Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Rainforest Plum

In Florida we don't get to grow cherries, but as commpensation we can grow a great many cherrylike fruits. Many of these are in the Eugenia family. We're fortunate to have a real Eugenia expert, Ray Jones, as one of our club's most dedicated members. Maybe it's from him that I'm acquiring an urge to collect them.

If I'm going to collect Eugenias, though, I'd better get smart and learn their Latin names. At our big sale a couple of weeks ago, I bought a Eugenia candolleana from Adam Shafran, only to get home and find out that I already had three of them obtained from Berto Silva back in January. I don't mind, though, because it's reported to be a wonderful fruiting plant.

The fruit of E. candolleana is described at the Tropical Fruit Forum as "absolutely delicious" with "firm and sweet flesh", and "definitely plumlike with a unique complex taste, very juicy and melting texture." Also called Rainforest Plum, and also called cambui roxo in its native Brazil, it is an attractive evergreen shrub or small tree, though it can eventually grow into a very large tree in its native habitat. Vigorous and supposedly almost everbearing, it can fruit in as little as three years from seed, even less in a container. It's said to be a recent arrival to Florida, perhaps in the past five years, although I would check with Ray before believing that.

At four miles from the coast, and perhaps in a bit of a cold pocket, I always have to think about freeze tolerance. One report from Texas claims that a Rainforest Plum survived a drop to 25 degrees with only minor damage. With four plants, I can keep some in pots and try others in the ground to test their limits.

On the negative side, the fruit is best if it fully ripens on the tree, and Adam reports that the birds in his neighborhood haven't been waiting that long. But we face that problem with many of our fruits, and if reports of their prolific production hold true here, we can produce Rainforest Plums faster than robbers can eat them.

With luck I'll be bringing some Rainforest Plum fruit and eventually some seedlings to the club tables.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


I'll admit I was apprehensive. Hall of Fame Fruit Tree Sale Organizer Betty Kearns had retired undefeated, giving ample notice. When no one stepped forward, she bailed us out on this year's sale. Let's just call it a phased retirement.

When the big day came, though, the club rose to the occasion. It's hard, but I'll resist the temptation to name names, since inevitably some very deserving folks wouldn't get their due. High on the list are the oh-so-important cashiers and tag pullers. They are on the front lines, and if they don't get things right, it usually comes out of the club's pocket. So many other moving parts, too--- fertilizer sales, holding area, chit counters, cash counters, plant unloaders and loaders, the club booth. And the make-or-break publicity effort. Give yourselves a humongous pat on the back, sale volunteers!

How was my tree sale day? The remarkable selection available at our sale helped me with some long-term wants. I bought a hard-to-find Fairchild #2 canistel to accompany my Trompo. For the avocado collection, I snapped up an ultra-rare Jose Antonio from Wayne Clifton--- along with two more of them for friends--- and a rarely-seen Catalina. Plus the grafted Zill Dark Surinam Cherry I've been seeking for ages. For a friend with has been yearning for a jaboticaba, Adam Schafran gave me a great price on a ready-to-fruit red jabo. And I added some of his rare tropicals to my container collection.

Earlier this year, after my wife tasted our Tropic Beauty peaches, I heard pleas to add another peach tree. The lovely Tropic Snow I bought from a club member will keep me in good graces at home.

From first-time vendors Craig and Celeste Welch (yes, the Celeste who manages our website, and who put the word about our sale out onto social media), I bought two Ingas that will make a perfect nitrogen-fixing screen needed in my church's landscaping.

And I took home a Younghans white sapote, a gift from a great fruit man. How good can a day be?

So what's the bottom line? Here in the bean-counting department, we are still nailing down the final details, but I can say that total sales increased more than 10% in dollars. On the other side of the ledger, our overhead costs dropped a bit. Adding it all up, the club banks 15% more than last year.

And we signed up 17 new members. I think this fruit tree thing may be starting to catch on.

We really do need to let Betty off the treadmill, so now would be a perfect headline-grabbing time for a noble volunteer to step forward to be tree sale chair for 2016. We've got a great thing going, perhaps the best one-day fruit tree sale in the land. Let's keep it up!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

How Short Is Short?

The experts say to keep your fruit trees short. And with good reason--- with a small tree, it's ever so much easier to thin or harvest fruit, prune, spray foliar nutrients, and so on.

Keeping them short sounds easy enough. After all, we're considerably faster and more agile than a tree, and we're armed with clippers, loppers, tree saws, and even chain saws should the need arise. But Chris Rollins once quipped that the main reason to prune a tree is to correct the mistakes you made the last time you pruned it. Pruning is another one of those horticultural arts that you can learn about at your local rare fruit tree club.

All well and good, but assuming that one knows how to do it, just how short is short? Dr. Jonathan Crane, Associate Director of the Tropical Research and Education Center, was willing to spell it out in an informative powerpoint called The Ten Most Popular Subtropical Fruit Trees for the Home Landscape. His recommended heights, in feet:

Atemoya, 6-12

Avocado, 10-15

Canistel, 10-12

Carambola, 6-12

Chocolate Persimmon (what I used to call Black Sapote, until Noris Ledesma suggested this catchy handle), 12-15

Guava, 3-10

Jakfruit, 8-12

Longan, 10-15

Loquat, 12-15

Lychee, 10-15

Mamey Sapote, 12-15

Mango, 6-15

Sapodilla, 12-15

Sugar Apple, 6-12

White Sapote, 10-15

Dr. Crane's recommendation for guava is eye-catching--- as little as three feet! At his presentation at the Tropical Fruit Society of Sarasota last month, he explained that even kept this short, a guava will bud, bloom, and produce fruit. As one who would rather have a guava tree than a guava bush, eight to ten feet sounds better to me. On the other hand, I wonder how a guava hedge might look along the driveway...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Team Huddle

Next Sunday is the big game. Will Team MRFC add to our record of largest one-day fruit tree sales in the country? We'll know in a couple of weeks.

