Grow papaya in North Florida

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Want to know how to grow papaya in north Florida? It can be done if you know the right tricks.

I’ve been told it’s “impossible” to do in North Florida’s climate, but nevertheless, in the fall, we usually eat papaya for breakfast on a regular basis.

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Homegrown North Florida papaya!

They’re really good. Someone came over the other day and remarked “What – you have papaya? Too bad you can’t grow those here!”

They were serious!

I was growing papaya – and am growing them – and will be growing them in the future!

So, today’s post is for those of you that think growing papaya in North Florida is impossible. Ready? Here we go!

How To Grow Papaya In North Florida Without Getting Really Sad Because The Frost Killed All Your Precious Plants And Left You With Nothing To Harvest

 

Catchy title, right? I think eHow would love it.

Here’s how to grow papaya in North Florida. Papaya, as you know, is a tropical fruit. It’s not a real tree – it’s actually just a big fleshy plant that develops a woody stem over time.

If it gets cold, the tree will rapidly wilt and suffer. A hard freeze that lasts any period of time will kill a papaya tree right to the ground.

PapayaMeltedLoResThe trees above were whacked by a frost despite being wrapped in Christmas lights and planted pretty close to a south-facing wall.

Fortunately, papaya trees grow very quickly and bear fruit rapidly, even from seed. If you want to eat papaya, you need to start your trees one year in pots, then plant them out in the spring of the next year.

If you started papayas from seed right now, they’d probably grow to be a foot or more tall by the time it gets chilly and their growth stops. When it freezes, they die, of course, so if you start them in pots, bring them in on cold nights or pop them into a greenhouse.

In spring when all danger of frost has passed, plant your papaya trees in rich soil in a somewhat sheltered location. Against a south wall is great – just plant them closer than the trees in the image above. RIGHT AGAINST the wall is good. Growing dwarf varieties of papaya will also make them easier to protect; however, even if you plant your little trees out in the garden in spring, with lots of water and good compost (plant them on top of something horrid and nitrogenous, as I explain in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting), they’re going to fruit. It’s also important to plant at least a few papaya for the sake of pollination.

In a rich garden bed, they’ll grow like gangbusters in the heat and start bearing fruit by late summer. By fall, that fruit will be ripening. If a frost threatens, pick the fruit and bring it indoors to ripen – or cover the trees with blankets and pray over them.

Another method is just to grow the papaya trees in big pots and haul them into your greenhouse for the winter. They’ll keep producing for a few years this way.

Growing papaya in North Florida may not be the most efficient way to spend your gardening time, but the flavor of ripe papaya along with their health benefits makes them a great addition to your homestead.

If you end up with a bunch of green papayas right before a frost and they’re too green to eat, check out the green papaya recipes I posted.

Anyone else growing papaya in North Florida?

David-the-good-books-revised

Definitely a mild winter here

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I’ve never gotten a fresh papaya at this time of year before.

Normally, I have to plant seeds in pots in the spring, let the trees get big, move them to the greenhouse, then late the next year I get ripe papaya. Or… I just have to wait until the trees along my south wall grow back from their roots and bloom again.

This year, some of the trees didn’t freeze like they’ve done every other year.

Oh elusive global warming… please be true!

Pretty please with CO2 on top?

David-the-good-books-revised

Growing Papaya in North Florida

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growing papaya in north florida

North Florida papaya!

Growing papaya in North Florida?!? No way!

And yet I am, indeed, growing them in North Central Florida. It just takes some work to pull it off.

My first year’s experiment was less than successful, but I’ve already gotten at least 8 fruits off this year’s attempt.

In order to grow papaya here, I start the seeds in spring, get the tree to about 4-6′ tall in a pot, then plant out the next spring by the south wall.

I really, really like papaya. So much so that I’m thinking of building a greenhouse for just them. Obsessive? Perhaps. But there’s a part of me that longs for the tropics… and papaya are a tangible emblem of that mystical realm.

The ones we’ve harvested thus far have been very delicious – it’s hard to share them with the children, but I do. Because I’m a Really Good Dad.

We got hit with a frost last week but it wasn’t enough to hurt my trees much. The south wall of my house and a blanket thrown over the top of the nicest of my trees was enough… so far.

Of course, the worst of winter is yet to come. Stay tuned. I’m sure photos of melted trees will be posted here soon enough.

