Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Sunday, July 31, 2016


Last week we told the story of how I acquired my Ice Cream mango tree, in a 10-gallon pot back in the spring of 2014. But the new arrival didn't look very happy--- it tilted quite a bit in the pot, and there were little drip stains where sap seeped out and run a ways down the trunk. All through the summer, it sat there forlornly, and when fall came, I decided to try putting it in the ground.

By then I had heard some negative reports about the suitability of the Ice Cream variety for Florida. No less an authority than Noris Ledesma says that it doesn't do well here. I didn't really want to invest a prime sunny spot in a questionable producer. But there was a place near the garden, shaded through mid-day, where a dwarf tree would fit nicely.

Late in November came the planting day. I moved the potted tree in a wheelbarrow, and dug a hole that looked to be about the right size. I gently eased the root ball out of the container. Turning to put the container on the ground, I could just barely see the rootball roll to one side of the light wheelbarrow which, now overweighted by tree and rootball, began tipping toward the hole. It seemed like slow motion, but unfortunately my reaction time was equally slowed, and the wheelbarrow crashed on its side. Amazingly, the root ball slid out and dropped into the hole, with the tree standing upright. It was as though it was eager to get into the ground in that very spot. Just my imagination, no doubt. No doubt.

The self-planting fruit tree looked close to vertical, so I just packed in some soil, added some toppings--- composted manure, Fertrell, and a thick layer of mulch--- and kept it moist for a few weeks.

Through 2015, our little hero gradually started looking better. In the spring, it made some fruit and promptly dropped it. As the year went on, it grew a bit, and the seeping sap diminished and eventually disappeared.

Last spring several fruit made it past the formative stage, then fell off or disappeared one-by-one until only the last remained, nestled in a cluster of leaves. Dreading a night-time raid, I checked it each morning. A line of little black spots appeared on the side, then another. Finally, July arrived. The fruit still showed no color, but it was now or never.

The little mango weighed in at more than nine ounces, not unreasonable for this small-fruited variety. As the days passed, more black specks appeared, and when the fruit softened a bit, it was time to give it a try.

Last fall I asked Wayne Clifton which variety of mango tastes best. He thought it over, then surprised me by saying that for him, it was Ice Cream. So I was eager to see whether this one was better than it looked. And the flavor was--- exquisite! Rich, perfectly balanced, sweet but not candy sweet, and a melt-in-your-mouth feel that no doubt inspired the name. As good as any other mango I've had.

A rare treat.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Twice-Told Tale of Two Mangos

My Ice Cream variety mango produced a fruit this year, its first, prompting me to tell its tale. Actually, the story of its acquisition appeared back in 2014, on the previous MRFC website, but since that site is no longer visible, I will repost it here. Next week, we'll learn what's happened since then.

June 1, 2014. Last winter I would head out early on Saturdays to the Sarasota farmer's market. Mainly I liked to hang out at Charlie Crowley's booth. Larry Atkins was generally to be found there, and some of the town's other fruit tree enthusiasts often dropped by. I could learn from these founts of horticultural wisdom, while enjoying the Gulf air and the sights and sounds of market day.

On a warm March Saturday, one of Sarasota's most reclusive collectors came by. He mentioned that he was looking for a good home for a mango tree, an Ice Cream. I was quick to speak for it.

Along with it came with my first tour of his collection. More than thirty varieties of mango, along with lychees, longans, citrus, avocados, jackfruit, one of Wayne Clifton's Dream cherimoyas, and on and on. For many years he's been mulching with free wood chips from the guys in the orange trucks, and now has a foot-and-a-half layer of rich soil on his entire grove. He irrigates with two 450-foot wells. Surrounded by a high wall, this secret fruit tree paradise sits within walking distance of downtown Sarasota. Sweet.

The Ice Cream variety is a fine-tasting dwarf mango, said to be ideal for container growing. The free tree was in a 10-gallon nursery pot, and at more than four feet tall with a stout trunk, is ready to produce. Quite a bonanza.

My host had another 10-gallon mango to give away, a Tommy Atkins. For some reason, the hefty main trunk had been cut off, but it sported a vigorous sprout about three feet tall growing above the graft. The Tommy Atkins variety is known as a trouble-free reliable producer, but it wants to be a big tree. And most people consider its fruit to be only mediocre. With so many wonderful mango trees to have, I can't spend the space for that. But it's still a valuable tree and I said I would take it too.

