You know the type: you have avocado pits sprouting on the counter, watermelon seeds drying on paper towels, lemon seedlings sprouting on the bathroom windowsill…
Life is full of temptations for seed savers. Every fruit has a pit… Every nature hike has a must-have wildflower… Every trip to a botanical garden, you’re keeping your hands stuffed in your pockets so they don’t “accidentally” pinch a cutting.
But then, fall arrives… and you completely lose it.
Farm stands are loaded with amazing produce containing seeds! Yes seeeeeeeds, precious seeds! The grocery store is stocking winter squash varieties you’ve never seen before. That nice Mennonite family down the road has some crazy birdhouse gourds in a shape you haven’t seen before. There is amazing Indian corn for sale on the roadside. And you’re all over it.
My personal favorite finds are the pumpkin and winter squash, and this is most definitely the season.
The other day I screeched to a halt in our car after passing a roadside stand sporting the craziest pumpkin I’d ever seen for sale. After realizing we weren’t all going to die in a fiery crash, my wife grinned at me and said, “pumpkin?” I nodded and ran before someone else could snag it.
She’s used to this seed-saving madness. I’ve been doing it for so long that if I ever stopped, she’d know I was taken over by an alien space pod.
But I digress.
Since Halloween is almost here and a lot of us will be cutting open pumpkins, let’s cover how to save pumpkin seeds. If you’d like to grow next year’s jack-o’-lanterns yourself or if you’re the type that can’t help but bring home beautiful new varieties from the local farmer’s market, today’s post is for you.
Maria has questions about how long it takes a pawpaw tree to produce fruit from seed (note that she is asking about Asimina triloba, not the tropical “pawpaw” Carica papaya):
“I read with interest how to grow pawpaw from seeds. Nowhere is mentioned how long does it take to produce fruit. I live in southern Ontario and don’t know any place with pawpaw fruit, we never eat it either. Local nursery is selling a plant about 3 ft tall ($40), must be 2 to 3 years old. They told me it will take another 6 to 10 years to produce fruit. We may not be around in 10 years therefore I was reluctant to buy the plant. The plant is common pawpaw and they suggested to get another variety from somewhere else as 2 trees are need it. It’s disappointing that knowledge of such a big nursery is so limited to a fruit tree common to southern Ontario. Should I buy the plant and when it blooms (how many years?) try to cross pollinate as suggested in your article. Can I pollinate from bloom to bloom or I need another tree?”
Great questions, Maria.
So How Long Does it Take for a Seedling PawPaw Tree to Bear Fruit?
“Seedling trees take longer to come into production (5 – 7 years) than grafted trees (3 – 4 years).”
I have read in multiple locations that a seedling pawpaw will bear fruit in 4 – 8 years, which lines up pretty closely with Byers’ 5 – 7 years. 10 years would be quite long.
Grafted trees already think they’re a mature specimen, so if you want to take some of the time off your wait for fruit, plus take the guesswork out of what kind of fruit the tree will bear – buy a grafted tree. I enjoy growing pawpaws from seed, as I share in my popular how-to post here, but if you have a source for improved pawpaw tree varieties, go for it.
Getting Your PawPaw to Fruit Faster
As pawpaw trees usually start to bear fruit at around 6′ in height, if you want a pawpaw to fruit faster, take better care of it. This goes for most fruit trees. Regular water, feeding, mulching – these are what get them established and growing.
For pollination, you should really have two pawpaw trees. It’s even better to plant three as it gives you a little redundancy in case you lose one. Some pawpaw trees can pollinate themselves from pollen from one flower to the next on the same tree; however, you cannot count on this tendency.
You can hand-pollinate pawpaw trees. I have not done it myself as the local insects did a fine job for me. The California Rare Fruit Growers have a very good guide to growing pawpaws and in it they cover pollination:
“Poor pollination has always plagued the pawpaw in nature, and the problem has followed them into domestication. Pawpaw flowers are perfect, in that they have both male and female reproduction parts, but they are not self-pollinating. The flowers are also protogynaus, i.e., the female stigma matures and is no longer receptive when the male pollen is shed. In addition pawpaws are self-incompatible, requiring cross pollination from another unrelated pawpaw tree.Bees show no interest in pawpaw flowers. The task of pollenization is left to unenthusiastic species of flies and beetles. A better solution for the home gardener is to hand pollinate, using a small, soft artist’s brush to transfer pollen to the stigma. Pollen is ripe for gathering when the ball of anthers is brownish in color, loose and friable. Pollen grains should appear as small beige-colored particles on the brush hairs. The stigma is receptive when the tips of the pistils are green, glossy and sticky, and the anther ball is firm and greenish to light yellow in color.”
