Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pink Surprise

When it comes to planting cold-sensitive fruit trees, I'm pretty much fearless (synonyms: foolhardy, nutcase, soon parted from his money). I've planted several just in case it never freezes again here at my spread four miles from the coast.

Actually, the process is that I tell myself I'll keep it in a container, and just haul it into the garage during freezes. But after a while, I decide that it's better for it to experience freedom, even if short-lived, than to live forever imprisoned. The extra work of container plantings, especially large, heavy ones, might also have something to do with it.

So back in April of 2014, I optimistically bought a wax jambu at the Sarasota club's tree sale. Over the summer it grew vigorously, and I moved it up to a 7-gallon pot. It flourished over the no-winter winter, even growing some more, and it was using so much water that I thought about moving it up yet again. But heck, let's put it in the ground.

Getting fruit was a long shot anyway, so might as well plant it in a shady but warm location. I had just pulled out a couple of palmettos next to a young oak tree in the canopied part of our property, and there it went.

This happened early in this past February, when it seemed like winter had been canceled for the year. Only two weeks later came the plunge of '15. I protected the new planting with a freeze cloth, but the temperature didn't drop to freezing there anyway.

Come spring, there were actually a few flower buds on little Waxie. Gradually they bloomed and dropped off, but at least getting a few blooms was encouraging.

After that, the welcome spring rains took care of a lot of my watering tasks, and I didn't see much of Waxie. Until a week ago Saturday, when my eye caught something pink under a ground-hugging branch:

Yes, an actual wax jambu fruit, grown right here in my eclectic fruit tree grove! Deep pink on the bottom, but still a little greenish on the sides.

Now the plot thickens [ominous music starts up in the background]. I decided to give it another day. Sunday it looked a bit pinker. Should be about perfect on Monday.


I don't have to tell you that on Monday [crescendo of dissonant music], there was nothing but an empty branch. Yep, waited one day too long to harvest perhaps my only wax jambu fruit ever.

Sigh. Well, cheer up, it's mango season! As I started away, there was another flash of pink--- eight feet up in the oak tree. Three-quarters of the missing fruit, where a bushy-tailed marauder must have left it. I took this photo, then knocked down the ravaged prize. The peel at the blossom end was eaten off, along with part of one side.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

In The Public Eye

Palma Sola Park has always struck me as a rather well-kept secret, and recently I was glad to see it getting some much-deserved publicity. No doubt many club members enjoyed reading Premier Display of Rare Fruit in Park, by Richard Dymond in the Bradenton Herald, and if you missed it, just follow the link.

That reminded me of back in May, when I was organizing some of the club's tree sale paraphernalia. In a dusty box I came across a printout of an article, Cultivating Variety In Rare Fruits, by Dale White, published October 6, 2008 in the Sarasota Hearld-Tribune. Those who were MRFC members at that time may find it nostalgic, and for newer members, it contains some interesting club history. Below are some excerpts, but I encourage readers to follow the link to the entire article.

There is a catchy opener:
 MANATEE COUNTY - A local group of rare-fruit enthusiasts knows tastes and textures that most people have never encountered.
Lemons bigger than softballs. Cherries that range from sweet to lip-puckeringly sour. And mangoes in about 150 flavors -- including ice cream.
The 100 or so gardeners in the Manatee Rare Fruit Council grow those fruits and more, things so exotic they cannot be found in supermarkets.
The council, and other groups like it across Florida, provide fruit enthusiasts a way to share their knowledge and curiosity about rare fruits and how they can be grown, eaten or used in recipes
Their tongue-twisting list of edibles includes atemoya, cherimoya, carambola, grumichama, jaboticaba, white sapote, canistel, Maher black sapote, ortanique, Chinese imbu, soursop, rollinia, monstera and longan.
As strange as those names may sound, the fruit can look even stranger -- like alien cuisine from a science fiction flick.
A couple of well-known Pete's were featured:
"Mangoes are my favorite," council president Pete Kearns said.
And later:
[C]ouncil member Pete Ray is mulling over new possibilities for jaboticaba, a black fruit that grows on a tree's trunk instead of its limbs.

