Picking Mangoes in South Florida isn’t Like You Think



See those fruits? In case you grew up in a blighted Yankee hellhole (spits) and don’t know what those are, those are mangoes.

They are one of the most incredible and delicious fruits on the planet. If you live in an aforementioned Yankee state and have bought them in a grocery store, you don’t know what they taste like. They’re terrible from the grocery. Sweet-sour with a turpentine undertone.

Those are not the mangoes we have in Florida. The mangoes in Florida, or more specifically SOUTH Florida, are rich, sweet, tropical, bursting with flavor and absolutely addicting.

A Master Gardener in North Florida once told me that they loved the oak woods in North Florida and really thought South Florida was sad because they didn’t have towering oaks.

I responded, “Oaks? In South Florida, the MANGO TREES are the size of oaks!”


Giant mango trees


Those are 50-60′ mango trees. They are absolutely incredible.

These particular trees are growing at my in-laws’ house. Long ago, a man planted a small orchard of mango trees in his yard… then sold the house to my mother-and-father-in-law, and the trees just kept on growing… and growing… and growing.

Picking mangoes (from trees this size) takes some serious work. Here’s my father-in-law taking a few down:

That’s a massive telescoping pole used to change fuses on transformers. It’s a serious fiberglass tool with a hook on the end. A mango hook!

The trick is to catch the falling fruits… or eat them quickly if they smash into the ground.

I admit: I did badly at catching the fruits the day I took these pictures. The tropical sun was high in the sky and as they fell they bounced all around the branches unpredictably. I was also a little concerned about getting brained.

But, in the end, we picked buckets of mangoes, God’s gift to Floridians.

Though mangoes can’t take the winters where I live, I do get to visit the trees down south now and again. I’ll take that… especially when I get to eat their fruit.

Thanks, Dad!

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A beautiful pond apple

pond apple

When I was a kid growing up in South Florida I had no idea how blessed I was to be in the tropics.

I knew a few edible plants (I started gardening when I was six) but they were generally common things like coconuts, apples, spinach, radishes, beans, etc. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized there were a lot of delicious (and sometimes less delicious) wild edibles… and by that time I had moved out of the tropical paradise that birthed my gardening career.

The fruit above is a pond apple. Now that I’m much more sophisticated in my plant-spotting skills, I regularly see edible plants in the woods and on the roadsides that once would have passed me by unnoticed.

I admit: I haven’t eaten a pond apple yet since the ones I spotted along a canal (and picked the fruit above from) were not quite ready. Some reports say they’re good; others say they’re not.

They can’t grow up here in North/Central Florida, unfortunately, so I’m going to have to try and catch the season right with my next trip so I can try some. They are ALL OVER the place down south in wet places.

Pond apples are a cousin of the very tasty soursop fruit, among other edible relatives. The trees are short and attractive but will not grow in dry areas. If your backyard is a tropical swamp, this plant is for you.

One of these days I’ll get to eat one. One of these goldurn pond-appley Florida days.

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The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: June 2015 Video Update!


I was just down in Ft. Lauderdale and filmed another update on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project:

It’s coming along, though the dry weather has given some of the plants a beating. Later this year after the rains kick in things are going to look a lot better.

Growing a South Florida food forest is really, really easy. Need some food forest inspiration? Pick up a copy of my book!

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The Great South Florida Food Forest Project Update, May 2015: Yet more to see!

south florida food forest

A beautifully messy South Florida food forest.

One of the interesting things about creating a food forest and then not visiting it for over a year is that you get to see it progress or devolve in jumps.

Yesterday I mentioned that some of the trees and plants we added are now deceased – and we also saw many of the interesting “weeds” that have popped up to fill in the herbaceous layer.

That’s the way a forest works. If you don’t fill in all the gaps in your food forest, something else will. As you can see in the image above, there’s a lot going on in the understory layers – most of which is not edible. My chaya is looking good though the cassava is not happy… and they’re surrounded by some weird neighbors. Ferns, Spanish needle, green and purple wandering Jew, Mother-in-law tongues, Surinam daisies… it’s quite a pretty mess. You could probably start an ornamental nursery with the cuttings from this patch of un-mown jungle.