The coaches have laid out our game plan, and the publicity agents have been out there working to bring in an enthusiastic crowd. Now it's up to us.

It's a one-game playoff for all the marbles, and Monday night, May 11, is our team huddle. We'll review the playbook, nail down final assignments, make any last-minute substitutions, and get ready for Sunday's 10:00 a. m. kickoff.

Seriously, folks, our club maintains one of the finest speaker programs anywhere, not to mention our magnificent rare fruit tree collection at Palma Sola park, monthly newsletter, tasting table, website, scholarship program, bus trips, picnics, Christmas dinner, and support of community activities such as Eat Local Week. The club dues are so low that they only cover 30% of the newsletter costs. All the club asks is a bit of volunteer time. Many hands make light work, and with all manner of jobs to do, there is something for everyone.

Besides your participation on sale day, we ask for a little help with the critically important task of publicity. It's been underway for a while, but the final week is the most important. You can pick up tree sale flyers at Monday's meeting, or download a copy of the flyer from the tree sale page at the MRFC website. If each of us can get even a few more flyers into the right hands, it will make quite a difference in our bottom line.

The main event at this month's meeting will be a question-and-answer session with some of our club's outstanding experts. Bring your questions, and don't be shy. If there's something you need to know, chances are that others do, too. Everyone from beginner to expert will find something to learn. What better way to get fired up for the sale?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pine Island Jaunt

A few weeks ago, pal Kevin and I drove down to Pine Island to visit Steve Cucura's Fruitscapes. Steve and his business partner have built up this combination wholesale and retail nursery, which features a roadside stand selling fruit grown there.
Pine Island, the largest island in Florida, lies a short distance off the coast near Ft. Myers. Readers who have heard of the Pine Island Nursery need to know that it's not on Pine Island. Indeed, it's about twenty-five miles southwest of Miami and most definitely on the mainland. But it is surrounded by a lot of pines!

Getting to Fruitscapes was an easy ride down I-75 followed by a half hour of light weekday traffic on Route 78. Unlike some wholesale operations, access to the production areas of Fruitscapes is not restricted. Our plan was to walk around on our own, and maybe catch Steve for a few questions.

We arrived in mid-morning, and were delighted to learn that in about half an hour there would be a guided tour of the nursery. It wasn't long before a cross-country bus rolled up and disgorged a sizable crowd of occupants. We never did find out exactly who they were, though I recognized a couple of Extension agents I had seen before, and I gathered that the purpose was educational.

After a bit of milling about, the group broke into three squads of manageable size for the tour. Kevin and I joined the one gathering around Steve. He told us that all the trees now at Fruitscapes were planted within the past 15 years. Many were blown over by Hurricane Charley in 2004, but the nursery workers righted them and most survived.

One of our first stops was a breadfruit tree, the first I had ever seen. Temperatures on Pine Island never get very close to freezing, but due to the dryness, the very tropical tree has just barely managed to hang onto life. Steve doubts that it will ever bear fruit.

Not too far beyond that, we saw Steve's Ficus religiosa tree. The name derives from the belief that the Buddha meditated and found enlightenment beneath one. Already immense at age 15, it's the most vigorous-growing tree Steve has ever seen.

After the collector's items, we entered the the production area for the fruit stand. Passing big loquat trees, canistels, and black sapotes, we came upon rows and rows of mango trees. They are close-planted on mounds several feet above the surrounding level. There are many varieties. Steve pointed out the big Nam Doc Mai's that give him three crops a year.

Steve also grows fifteen varieties of avocados, on a large raised area. Later, at the far end of the multi-acre nursery, we saw the sapodillas that supply the fruit stand. Steve thinks the best varieties are Alano, Makok, and Silas Wood, as they are the most everbearing. Because they put so much energy into production, it's easier to control their size than with the one-crop-a-year varieties.

Most of the nursery is devoted to plant production. We saw many kinds of trees and many propagation methods. Most striking, I thought, were the rows of mature longan and lychee trees covered with air-layerings. There were literally hundreds of air-layered lychees in various stages of production. I shuddered to think about the cost that a mechanical failure of the misting system might bring. A lot can go wrong in the wholesale fruit tree business.

Steve explained some of the oddities of Pine Island horticulture. The lack of freezing temperatures is a huge asset, of course, but there are many challenges. Water is a major problem. Heavy rains can cause flooding during July, but the island is nearly a desert the rest of the year. The groundwater has salt content that fluctuates through the year, so Steve uses it very sparingly. His 5-gallon trees get by on just one quart of drip irrigation per day.

The tour ended with some fruit tasting at the stand and socializing. We bought some sapodillas at the stand, and some of Steve's special citrus fertilizer, then headed back north.

Even if you're not lucky enough to join a tour, a visit to Fruitscapes is an easy and worthwhile side trip from I-75 on your way to parts south.