Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Papaya Grove Update

This spring and summer, Jack experimented with planting papayas from seed.
Now we have over 30 mature or maturing plants, a handful in the ground and the rest in buckets.

This is all new to us, though Jack's mom grew papayas all her life. Since planting the papaya seeds, we've had a great germination rate, and the little guys grew and grew great guns ever since. They've matured now into a small grove, with four or five large plants, and others we started later trying to catch up with them.

It doesn't take more than a few weeks for the seeds to mature to this stage...

and then continue growing...
A few things we've learned in the process:
1. They're easy to grow here...E-Z. We imagine they'd do well in many heat-loving areas, and we're positive they do well in warm greenhouse situations far beyond their natural growing zone.
All Jack does is plant the seeds we take from a papaya fruit and put them straight into buckets (what else? ha) of potting soil, and keep them watered daily. We did this during the warm months. They grow quickly and are easily transplanted if too crowded in the pot as they get bigger.

2. Something out there loves to occasionally sample a big old bite or two of the little baby papaya leaves. We imagine it's a curious deer, but whatever it is, only a couple bits go missing...most of the plants are left alone. The plants are amazingly disease and parasite-free.

3. Transplanting them directly into the prepared soil didn't work well for us unless the plant was at least 3 feet tall. Maybe it was due to the summer heat. The others struggled and gave up the ghost, or either never made it from the beginning if transplated before that stage.

4. Literature we've read says it's more ideal to simply plant the seeds directly into the soil from the beginning. We won't do that right now. Maybe we'll do this at some point, but not at this point. For some reason, they just find that situation daunting.

5. Papaya seeds can be substituted for peppercorns and ground like pepper. I do have a lot of questions as to whether this is safe for women still in their childbearing years, pregnant, or nursing, since there's some anecdotal mention here and there about part of the papaya (other than the fruit) being used in some parts of the world to prevent conception, etc.

6. We haven't tried cooking the young papaya leaves yet because we're trying to foster the ones we have to become mature first, and I don't know if "young" means at a very small stage of the tree or if it means just as the leaf presents itself in the growing process, since they continue to put out leaves at they grow, while others die off. We'll figure this out soon.

7. Our initial plants had NO blossoms...not a single one, out of many plants. At one point, Jack did as he'd remember his mother doing and pierced the main stem of a few of the larger papaya plants with a nail, then wrapped them securely with a fresh piece of papaya leaf.

They survived this without getting any infection (which is what his mom said the wrapping in the leaf would prevent.) The result is that shortly thereafter, these plants began developing blossoms directly on the stem, right next to the leaf stems (close to the "trunk"). We waited...and waited, but no papaya fruits began developing from the flowers. The flowers are beautiful and resemble a simple white jasmine blossom.

8. We did more research. We found a tropical permaculture site and it went into more detail about papayas. It stated that papaya plants can be either male, female, or neuter. Our guess is that before "nailing," our plants were behaving as neuter plants. Afterwards, they "became" either male or female (we didn't know at the time which). These are the plants that were quite large and had been transplanted. We even cut a couple back at one point since they were gaining so much height. Even after cutting them back at that stage, they are now at least over 7 or 8 feet, with a few remaining at the 3 or 4 foot height, and with all their main stems/trunks thickening to very sturdy.

9. Siting and preparation. At every point, the papayas transplanted into the ground were treated to a hole dug widely and prepared well before transplanting, the soil amended, and cardboard/paper/paper grocery bags being laid at their bases to hold in the moisture and as a weed barrier, which they've done quite well. Here they are with cardboard and paper layered on top of amendments like manure.
And below is after covering it again with decomposing grass clippings...
Jack periodically amends them further on top of this barrier with more soil, amendments (manure, etc), and then another layer of weed barrier. He initially made the holes a bit deep and left thing a bit below the level of the surrounding ground to encourage water to collect there during rains, since papayas do like moisture.

10. As the plant continues upward growth, the lower leaves turn yellow and die off, and fall off the plant. Only the upper leaves continue to remain green, and they become quite large and create good shade.

11. Helpful to our pest-eaters. In ours, we always find small lizards and tree frogs prefer to laze among the leaves, loving the shade. We love finding these little fellows peering at us as we peer among the leaves looking to see how the blossons are doing.

12. It feels a lot cooler directly under the papaya shade in the hot summer heat. Their very large leaves are really efffective air conditioners. Sometimes Jack will pause under one of them when he needs a break from working in the heat.

13. They were not developing fruit from the blossoms. We realized we lack whatever other gender papaya plants ours were not (we weren't sure what gender our plants were). We read that in order for fruits to develop, at least one of the papayas has to be the opposite sex (makes sense).

14. Recently, we were given an opposite sex papaya from a friend who successfully grows them from seed (without much effort, too). The difference between his and ours was that his papaya plant had flowers that branched out (I'm not sure the word...) into bracts, or racemes, or whatever the official word is for a branching cluster of blossoms. We went to a Q&A plant class at the library and were told the difference between the male and the female trees. The females have blossoms close to the stem and are said to produce the sweeter fruit. The males have flowers that hang down, and their fruit is said to not be as good. (Um, easy to remember, ha!) But having a male or two makes the females produce fruit, so we should keep a couple around.
Here's a pic of the male plant...