To the left of the main food forest is the perennial salad garden I created a couple of years ago. The survivors there include a thriving katuk, a spindly monk’s cap/Turk’s cap hibiscus and the longevity spinach.

Up above, the coconut palm is bearing more nuts than it ever has:

I planted that tree when I was 15. A couple of years ago Dad and I weeded out the asparagus fern from around its base and planted that salad garden. It really likes being without the competition of those root-strangling asparagus ferns.

As does the Natal plum out front:

There were multiple fruit on this bush when I showed up. It used to look really sad until we took out the asparagus fern and gave it a new lease on life. Now it’s covered with blooms and fruiting regularly. I’m hoping to grow some of these up here in North Florida. Though it’s a stretch, I have seen one growing without frost protection in Citra. Definitely worth trying.

Another happy tree is the mango Mom planted out back 4-5 years ago.

The piles of mulch and lack of grass competition have made this mango a stellar producer. It’s easily 14′ tall right now and loaded – absolutely loaded – with fruit.

If I had to guess right now, I’d say that this South Florida food forest project is already yielding about 300-400lbs of food every year, mostly thanks to the starfruit, the mangoes and the acerola cherry. One the chocolate pudding fruit, avocado, tamarind, canistel and other trees kick in… it’ll get ridiculous.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the other trees we added last week.

(To see all the posts on The Great South Florida Food forest Project, go here!)

Support this site – buy David’s book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest on Amazon!

What To Plant in a Florida Orchard

Luscious purple Florida-grown figs.

Last night I noticed this comment on the high-density orchard post over at The Brilliant Homestead:

Most people think “apples” when they hear orchard. What would I plant in a Florida front-yard orchard? –Phyllis Franklin


Thou art in luck: trees are one of my favorite topics!

For those of you who don’t know Phyllis, she is a writer with her own homesteading blog “Evolution of a Farm Girl.”

Even better, she’s a homeschooling mom. (Since I was raised by a homeschooling mom, I’m rather partial to that rare and wonderful breed of lady.)

Now: trees.

The question, “What would I plant in a Florida front-yard orchard?” is not easy to answer without knowing a location.

The one thing I wouldn’t plant anywhere in the state is citrus. Just don’t do it – you’ll lose the tree.

That aside, here are my recommendations.

Trees for a South Florida Orchard

A fragrant lychee.

In south Florida and large parts of coastal Florida, your options are incredible. My in-laws, for example, bought a house that had a small mango orchard planted in the front yard. The trees are now gigantic and bear incredible quantities of mangoes which bring them a decent side income during mango season.

My parents have a tamarind, a canistel, an acerola cherry and a jabuticaba tree in their front yard in Ft. Lauderdale. In the side yard they have a fig and a tropical almond. Out back there’s a chocolate pudding fruit, a mango, a Key Lime, a coconut palm, multiple bananas, cattley guavas, Surinam cherries, dragon fruit cactus, a Grumichama, a starfruit, plantains, papayas and probably a few more trees I can’t remember (they’re all parts of The Great South Florida Food Forest Project).

If you wanted an orchard in South Florida, all of those trees would be excellent choices.

I’d also add:


Sapodilla (Mmmm)
Jackfruit (Largest fruit in the world)
Longan (high market value)
Lychee (high market value)
Custard apple
Cashew (a fruit AND a nut!)
Macadamia (Awesome nut, nice big tree)
Soursop (anti-cancer!)
Ackee (poisonous unless harvested at the right time)
Loquat (grows in north and south Florida)
Jamaican cherry (delicious)
Tropical guava
Cinnamon (large tree and very beautiful)
Peruvian apple cactus
Coffee (Yep, it grows into a small tree)
Nutmeg (probably marginal)


…and probably a hundred more tropical trees.

