Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Passion for Fruit

This month's MRFC meeting on April 13 is not to be missed. Besides my always-exciting Treasurer's report, we will hear Noris Ledesma, Curator of Tropical Fruit at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Homestead.

Noris spoke about canistels at the February meeting of the Suncoast Tropical Fruit and Vegetable Society in nearby Nokomis. Due to a scheduling conflict I could not attend, but friends who were there gave it rave reviews. I did hear Noris last summer at the Fairchild Mango Festival, speaking about the mangos of her native country, Colombia. It was an excellent presentation--- dynamic, informative, and passionate.

Noris is featured in a wide-ranging interview in the current issue of Tropical Fruit News. She came to the U. S. when she began working at Fairchild in 2000. Her first project was the Citrus Replacement Program, created to encourage homeowners to grow fruits other than citrus. After funding for this ran out, she worked on other projects at Fairchild before replacing Richard Campbell as Curator of Tropical Fruit when he moved up to Director of Horticulture and Senior Curator of Tropical Fruit.

Already holding a Bachelor's degree in Forestry Engineering and a Master's in Environmental Education, Noris will receive a Doctorate in Agricultural Economics from Humbold University in Berlin this year. The choice to work in agricultural economics arises from her observation that so many commercial growers lose money, especially in mangos. Consequently she sees the economics side of agriculture as the most critical.

There's lots more in the TFN spread. We'll have two copies available at the meeting for those who would like to read the full interview.

I'm really looking forward to hearing Noris speak to our club. If you're not already fired up for our upcoming tree sale, this oughta do it!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Alban Eiler

I wouldn't call myself a Druid, but my spiritual self does draw on elements of the modern Druid tradition. This is not to be confused with the ancient Druids, about whom next to nothing is known. The modern Druid revival began in Britain in the eighteenth century, and has evolved in many directions over the years.

Druidry is a practice (as opposed to an ideology) that involves active connection with the natural world, and one of its tenets is that everything moves in cycles. The cycle of a heartbeat, of a breath, a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime, a civilization, a species, a planet. In the Druid world, things move through birth, youth, flowering, fruiting, maturity, and final ripening to an end--- and every end is a beginning.

For Druids, and for lovers of fruit trees, the cycle of the year holds much meaning. Today, as I write this, is one of the major Druid holidays, Alban Eiler (AHL-ban EYE-ler). That's the Celtic name for the vernal equinox, one of the two days of the year when the length of the daytime exactly equals the night. The sun rises due east and sets due west. Winter ends, spring begins.

Let's slow down from our frenetic human pace, and imagine the cycle of the year from the point of view of a fruit tree. Each day the sun journeys across the sky, faster than we can turn our leaves to soak in more of its energizing rays. Around the time of the winter solstice, it follows a path low in the sky, day after day. As winter progresses, the arc slowly moves higher, adding some seconds of daytime with each pass. As we approach Alban Eiler, these changes quicken. Our tree now sees the arc of the sun rising rapidly, as the daytime rapidly overtakes the night.

At some point, according to its species and a thousand local factors, our tree springs into action. It pops out new leaves, starts adding another layer of trunk diameter, and begins preparations to flower and fruit at its appointed time later in the year. It needs nutrients, and we provide its first fertilization of the season. Most trees want a lot of water now, too, and since in these parts spring is often a dry season, we attend to irrigation needs.

As spring matures, the sun rises and sets more and more to the north, its arc and the length of daytime once again stabilizing. Around the time of the summer solstice, when the sun is most intense, the summer rains will begin--- if we're lucky--- and we start the long road back to winter. To begin the cycle anew.

Surely every fruit tree lover has a little bit of Druid inside. Happy Alban Eiler!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Something To Chew On

I wrote this post a while ago, and saved it for one of those occasions when the blogging muse doesn't come to work on Sunday. But since Har Mahdeem mentioned the chewability of sapodilla latex in his talk at our club this month, the topic is suddenly timely!

Back in the day--- way back--- gum was made from chicle, the latex sap of the sapodilla tree. Like many other natural substances, this was replaced somewhere along the way by a petroleum product, in this case polyvinyl acetate. That's right, gum is now made from plastic.

Actually, many manufacturers list the ingredient "gum base", which may contain any of "petroleum, lanolin, glycerin, polyethylene, polyvinyl acetate, petroleum wax, stearic acid, or latex". Yum. Also, you often get artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or acesulfame K, and BHA (butylated hydroxytolulene, also used in embalming),

One major gum manufacturer, Glee Gum, held out for a while, but eventually went to a gum base containing a "mix of chicle, natural gums, rubbers, resins, and waxes." The blogger at "My Plastic-free Life", who investigates such matters, contacted Glee and was told that the company is working on developing an all-natural gum base with no synthetics. but at this point, all major gum manufacturers use synthetics in their gum base. In fact, there are only a handful of gum base providers and they won't even provide complete information to the chewing gum manufacturers about ingredients.