I had a Florida pawpaw variety (Asimina parviflora) bloom and set fruit at the young age of three, but that isn’t all that common for the common pawpaw.
If you want to “create your own luck,” get a few grafted trees, take great care of them and throw in a few more seedling trees at the same time. The trees don’t take up a lot of space and can fit in around larger trees such as oak and hickory due to their shade tolerance.
I apologize for the late post today. I had a paperwork issue that needed clearing up this morning, which led to me visiting a hardware store and getting some PVC for a sound isolation booth I’m building, which led to giving one of my farmer neighbors and a pile of produce a ride home after his car died at the end of my road.
Though I was irritated at having to deal with paperwork this morning, it ended up well. Because I helped out my farmer friend, he invited me to have a drink with him at his house. As we were sitting there, he asked if I knew what a couple packages of seeds were – and handed me two little envelopes of seeds he’d been sent. One read “pitanga,” the other, “jaboticaba.”
I’ve been looking for both of these species since moving here. I showed him what they were on my smart phone and told him to plant them fast as they may not keep long in this hot and humid climate. He said he would, then gave me one of each.
Which I brought home with much thanks and planted directly:
A couple of days ago I posted a tour of some of the pumpkins we have growing:
Lots of good things happening.
A strange thing I didn’t mention in the video, though: I’ve planted quite a few fresh Seminole pumpkin seeds and they’ve failed to germinate. Older seeds from local pumpkins germinate – but fresh seeds, right from the Seminole pumpkin, no. Or at a very poor rate.
Another strange thing: I had a Seminole pumpkin vine come up multiple months after I planted it in my garden. Seriously – I had gone on and planted other things, then in the spot where I had planted a few earlier in the year, up came a Seminole pumpkin. I think it germinated due to the rainy season. Very strange, though. I have ten hills I planted and only a couple of Seminole pumpkins have emerged.
Does anyone know anything about delayed germinating in pumpkin seeds? Perhaps a germination-inhibiting enzyme?
Have a wonderful Sunday. See you tomorrow.
* * *
The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the waters.
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, And righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek Your face. Selah
Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah
Retired Senior Chief asks “can you lend any advice on sprouting moringa seeds? I have about a 3% germination rate right now and very frustrated.”
Sprouting moringa seeds is really easy – you just need to know a few things first.
Fresh seeds are needed
Moringa seeds lose viability rapidly in storage.
Make sure you get fresh ones.
Also, it’s probably a good idea to wait until the pods brown on the tree before picking them. A pod picked green may not have finished maturing the seeds – let nature work, then harvest when mature.
Sprouting Moringa Seeds Like Warm Temperatures
Moringa seeds like it warm to hot. Sprouting moringa seeds in a cool winter or spring is a losing proposition. I found this out when I ran my plant nursery. I wanted to get a bunch of seedlings started early so I’d be ready for the early summer plant shows, so in February put a bunch of pots out in the nursery and planted them all with good moringa seed.
Nothing happened for a couple of months. Then, a few seedlings emerged. Most of the seed failed.
This made me get smart.
The next time I planted moringa, I started them in pots on top of a heat mat (like this one).
Even in February, they came up fine and grew well. 80 degree weather is good for germination… 60s and low 70s, not so much.
Watch the Water
Too much water can kill young moringa seeds and trees. Don’t soak them. Plant your seeds, water them well, then water them again when the soil almost dries out.
Sprouting seeds and young seedlings have a high tendency to rot. Overwatering seedlings will often kill them. The trees can take a lot of water once they get taller, but when the wood is still green – watch out.
Moringa seeds take a week or two to sprout. I believe sprouting moringa seeds right in a good-sized pot or in the ground will give you stronger trees than starting them in little trays, as the roots are quite vigorous and like to move downwards.
I’ve got two questions from a reader I’ll answer today today: gardening in shells and mango propagation. Let’s jump in!
“Hope you and your family feel much better since the car accident. It has finally rained today after weeks of drought, I hope it rains in the tropics soon too. I had questions about starting my own mango trees. What do you things is the easiest method to start from seed and can mangoes also be grown from cuttings? I am also planning on making a food forest with mango as the main large tree, the only problem is that that soil was infilled with shells to about a depth of two feet, what would be a easier method to grow trees in this substrate then digging it all up and replacing? The sediment that it produces is white and does not retain water and contain any organic matter. In the summer weeds grow all of the garden except for this area, and this area is the only area large enough to make a food forest as I have a small yard.”
Let’s attack mango propagation first:
Growing Mangoes from Seed
Mangoes are very easy to grow from seed.