The quantity of fruit you can grow down there is astounding. I’d bet on at least a 1,000 species since the Tropics are BY FAR a much more productive region than the world’s temperate zones.

Trees for a Central/North Florida Orchard

A tangy loquat.

The further north you move in the state, the more your options dwindle.

That said, you do pick up a few new species that cannot be grown in the southern tip of the state, such as plums, peaches and pears.

The transition isn’t immediate, but basically once you have overnight lows that go below the upper 20s, your tropical trees become a hard-to-grow liability rather than good orchard fodder.

My favorite three N/C Florida fruit trees are mulberries (white, black, Persian and Pakistan), Japanese persimmons (be sure to get both astringent and non-astringent types – they both have their uses on the homestead) and loquats. Finding improved loquat varieties isn’t easy but they’re worth buying since they bear larger and sweeter fruit than the landscaping seedling trees usually found for sale.

After those, I would add these trees to my North Florida orchard:

Pears (“Pineapple” is my favorite – tough and disease-resistant. Orient is a good pollinator.)
Plums (UF varieties)
Peaches (UF varieties or seedlings from locally-picked fruit)
Apples (Anna, Dorsett, Tropic Sweet, Ein Shemer. None are particularly easy to grow here)
Pecan (gets big, but has high market value)
Chestnut (fast producer of sweet nuts – get two “Dunstan” types)
Nectarine (UF varieties)
Avocado (cold-hardy types such as Lila and Mexicola. Subject to early death via disease.)
Bananas (Raja Puri, Orinoco, Red Dwarf, Ice Cream all survive cold)
Pomegranates (Note: some spontaneously die. Don’t get attached!)
Autumn olive
Goumi berry
Black cherry (gets tall – hard to harvest – flavor is amazing)
Japanese raisin tree (rare)
Sichuan Pepper
Jujube (Chinese)


Among these trees there are many cultivars and variations that should keep you quite contented as you plan. I currently prefer a food forest to an orchard; however, an orchard is better than having just a couple of trees… and a couple of trees are still better than lawn.

As you plant I would mix up the species rather than keeping them together in blocks of the same type. That makes it harder for pests to jump from tree to tree. Running chickens through the orchard on a regular basis also feeds the trees and knocks back potential pest problems.

Along with these trees, you can add a couple of wires for grapes as a nice upgrade. Or build an arbor.

Now go, Phyllis. Plant!



The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: New Photos


The South Florida food forest keeps kicking!

I’ve been meaning to post these pictures for a couple of weeks now. They were taken in mid-February and I’m sure everything looks even better now… but here goes.

First of all, this is the salad bed I posted on a few months ago:

As you can tell, it filled in nicely. In the foreground is a band of kale… and in the back are all perennial greens.

Next, here’s a shot of the food forest from the front:

There’s a lot going on in there and the native wildflowers have taken a liking to the undergrowth. Bees, wasps, butterflies, birds and reptiles have moved in rapidly and are enjoying the slice of paradise.

Here’s one of the other paths – notice the mango blooms to the right:

Moringa and papaya are silhouetted against a rainy sky:

The acerola cherry is looking bushy and healthy:

Again, here’s a view from another angle of the back food forest – how many species can you spot?

Papaya trees hug the wall:

Mangoes prepare to delight:

The tropical almond – which started as a seedling with two leaves – has grown by leaps and bounds:

a tropical almond growing in a south florida food forest

Malanga and naranjilla exist in harmony:

Tomatoes climb the fence next to a baby Monstera.

More diversity than any other yard on the block:

The chocolate pudding fruit is even putting on some new growth. The tree was root-bound and chlorotic when we bought it… it’s a lot better now:

Altogether, this has been a most worthwhile project. Production is minimal at this point… but the bounty is on its way.

Plus, it’s a lot prettier than a regular, boring patch of grass.

For more on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project, go here!
And to create your own Florida forest forest, get this book!

