of herbs for cooking. You can also use vegetables to add color texture to your garden. Kale, Swiss Chard, Lettuces and Mustards are great edible options that look great too.

Nasturtiums make a great addition to salads.
Nasturtiums make a great addition to salads.

Another area to consider is adding containers to your design. There are many varieties of plants and vegetables that can be grown in a planter. There are bush zucchini and cucumbers, patio tomatoes or maybe a pepper plant or two. Herbs are also a great option for growing in containers.

Containers are a great way to grow edibles in the landscape.
Containers are a great way to grow edibles in the landscape.

One area that shouldn’t be overlooked or forgotten is the vertical space in your garden. Take advantage of fences, use trellises or maybe even create hanging planters too. A lot of varieties of fruits and vegetables do well growing in this manner. Try grapes or raspberries on a fence, grow some pole beans or cucumbers up a trellis or maybe some hanging baskets with strawberries.

Consider growing vertically in your garden.

Consider growing vertically in your garden.

The options are endless and only require your thought and creativity. Adding more edibles to your home landscape is a great way to improve diet and get you outside and into the garden. Get into the garden and get your hands dirty!