Take seeds right from fresh fruit and don’t allow them to dry out. Plant them an inch or two deep in potting soil or compost and keep them watered. It usually takes about a month from them to germinate. Years ago when I started my first mango from seed, I read that if the pit sends up multiple sprouts, it will produce “true to type.” If it sends up a single shoot, it’s a wildcard.
Some sites recommend cutting open the husk of a mango seed and just planting the embryo. This may increase your germination rates but I haven’t found it necessary. If you do open it up, you can see whether it’s polyembryonic or monoembyronic, i.e. a multiple or single-shoot type. The polyembryonic seeds have multiple sections inside them.
If it’s a single-shoot seedling you get, don’t worry. It will likely give you fruit, but if you want a specific type of fruit, you’ll have to graft to make sure you get that.
“On our type of lime rock fill soils, with high pH, minor elements will become insoluble in water. This is of concern since unless something is dissolved in water, it cannot be absorbed by plant roots, even though it may be present in the soil in high levels. With the addition of organic matter such as composted plant materials, mulch or leaf litter, the soil pH can be lowered. Over time, the area with added organic matter can be fertilized with minor elements. The elements will stay soluble and plants will produce healthy vigorous growth and happiness for you.”
“I’m not familiar with mango trees, but I don’t think I would go to all the trouble of digging out substrate, unless you have access to heavy equipment and lots of good fill to replace it with. You would essentially be making a pot in the ground.”
“Early studies of tree roots from the 1930s, often working in easy-to-dig loess soils, presented an image of trees with deep roots and root architecture that mimicked the structure of the top of the tree. The idea of a deeply-rooted tree became embedded as the typical root system for all trees. Later work on urban trees that were planted in more compacted soils more often found very shallow, horizontal root systems. Urban foresters have successfully spent a lot of energy trying to make people understand that tree roots have a basically horizontal orientation, to the point that even many tree professionals now believe that deep roots in trees are a myth. The truth lies somewhere in between deep roots and shallow roots.”
I have read that gardeners in the Keys will hack holes right into the compacted lime rock and shell mix, fill with some soil, then plant. The trees survive and thrive.
I would make a hole a few times the size of the root ball, put in some local earth, then plant. Mulch, keep it watered, and see what happens. Trees are very resilient. If you don’t have rock beneath, the roots should find what they need. Watch for pH issues, though. If the leaves yellow, I recommend adding some sulfur as well.
You can also foliar feed with compost tea and/or a balanced fertilizer containing micronutrients. Steve Solomon recommended Dyna-Gro to me but I haven’t had the chance to try it yet.
Good luck and send me updates! I would love to hear how your mangoes grow.
I’m not picky when it comes to sources of soil fertility.
Sure, I could go the classic route and plant soybeans or peanuts, like farmers do, or I could go the grocery store and buy dry beans, peas and lentils, or…
…I could just go wander through the woods or even along the shoreline and pick up seeds from obvious nitrogen-fixing species.
Many, though not all, members of the bean and pea family, more properly known as Fabaceae, enjoy a special relationship with certain soil microbes which allows them to take nitrogen from the atmosphere – which is inaccessible to plants – and “fix” it into a form which plants can use.
The roots of the plant share sugars and water with the bacteria, and in return, the bacteria give the plant nitrogen. It’s a fantastic design and one the gardener can put to work in his garden.
Once you learn to spot members of the bean and pea family, it because easy to find them.
If you don’t feel like you’re very good at plant ID, the book Botany in a Day has a lot of photos which will get you spotting plant families in no time.
Though you’re not really going to learn botany in a single day – unless you’re some kind of a savant – Elpel does a nice job visually putting together plants into families and getting you going. You might not nail down a species right away, but you will be able to tell pretty certainly that the plant is in the hibiscus family or the soapberry family or, as concerns today’s post, the bean and pea family.
Nitrogen-fixing trees and plants are everywhere. In the case of the bay beans and Crotalaria I picked up at the beach, I know both of them fix nitrogen – and even if I didn’t know for sure, I could make a very good guess since they look like beans and are also nice and green in an area where they don’t have much right to look so chipper!
I’ll be planting these in rough areas and then later cutting them for use as compost while leaving the root systems in the ground. If you leave the roots instead of pulling them, you get more biomass in the soil and as the roots decay they’ll feed the next thing you plant.
Crotalaria isn’t edible (so far as I know) and the edibility of bay bean is disputable.
I have had multiple requests for updates on my grape pruning and on my seedling tree plantings. This morning I posted a video sharing how things are going.
The pigeon peas and corn have come up, though the corn germination is patchy. One of the coconut trees gave up the ghost, so I planted a new tree to replace it.