Check Out This Thai Garden


A spirit house overlooks this Thai garden

I had a great chance to visit a Thai garden this week.

“I don’t have much right now,” she told me as we stepped out back. “The lizard got a lot of my plants.”

South Florida suffers from an invasion of vegetarian iguanas, yet what they left behind was still impressive. Katuk… moringa… pineapples… papaya… kang kong… kaffir lime… three different basil varieties and a whole mess of Asian herbs and vegetables foreign to me were spread out in containers.

Kang Kong: one of the most productive leaf vegetables you can grow.

Kiddie pools housed some of the bounty, and everything from coolers to pots were stuffed to overflowing.


We stood in the rain as it was getting dark. Our hostess was my wife Rachel’s aunt. We were there for dinner (which, incidentally, was an amazing spread of Thai food… I’ve rarely eaten so well in my entire life) and had to take the garden tour.

Amazingly aromatic Thai basil.

She told me that she grew some plants as food coloring for various confections. A pea vine provided blue… another plant gave up a golden dye and so on. “I don’t buy any food coloring. All natural,” she said, waving a hand at her garden.

Beyond the pots and containers, she had a stand of pineapples, plus mangoes, jackfruit, sugar apple, bananas and other great perennials.

Pineapples packed tightly into the back corner of the yard.

If you live in a tropical place like South Florida, what are you doing with your life? You could be eating fresh all year.

This Thai garden isn’t fancy – and it’s definitely been chewed up by a now-mysteriously-missing iguana – but it keeps the house supplied with plenty of fresh greens, spices and fruit.

Gardening doesn’t have to be a big affair with cedar beds and perfect spacing. Get out back and get planting. If you need help, make friends with someone from Southeast Asia.

Unlike Americans, they know what to do with a back yard.

The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: July 2013 update (Pt. II)


In Friday’s post I shared a few shots of the new paths and trees we planted in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project, plus a look at the amazing new soil that’s forming. Today I’ve got a few more cool things to show off. Like this baby canistel:

That’s in the front yard. In a few years, it’s going to be bearing fruit. None of us have any idea what canistel taste like, yet we planted a seedling. How crazy awesome is that? We’ll taste it for the first time when the tree bears.

In the middle of the front yard, Dad planted a poinciana tree a long time back. It’s coming to the end of its life and will soon need replacing. The tree I hoped to put in its place was a tamarind – but then I read that tamarind trees will create a shade issue and tend to kill off things beneath them.

That discovered, we put it in the side yard. Dad was initially reticent.

DAD: “Will this thing kill the grass I’ve worked so hard for?”

ME: “Maybe when it gets big.”

DAD: “Hmm…”

ME: “But hey… you’re not as keen on mowing as you used to be, right?”

DAD: “Yeah.”

ME: “So… if it starts to kill off the grass, let’s replace the grass with shade-loving edibles and just mulch the whole strip.”

DAD: “I guess we could do that. What is this tree again?”

ME: “Tamarind. It’s got edible sweet-sour flesh in what look like bean pods. Even if you don’t eat them, your Chinese friends will.” (A note about Dad: he has a LOT of Chinese friends and is actively involved in a Chinese church. It was totally cheating for me to bring them up. He loves those folks.)

DAD: (not quite looking convinced) “Alright, fine. I guess we can put it there.”

Now look at this cute tree:

Feel sorry for that perfect St. Augustine grass? Its life is gonna get a LOT worse! Wait until this tamarind hits 100′ tall! HA HA HA!!!

(Actually, we’ll probably have to keep it from doing that…)

Beyond the tamarind, the jackfruit, pigeon peas, and the tropical almond I mentioned planting in my last post, we also put in a fig and a couple of surinam cherries, plus a naranjilla, some cannas, a lobster-claw heliconia (just because) and another yam.

Here’s a little surinam cherry:

Aww! What an adorable little invasive!

This one is actually a seedling I snagged from a dark-fruited sweet variety. Some surinam cherries taste suspiciously like shellac. This didn’t. Much.