But all is not lost. Online shoppers can find Train Gum, a boutique product ("wrapped by hand in a re-usable muslin bag") that lists five ingredients: chicle (yes!), sugar, plant-derived oils (um, OK, I guess), rice flour, and water. It can be bought online, currently in five flavors, for a boutique price. A similar product is Chicza, sold at Amazon and perhaps at Whole Foods. If anyone tries one of these, send us a report. And deposit the gum in your compost after use.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Wayne Wows 'Em Down South

At the Tropical Fruit Society of Sarasota meeting late last month, MRFC Vice-Chairman Wayne Clifton spoke on the topic of fertilizers. As usual, he enjoyed the full attention of everyone from beginner to expert. Though I heard him speak on this topic at the MRFC a couple of years ago, I wasn't the least bit bored on my second go-through. With so much plant wisdom to be had, plenty got by me the first time. And Wayne keeps up-to-date with the latest products, so there is always new information as well.

Here are a some highlights from my notes:

---Read what it says on the bag or container! If it says more than 2% chlorine, don't buy it.

---Florida soils are deficient in nitrogen and potassium, but not phosphorus. They are also deficient in minor elements, so always buy a fertilizer with minor elements.

---Nitrogen comes in various forms. Ammonia and urea are fast-acting, but dissipate quickly. Water-insoluble forms are released slowly, and are generally preferable.

---Make sure a plant is well-watered before fertilizing, unless the fertilizer is slow-release.

---It's good to use foliar spray fertilizers once in a while, but they are not long-lasting. Spray early or late, not in the heat of the day.

---Wayne likes to vary his fertilizers, using both chemical and organic fertilizers.

---Wayne is a firm believer in organic soil amendments because they feed the soil. They only work, though, when the soil contains bacteria to break them down and release the nutrients. Fish emulsion is a good organic fertilizer, and kelp is excellent.

---Horse manure is a a good organic fertilzer, but often contains weed seeds. Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen, so should always be composted before use.

---Worm castings are a fantastic soil amendment, but too expensive to use in large quantities.

---Wayne likes Kocide, an organic fungicide for use on anything subject to fungus.

---A product called Root Guard consists of ground-up crab parts. Used as a soil amendment, it appears to be an excellent nematode suppressor. It's worked for Wayne, enabling him to grow excellent tomatoes in-ground. Info is at It might be available at Steve Cucura's Fruitscapes Nursery.

---CitroBio is citrus product that is a mix of beneficial bacteria. It is extensively used as a food wash, but also as a soil amendment called RGA--- rapid growth activator. It appears to help citrus trees withstand HLB infection, by promoting vigorous root growth. Info is at and, concerning its use on citrus trees,

Wayne recommends attending the Ag Expo every November in nearby Balm, Florida. Besides a lot of great information, you can often get samples of new fertilizers and other products for free.

Wayne's deep love of plants always shows through when he speaks. After he fielded a number of questions at the end of the talk, I presented him with a Tropical Fruit Society of Sarasota coffee mug, something we give to each of our speakers. I said that our two clubs are friends, not rivals--- indeed we even have quite a few members in common. Wayne echoed that message, and told the crowd that the clubs share the same goal--- we just want to learn as much as we can about how to grow fruit as well as we can. He invited the Sarasota club members to come to our MRFC meetings. A fitting end to an outstanding presentation.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

New Home, Same Address

If you are reading this, then you have seen the new MRFC website. Our heartfelt thanks go to MRFC member Celeste Welch for becoming our new webmaster. She has been managing our Facebook page for quite a while, and now has put in a considerable effort designing and implementing the new website. A number of club members have already praised it, and I couldn't agree more. The site will be a major asset for the club as we move into tree sale season and beyond.

For those of you who use RSS feeds, the site now has them in Atom and RSS2 formats.

The new site has our archive of newsletters, but unfortunately we have not been able to transfer the blog archive, at least so far. I still have the files of my own posts, and over time I can put some of the better ones back up with the dates of their original appearances. Of infinitely greater value was the archive of Pete Ray's posts, but at least some of these appear in the newsletters.

Sunday night will remain the night for my weekly posts, but I do hope for an occasional night off if other members can contribute a post now and then. We have such a wealth of knowledge in our club--- the kinds of hands-on experience that is hard if not impossible to find on the internet--- and it would be a wonderful service to share it with a wider audience. Just email me a draft [to Darryl the Treasurer, address on the "About" page, or to the club's email], and I'll be happy to edit and post it. Or just send me an idea or a link to an interesting article. I'll credit you, of course, and you will enjoy the appreciation of all of our readers.