In a few minutes I’m going down the hill to pick some more pigeon peas and I’ll take the camera with me. It’s rained a lot the last few days and I’m sure there’s plenty down there I need to harvest.
Pigeon peas really are remarkable. I’ve seen them thriving in rough ground scattered with chunks of concrete, along roadsides, in patches of weeds and in areas with little water. Add to that the plant’s ability to fix nitrogen, fuel rocket stoves and put protein on the table and you have a great crop.
If you missed it, check out my recent survival plant profile on pigeon peas here.
The jackfruit seedling is looking good:
That is the remaining tree after I thinned the seedlings out. You can see me plant this jackfruit in this video:
That makes this seedling about 8 months old. We need to get it growing faster.
My video on germinating peach pits has garnered almost 30,000 views since I posted it back in July:
Since posting that instructional video, I have received multiple comments and emails from people thanking me for showing them how to grow their own peaches from seeds.
My friend Amanda, who is NOT obsessed with me at all, sent me these two pictures recently of her peach sprouting success:
Some years ago I discovered in some dusty corner of the internet that peach pits require cold stratification to germinate.
I put this knowledge to the test with great success, starting about 50 peach pits I found beneath an abandoned and squirrel-ravaged Tropic Beauty peach growing a few miles from my old place in North Florida.
I did this despite the fact that there are hordes of small-minded gardeners in the world who take great pleasure in lecturing everyone about the utter worthlessness of starting fruit trees from seed.
These people are wrong. And boring. And stupid. And they smell.
Here’s a video I did showing some of my seed-grown peach trees in fruit:
And here are two pictures of some of the delicious fruit I got as a result of germinating peach pits in my very own refrigerator:
In their SECOND year, my two seedling peach trees produced about five gallons of fruit. They continued to massively outproduce the grafted peach trees I planted before them, plus they grew with more vigor.
Today we’ll cover sprouting avocado pits the EASY way!
Though you are probably familiar with the “toothpicks and water” method of sprouting avocado pits, there is an easier way that seems to have a higher success rate.
The short of it? Plant them in pots!
The long of it? Well, watch my video on how to sprout avocado pits, then we’ll meet on the other side for a step-by-step. A couple of important things should happen in order to guarantee your avocado pits sprout.
Avocados, like many tropical trees, have seeds that are designed to hit the ground and grow. The pits are not designed like many cold-climate seeds which have an embryo sitting in suspended animation that can be saved on a shelf for a long time and then spring to life when planted.
No. These guys need to get into the ground fast, so it’s important to plant your avocados quickly or keep them damp until you can plant.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s do a step-by-step picture guide, breaking down the frames from the video.
Step 1: Open an Avocado and Take Out the Pit
This avocado grew out back of our current homestead. They are nice and large with rich buttery interiors. An excellent tree and well worth reproducing.
When I took out this pit it already had some small roots growing on it – all ready to go! I took it along with a half-dozen other pits outside to plant, which takes me to step two.
Step 2: Plant Your Avocado Pits in Potting Soil
There is a right side up on avocado pits. It’s the rounded side. Plant the flat side down since that’s where the roots will emerge. You could probably make a mistake and still have the tree come up fine, but I like to give my sprouting avocado pits every advantage.
A nice, loose potting mix is good but you can also easily germinate avocado pits directly planted in the ground – or, what seems to be even more successful, let them “accidentally” come up in your compost pile and transplant them.
Step 3: Water and Wait!
This is the hard part – waiting for the avocado pits to sprout.
They will, though. Keep them watered but not soggy in a nice sunny location. Then, one day…
When you sprout pits in water indoors, they then need to go through a “hardening off” period of adjustment to the harsher, brighter outdoor conditions or you can kill the young trees. When you instead sprout them in pots in full sun, you don’t have this issue. They’re ready to go.
How Long Does it Take for a Seedling Avocado To Bear Fruit?
Rachel took this picture a year ago and it’s even bigger now.
I wish I could pay that tree a visit again. Maybe when it fruits. The avocado I started it from had fruits as big as honeydew melons. It’s some sort of Thai avocado variety that was being grown passed around the local Thai community in South Florida. I’m excited to see this thing produce!
Common objections to growing avocado trees from seed are:
Trees don’t always come true from seed
It takes a long time for them to bear
Purchasing grafted trees will give you exactly the type you want
All of these objections are easy to answer.
Who cares? Maybe you’ll get something better!
So? Are you planning on dying soon?
What if you don’t want to spend money? And like experiments?
I really find the arguments against growing fruit trees from seed tiresome. The “common wisdom” on the subject is lame. Man has grown trees from seed, including avocados, for thousands of years. We have the varieties we have today because of gardeners like you and me who love to experiment and take joy in raising up good things from tiny seeds.