UPDATE: If you do get hit with frost before your papaya ripen, here’s a list of green papaya recipes.

David-the-good-books-revised

Gardening Microclimates

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The elusive microclimate. I’ve stalked it for years.

As winter creeps closer, I’ll soon be preparing my cassava and other tropical plants so they can carry on into next season.

Two years ago I planted out a half-dozen small papaya trees in the summer, interspersing them around the yard. When a solid freeze came, however, they melted into papaya-tree slush.

A few papayas were kept in pots on my south-facing porch – those survived. I planted them along the south wall of my house in the spring and they reached about 10′ tall and bore me some fruit before the chill stopped their growth… and the frost lopped off their tops. After it hit, they looked like this:

gardening microclimate

This microclimate wasn’t quite good enough for these papaya.

In the spring they came back from their bases and the one on the right is setting small fruit again. It’s likely too late to be much good, though.

This spring, after surveying the damage, I planted more papayas against the wall – this time right next to the concrete. Those are now bearing large fruit and will likely give me something before their decapitation by cold. It’s better than nothing. I need a smaller cultivar so I can manage to protect the plants better.

There are different ways to “zone push” and grow things where they won’t normally survive. Rocks and water are used by Sepp Holzer to grow cold-sensitive crops in the Alps. Both hold heat and moderate harsh temperatures thanks to their thermal mass.

Last year I created two passive heaters for one of my small guava trees – a pair of large gin bottles filled with water and painted black. I placed them, along with a ring of stones, beneath the 2’ canopy of the recently-planted tree, hoping to keep it just a little warmer during the upcoming freezes. The poor bugger froze to the ground anyhow. The coldness of the vacuum above is hard to beat. Nothing kills plants like a wide-open sky on a freezing night. The heat is sucked away into the void, gin-bottles or no.

Other ways of fighting the cold include mounds, warm compost piles, south-facing walls, pavement, tree canopies and windbreaks. All I need is one more zone, then I’ll stop. Just one more zone…

A helpful article is here:

http://www.gardenguides.com/582-combat-zone-envy-make-microclimates.html

UPDATE 2015: I’ve figured out my gardening microclimates – it works!!!

David-the-good-books-revised

Growing Trees from Seed

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growing trees from seed

Baby calamondin trees reaching for the light.

Growing trees from seed and watching them shoot for the sky is one of the most satisfying projects a gardener can undertake.

If you’ve already planted a good set of trees in your orchard or food forest, why not start filling in the edges with your own seedlings?

Sure… growing trees from seed takes “forever.” But the satisfaction of growing trees from seed is unbeatable. I have 4′ key lime trees out back that my daughter and I started from seed.

I just put them in a corner of my garden area and water as needed. And they grow… grow… grow.

This spring we started pecans from seed and planted a few out in the yard. We’ve done the same with loquats, pomegranates, peaches, various nitrogen-fixing trees, papaya, a plethora of citrus and even avocado and mangoes (which we keep in large pots to overwinter in the greenhouse.) Right now I’m attempting to germinate some American persimmon seeds. They’re sitting in a little flat of potting soil, exposed to the elements. This should give them the winter chill they need over upcoming months and send them through the earth sometime in the spring. If they fail… I’m out a few minutes planting time and the moments spent gathering overripe persimmons from the ground and squishing the seeds out. If they succeed, future generations can share in my success.

The cost of starting trees from seed is almost zero. And if you’re always planting the seeds from the fruit and nuts that come through your kitchen, the gradual result is that over time you have lots and lots of young trees you can plant out and share with others.

Plugging a few into vacant lots around your neighborhood isn’t a bad idea either. What’s the loss? 2 minutes of planting time?

Try starting a few. It’s addicting.

UPDATE: Check out my big post on growing trees from seed!

David-the-good-books-revised

A Healthy Mess

LovelyMess

Cannas, candlestick cassia, malanga, papaya, lemongrass, irises, roses, wormwood, Graham’s cassava and ginger living together in harmony.

This is what a bit of tweaked nature looks like.

I do nothing but pull the occasional interloper out of here… and sometimes hack back the plants so the sun gets through a bit.. and sometimes throw down a little extra mulch.

Half of these are edible or useful in some way, and the others are edible.

Got a space sitting unused?

Start packing cuttings, seeds and starts into it and let ’em run wild. Anything is better than empty grass… and a mini food forest beats all.

David-the-good-books-revised