We managed to cram them both into my '98 Taurus, and back at my place I muscled them out. I figured I would to keep the Ice Cream in its container, perched on a couple of concrete blocks in an otherwise useless spot of flood-prone low ground. But what to do with the Tommy Atkins?

Pal Kevin lives on a handsome five-acre spread about a mile from me. He has a fine collection of fruit trees, but is nowhere near needing all that space for them. I proposed that he use the Tommy Atkins as a trap plant. That is, put it out on the periphery of his property and forget about it. It will become a big, beautiful tree making lots of fruit for the wild critters, and the idea is that they may settle for that instead of the gourmet stuff that requires venturing near the house with its canine patrols. Kevin liked the idea, and we planted it the first day of spring.

Two mango trees have now found their purpose in life.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Vanishing Act

Unlike some of those indoor folk who want to spray high and low for “bugs”, fruit tree growers have an appreciation of the insect life around us. We know that pollinators are essential to the production of many fruits, and that predator insects and spiders are our allies in the control of pest insects. But like everything else in the biosphere, insects and other invertebrates are feeling the effects of us humans. And it's not pretty.

Yale University's environment360 is not a gloom-and-doom publication, but in a recent article there,  Vanishing Act: Why Insects Are Declining and Why It Matters, journalist Christian Schw√§gerl reports on the astounding decline of invertebrate populations around the world. Of course bee populations have been getting most all of the press coverage, but the decline is massive and widespread. A few examples:

--- Since 1989, the average biomass of insects caught in field traps set by researchers in Germany has declined from 1.6 kilograms to just 300 grams.

--- German scientists have also observed a decline in butterfly and Burnet moth species from 117 in 1840 to 71 in 2013, in a Bavarian nature reserve.

--- Stanford researchers have calculated a 45 percent decline--- yes, almost half--- in global invertebrate populations in just the past 40 years.

Can anyone out there not guess the causes?

--- Pesticide use. Yes, pesticides work. They kill insects. Lots and lots of them.

--- Monocultures. Agricultural monocultures are “biological deserts”, supporting far less invertebrate life.

--- Habitat loss. Urban development, wetland destruction, deforestation, pollution, and other damage and loss of wild terrain simply leave a lot fewer places for invertebrates to live.

The first rule of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else. The decline in insect populations produces a corresponding decline in species that feed on insects, notably many bird species, bats, and amphibians. And in the species that feed on these, and so on. And disrupts plant populations, and the species that feed on plants. And on and on.

Polar bears, otters, and other “charismatic” species make good press to call attention to our impact on our fellow creatures, but those uncuddly six and eight-legged ones may be more important. Scientists are ramping up efforts to monitor populations and to find ways to slow the decline, but no one knows where all this is heading, or where it ends up. Let's hope it's not a world without butterflies.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Best Mango Ever?

Mangos--- unlike, say, black sapotes--- have wide variation in flavor, texture, color, and the other subtle elements that go into the tasting experience. With so many different ways to weight these elements, combined with horticultural factors such as ripeness, fertilization, weather, and so on, it's hopeless to argue over which mango tastes best. Of course, that doesn't stop the folks at Tropical Fruit Forum--- or anywhere that mango lovers may gather--- from trying.

With 26 mango varieties on my property and room for a couple more down the road, I've burned up more than one afternoon poring through the TFF discussions. The mangos produced by the Zill nursery in Boynton Beach receive a lot of attention. And with good reason, as they are among the most innovative of the new varieties appearing on the market.

Most readers rank two of the Zill creations at or near the top--- Lemon Zest and Sweet Tart. The latter is a seedling of the “ZINC” mango--- the Zill Indo-Chinese. For eating pleasure, Sweet Tart gets astounding reviews from the tough crowd at TFF. Some of them verge on the mystical:
Brett Borders: The inside flesh was succulent & dark orange. It reminded me why I love tropical fruit--- because of those rare experiences where you taste something so appealing that it seems unlikely it could grow from a natural seed in the ground. Where you wonder if it might have somehow been genetically altered or contain alien DNA?