Oh… I can’t NOT tell you about the crowning achievement of this trip. Dad and I managed to find – and purchase – and plant… a…

wait for it…

Wait For It…



Yep. The amazing fruit I discovered a few months ago… has now been installed in my parents’ yard, much to their (and my) delight.

Thank you, Spyke’s Grove Nursery. I can’t believe how many cool things they carry. (Note: the staff I’ve run into there are less than friendly, but at least they have really great trees.)

One new development in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project that Mom was particularly impressed by was the appearance of our very first cluster of bananas.

I wish more people could experience the joy of growing their own food. I don’t get why so many folks, particularly in a tropical paradise like South Florida, will spend hours on their stupid lawns and stupid toxic landscape plants… when you can bring forth sweet abundance from the earth. A lot of tropical fruit and shrubs don’t even require watering down there once they get established… yet people slave along, mowing and fertilizing their worthless lawns.

Is that you? I hope you’ll quit. Plant something edible, then plant another… and another… and another. Pretty soon you’ll be reaping the sweet bounty and having plenty to share – and when you do, stop on by and tell us about it.

UPDATE: Pick up a copy of my book – Create Your Own Florida Food Forest – and plant your own food forest!

The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: June 2013 update


As I’ve written before, I’ve got something cool going on down south.

I visited last week and got some new photos. It’s amazing how fast tropical plants grow – everything is looking pretty darn good. I need to get some nitrogen-fixers going, though. Maybe I should mail Dad some pigeon peas…

Check out what’s going on – the 6th Street Mulberry I got from the Edible Plant Project and gave to Dad has almost doubled in size. Crazy.

Below is a look at the food forest from the back fence side. Here you can see Senna alata (with the yellow blooms), Tithonia diversifolia to the left, malanga near the bottom, some cassava, a glimpse of moringa trunk and a bit of banana tree.

 messy south florida food forest

The next shot shows a giant papaya on the top left. I grew that thing from seed. In the lower middle is a chaya plant, also known as “Mexican tree spinach.”


And now, take a look at the little grumichama we planted earlier this year. See the sign? That’s so Dad doesn’t forget what it is. He’s not quite the plant nut I am.
And here’s a shot from the house side. Look at that cassava coming along!


Next, here’s my little tropical avocado seedling. It’s about 4′ tall now. Not as amazing as Eddy’s, but it’s gonna get there.

Remember my previous story about cutting down the scheffelera tree? The acerola cherry we planted to replace it is doing wonderfully… and it’s bearing fruit already. Dad’s been sharing them with visitors. Look!

And… here’s one last shot for the road. I may not be able to grow the tropical subsistence plot I want up here, but at least I get to play around every few months ago in my parents’ backyard.

Not bad at all. Mom and Dad have already been harvesting fruit, beans and even the occasional self-seeded tomato from this little patch of jungle.

Jaboticaba in Florida!


I’m obsessed with the idea of growing jaboticaba in Florida.

Take a look at this jaboticaba tree growing in Boca Raton:

jaboticaba in florida

I was in Boca Raton a few weeks ago with my friend JJ and got to see this mature jabuticaba in the backyard of his friend’s house.

Not only did I get to see it… I got to try the fruit. Amazing. Like grape cotton candy.

jaboticaba in florida

See how the flowers bloom right out of the trunk? This one was starting a new bloom cycle but still held a few fruits from its previous fruiting. That’s not surprising, considering they will bear fruit 5-6 times a year.

When I see a tree like this… I’m blown away by God’s creativity. Phenomenal work, Creator. I’m totally impressed.

If you live south of Orlando or so, you need to grow this tree. I have little one in a pot I’m hoping will do okay… but in the ground would be better.

Please… go get one if you live someplace warm. Tell me about it. Let me live vicariously through your experience.

Find out more about jabuticaba trees.

UPDATE: I’ve now planted a jaboticaba in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project.

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