"It might make a good wine," said Ray, who once owned an avocado grove in Miami.
There is history:
The council took root in October 1986 when its founders gathered at the former Bayshore Public Library in Manatee County. It has grown bigger, and stronger, ever since.
And the birth of Palma Sola:
In January, the Manatee Rare Fruit Council will invite some of those other green-thumb groups to Bradenton to see its latest acquisition -- a coveted asset among Florida's rare fruit organizations.
This past spring, the Palma Sola Botanical Park on 17th Avenue Northwest in Bradenton gave the council about two-thirds of an acre. Kearns, Ray and other council members have planted about 40 trees, vines and other plants, including noni, pineapples, lychees, macadamia nuts and other produce not ordinarily grown in Florida.
In three to four years, their patch of Eden should be reaching maturity and provide a bounty of delicacies for the discerning palate.
"What we're doing here is pretty unusual," Ray said. "We want this to be the premier public display of rare fruit trees in Florida."
I think that Pete Ray got his wish, at least for Southwest Florida.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pruning Peaches and Poms

This past week I enjoyed two fine talks on fruit horticulture. Cindy Weinstein, President of the Florida Pomegranate Association, spoke on pomegranates at our club in Palmetto, and Dr. Mercy Olmstead of UF-IFAS spoke about peaches and other stone fruit at the Suncoast Tropical Fruit and Vegetable Society in Nokomis. Both were extremely knowledgeable and informative.

Though peaches and poms are not close relatives, they have much in common. Both are touted as partial replacements for Florida's declining citrus industry. Both require varieties specially selected for Florida's humid subtropical climate. And from the viewpoint of pruning they have many similarities:

–--Both are deciduous, fast-growing plants that require vigorous pruning to fruit well and stay healthy.

---They should be pruned twice each year, once in late winter before bud break, and once in summer after fruit is formed.

---Both benefit greatly from thinning out the interior. Dr. Olmstead mentioned a rule of thumb for peaches: after pruning in the summer, you should see some broken sunlight on the ground beneath the tree. She also recommended leaving a few small central branches to provide some shade for next year's interior fruit.

---Both have a tendency to produce watersprouts. These are thin, vigorous branches that spring up on old wood. They often grow vertically. They don't produce fruit, and serve only to clog up the tree and sap its energy. Just clip them off.

---A peach tree should have a single trunk, and about four main “scaffold” branches coming out horizontally. In combination with thinning the interior, this leads to the classic “vase” shape for the tree. Although it is possible to train pomegranates to a single trunk, it's best to allow them to form several main trunks for a “shrubby” look.

---Tip the branches (cut off the last inch or so) in summer to prevent the tree from getting too lanky.

---Especially on peach trees, look for and remove “blind wood”. These are small branches that may carry fruit, but have no leaves to support the fruit growth and no leaf buds to leaf out in future years. They just draw energy from the rest of the tree, without pulling their share of the load.

---After fruit is formed but while still small, it should be thinned, especially near the ends of thin branches that won't be able to bear its weight. In general, thin peaches to one per six inches. For pomegranates, remove all fruit that lies on terminal buds. Favor fruit on strong branches toward the interior of the tree.

Finally, after all that work pruning it, don't be discouraged when your peach tree dies in ten or twelve years. That's about as long as they last in Florida.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

No Taproot? Just Add One

Last month MRFC Secretary Josh Starry and I had the pleasure of touring the fruit tree collection of two of our club members, Craig and Celeste Welch.

Among the many items of interest, Craig showed us his use of inarching, a nifty and probably underutilized grafting technique. Its primary purpose is to expand the root system of a tree. The method starts with planting a seed a short distance from the trunk of an established tree, and allowing the seedling to grow. Once it is underway, its top is removed and the remainder is grafted into the trunk of the established tree. If the graft takes, the seedling roots become a second root system. This provides the tree with a better supply of water and nutrients.

Inarching is typically used when a tree is damaged and needs a boost, but it can be used on any tree that might benefit. For example, a tree propagated by airlayering has an unnatural root system, lacking a taproot. Inarching gains it a natural root system, with a taproot if it is a taproot species.

A secondary benefit of inarching is to increase the physical stability of the tree. Craig showed us a jakfruit that he had triply inarched, giving it an additional tripod of trunks. It will laugh at hurricanes.

MRFC members already know that Celeste maintains this website as an outsize contribution to the club. The Welch family were first-time vendors at our sale this year. It's a delight to have such a knowledgeable and enthusiastic couple in our ranks.