...and here is one of his harem of female plants...

15. We situated the new male papaya close to the others. We also moved all the smaller papaya plants that were in buckets into a cluster next to the large ones that were in-ground. Our reasoning was to put Like with Like, and also to give a better chance of pollination. They also benefitted from the partial shade created by grouping them together. (In the background you see Oscar, our compost bin...)

16. They are separated from our other plants, since we'd read that something about them can chemically affect surrounding soil/plants and make it difficult for certain plants to thrive near them. We don't know which plants they'd affect, but we don't want to kill off any other ones. Plus, grouping the papayas together looks natural and helps us gauge how they're doing as a group.

17. When we get to our permanent land situation someday, we'll continue to cluster them, even if we scatter clusters of the papaya trees in different locations.

18. Did I mention I don't care for papaya fruits?? (I hear laughter, lol...) There's something about it, sort of like the same way I dislike regular flavored bubble gum...there's a similar taste of sorts. Well, the benefits outweigh my preferences. It is one of THE best foods around, for so many health reasons (do a basic google search if you need specifics), and friends of mine who frequently travel to other countries where dysentery and other parasites sometimes trouble travelers eat a lot of papaya before and during their travels, and remain complaint-free. It has SO many benefits, I'll take it as a medicine even if I don't prefer the flavor. My husband, however, really likes the taste!
Also, we'll explore the greens more soon as a table green. When we have livestock someday, we'll for sure try it out as a feed. The reason we've not pulled up all our lawn here and begun going with multiple groves of these plants is because we need to sell this property in the near future, or whenever the economy (hopefully) stabilizes enough for us to realize a profit and relocate to somewhere that will allow us fewer zoning restrictions. Digging up our lawn right now is not an option, as this would set back our plans for resale considerably.
We are committed to working with our climate and growing things that seem to have a natural hardiness here. It seems that papaya is a natural, and probably benefits those who eat its fruits by helping overcome ailments specific to the humid sub-tropics. Papain, an enzyme in the fruits, is used worldwide for stomach problems and as a food tenderizer.

That's all I have to report for now. If we ever DO get any fruit going on these trees, I'll be sure to post an update with pics!


warren said...

This is crazy! I never really thought about growing papaya...I just figured it had to be grown somewhere near a beach and tequila. Definitely post some more on how this goes!

Pam Croom said...

Sigh...I miss my papayas! I used to live in FL, but we weren't far enough south to leave them in the ground. I'm not sure you know that they aren't long term trees like apples. Your first crop is the best and it generally takes two season. Nailing them may have scared them into early flowering, but the plants might not be big enough to support fruiting. You may not get any fruit if you planted them this season. I had mine planted for year two along the sidewalk in my flower bed and people would come off the street to ask what they were. They are such cool plants! And at about 8-10 feet they cooled the front of the house!

Another problem you might be running into is soil amendments. Go easy on that! I was told by a papaya grower to not fertilize too much. The tropics are very productive, but the soil is nutrient poor. The carbon cycle in the tropics is very tight (all the fertility is tied up in the living canopy), so when you provide lots of nutrients the plants suck them up and try to grow faster than their neighbors so they don't get shaded out. All the growth goes into leaves and stems not fruit. My bougainvillea in FL had the same problem-the plant was huge and beautiful, but it would never flower because I was treating it too good.

I read all that stuff about needing male and female plants too. They both produce fruit-the issue is that you need both sexes for sexually reproduced fertile seeds. I just want fruit!

Your own papaya's might surprise you in taste! I'm not a fan of store bought papaya like tomatoes, but a papaya picked at its ripest turned out to be a real treat. I'd dehydrate chunks-it was just like candy.

A papaya grower in CA told me he thinks the issue in growing papayas in the states is not air temp (at least for short periods), but root temperature. He thought the roots need to be maintained above 50 degrees. There is a mountain papaya (not as sweet) that I've toyed with the idea of trying here in AL and put heating tape around the roots. You've inspired me-may be I'll try it next summer!

Robbyn said...

Warren, we're new at it, but they're certainly worth trying!

Pam, thanks for the voice of experience! (we need all the teaching we can get) I might just post your answer in its own post, for others like us who're trying this for the first time. Again, we're amateurs...thanks for the advice!

Anonymous said...

This was really great, I've enjoyed reading this very much. I live in miami and have two papaya trees in my back yard. I was wondering about the sexes and your pictures were fantastic. Thankyou so much for such a great blog

Baruch said...

Very Nice
you discrabe and show your plants in very nice way. The Photos are nice too and well ditailed
God Bless U All
Have A good One

Spa Kessem Mamaga קסם במגע ספא אישי

La Chili said...

What happened to your Papayas?
I'm growing my first Papayas and your post gave me lot's of great information.