This mango has a magnificent sweetness that outshines candy & cane sugar... with a musky cantaloupe-like undertone and a bold tartness that tingled and tickled my mouth. Some cola syrup was under the skin and most concentrated near the stem. I tried to slow down and enjoy each bite... but I staggered and could... not... stop... until all that remained were some paper thin strips of skin and a very clean seed. I rate this mango as "outstanding" - a wonder of nature and agriculture.
DurianLover: You bite few times, and than you stop and think. What's going on here? There are explosions of sweet, acid, and tart. Tart being most prominent flavor. Sometimes I think I don't like this mango. Too much tart. But than I would change my mind one minute later, and think this is an awesome mango! I guess its just one of the tricks this mango plays with your mind. Some people never get used to strong tart component, so you have to try for yourself. If you like it, than you really going to like this mango. Also its the only mango you taste long after last bite. For this reason at one point I made a habit to finish every mango meal with ST.

jc: If you want mild, laid back, subtle nuances of flavor and aroma this fruit ain't for you! Sweet Tart mangos will make your mouth water uncontrollably, and not in a negative sense. If I only had space for two mangos one would be the Lemon Zest and the other would be the Sweet Tart.

zands: The sweet-tart mango is the sweetest mango I have encountered. It veers into sugary so diabetics should avoid this one and I am only half joking. Yes there are some sub-acid and tart flavors underneath. The sub acid + tart component is 15% of the amount of the sweet components so if you don't like tart you don't have to worry about planting this mango tree.

bsbullie: To me [ST] is better than LZ... and while not everyone has had the opportunity to taste it yet, don't look back 'cause here comes Cotton Candy.

Squam256: I would compare it to a prime Dot if I had to compare it to another mango. It's a ZINC seedling but doesn't really taste like ZINC. Some of the ST's I've had are up there with the best mangos I've ever eaten...and I've tried hundreds of cultivars.

The tart component only dominates depending on how under-ripe it is. The more ripe it is the more richly sweet it becomes. One of the beauties of Sweet Tart is how long the window is on when it can be eaten and enjoyed.
What is the tree like? Some describe it as “compact”, while zands says: .
Sweet tart is such a heavy and precocious bearer that it will change the canopy structure of the tree and make it more spreading. Left to its own devices without producing they'll grow very vertically.
Despite its magnificent flavor, the Sweet Tart's commercial value may be limited. One of the heavy-posting pro's on the Forum reports that Sweet Tart does not ship well--- “If picked green it won't ripen properly, and if picked at the proper stage, it's too soft to ship.”

My own Sweet Tart is fairly new, planted as a 3-gallon tree just last December. Awarded a prime irrigated planting spot, it's off to a good start, with healthy-looking leaves from a couple of flushes. I won't let it fruit next year, but perhaps 2018 will make me a true believer.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Mangos, Mangos, Mangos

Yes, mango season is finally here. I long ago stripped the fruit from my younger trees, but several of the older ones are getting their first chance to fruit. Let's take a tour.

This is the only surviving fruit on the Ice Cream tree. It's a delicious variety, but most experts say it's poorly adapted to our region. If this fruit survives to maturity, it will be a good occasion for my tree to tell its interesting story.

The Glenn variety is considered one of the most reliable producers. The half-dozen on my tree are starting to show some blush.

Coconut Cream! There are only two on the tree. It's one of the varieties that don't develop much color, and this one is full size, so I'm going to harvest it now before someone else does.

This is one of the half-dozen or so fruit on the disease-resistant Mallika. Pine Island Nursery rates it a top-score 5 in every category except "color". Like many sources, they recommend picking it at the "mature green" stage and allowing it to ripen on the shelf in 10 to 14 days.

The Rosigold has actually fruited for a couple of years, and already gave some fruit from last fall's blooming. It now has several starting to show color. I picked one a couple of weeks ago, and after ripening on the shelf it was very tasty. Rosie is rather subject to anthracnose, so the fruit are not very pretty, but for home use the extended season and small tree make the Rosigold variety a good choice.

Here is this year's entire crop from my young Kent. It's supposed to be a later-season variety, but this one looked ready to pick a month before the book says. Perhaps it was just early because the tree could put all its energy into this one fruit. But down on Pine Island, friend of the MRFC Steve Cucura reports an oddly compressed mango season, with the peak coming up in the next three weeks or so. To be safe, eat lots and lots of mangos this month!