Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Monday, June 7, 2021

A Beautiful Day in May

  The 2021 Manatee Rare Fruit Council Fruit Tree Sale took place on May 16, through the efforts of

many club members. Payments from vendors are still coming in, so we don’t have the final numbers.

But despite a pandemic and a tree shortage, the sale was successful enough to ensure the continue

financial soundness of the MRFC.

There was no shortage of customers, despite the change in location, but there was a shortage of

trees to sell. Eight (eight!) vendors from 2019 did not participate in this year’s sale, for an assortment

of reasons. Some have retired from the business, some had covid concerns, and some--- including

two of our medium-sized vendors who dropped out in the week before the sale--- were unable to

obtain enough inventory due to the ongoing shortage of trees. Three new vendors joined the sale.

Our new citrus vendor was mostly cleaned out in the first hour. Next time, he will know to bring more


In addition, some of our regular vendors had diminished inventory. One of our longstanding vendors

brought 130 fewer trees than in 2019, just due to difficulty obtaining wholesale trees.

Despite these challenges, vendors were selling and customers were buying. We had excellent

weather, warm but not very humid. The personnel that we worked with at the Premier Sports Campus

did a fine job, helping us plan the layout and traffic patterns, lining the sale area according to our

specifications, and providing water for thirsty plants on sale day. They also recommended a local

company to provide uniformed security, who directed traffic and kept it flowing smoothly and safely.

Many people helped make the sale happen. The Board is responsible for planning and overseeing

the sale, and put in many hours over the course of the past year. Tree sale veteran Donna Gretton

helped with the site selection and layout, in addition to her usual contribution of lining up and

contracting the vendors, and helping them prepare for sale day. Always a major task, organizing the

vendors was especially complex due to the many changes implemented this year.

The all-important publicity effort involved many volunteers to execute our 14-point plan. In

alphabetical order: Raleigh Barnes, Michael Jaster, Michael Kohlmann, Joshua Starry, and Celeste

Welch, plus the many club members who shared information about the sale on social media---

probably our most powerful means of spreading the word.

Hats off to Michael Jaster, together with our friends from Palma Sola, the Suncoast Beekeepers, and

the Master Gardeners, who were front and center at the MRFC Information Booth providing all

manner of knowledge to many customers.

Several others contributed in various ways, including a couple of dozen members who signed up to

help on sale day. We greatly appreciate all who turned out. We now have a better understanding of

the sale day needs. In this location and sale format, volunteer help is especially needed for setup

from 7 to 9 AM. 

The Board is collecting feedback from vendors and customers, and we will seek to make any

adjustments we can in order to make the sale better. So far, most of the feedback has been very

positive. We’ll report on the final numbers, the feedback, and our final thoughts next month.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Visit To Homestead, Florida

Post by club member, Celeste Welch:

Craig and I decided to once again celebrate our anniversary with a trip to Homestead, Florida - the fruit capital of Florida.

We left our farm at 5am so we could arrive at Fruit and Spice Park at 9am. Arriving early gives access to the most fallen fruits to sample. We arrived at 9am and headed straight for the mangos in the back of the park. We started with the Po Pyu Kalay mangos - one of our favorites. We will post some videos of the mangos we tasted while at the park. You can subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

We then headed over to the cinnamon apple tree near the smaller greenhouse at the park. On the way, we came upon the Redland white sapote tree. Much of the fruit was damaged, but still delicious. I love the fruit - it is so perfumey. Craig much prefers Smathers and the seedling white sapote which is in the same area. We then continued on our way to the cinnamon apple tree. Much to my delight, there was one perfectly ripe, dropped cinnamon apple on the ground. In the past, I have only been able to taste fruit which was half eaten by insects.

We then took the 10am tour. We've taken a tour each trip to Homestead - each with a different guide - but all wonderful. We learn something new each time and are able to taste new fruits. This time, we were showed the Rhedia tree which has sweet fruit - in the past, we had only tried the sour fruits from one of the other trees. During the tour, we noticed the a'ea'e banana in the large greenhouse had ripe fruit on it. The new manager of the park was willing to have the bunch cut down after we asked.

After Fruit and Spice Park, we headed up to Coral Gables area to visit Fairchild Botanical Garden. We walked through the butterfly greenhouse and enjoyed seeing the new beetles and other insects on display. We then walked through the Whitman Pavilion which houses durian trees, mangosteen, and chupa chupa. Next, we walked through the palm collection looking for a palm we found last year which had fruit that smelled just like salt water taffy. We didn't find it, but came across many cute crabs, agamas,  basilisk, and iguanas. The sky suddenly turned black, so we headed out.

Our next stop was just right down the road. We went to the USDA Subtropical Research Station to pick up some plant material. Craig was able to find the jackfruit tree he ate the fruit off of during the fruit fly program last summer. The fruit was very unique and tasted a lot like butterscotch. The rag was edible and there was very low latex. He cut and bagged budwood to graft once we arrived back home.

The next morning, we had the pleasure of meeting up with Noris Ledesma at the Fairchild Farm. She brought out a beautiful box of Indian mangos shipped from India - and told us the story of the farm where they are grown. We were given one of the mangos and a bag of other mangos and mamey fruit. We headed out to the grove and looked at the beautifully pruned mango trees on the farm after walking through the beautiful arches of Rose Apple. Meeting with Noris is the highlight of our trips to Homestead.

Afterwards, we headed back to Fruit and Spice Park to sample more fruits before visiting our friend Don Chafin at his banana farm, Going Bananas. We enjoyed catching up, sampling bananas, and viewing the grove. We also picked up a jar of honey to bring back to my parents as a thank you for helping at our farm in our absence. My dad loves honey!

Friday afternoon, we stopped at Brothers Fruit Stand for Guanabana fruit and later to one of the many orchid stands along Krome Ave to pick up some orchids.

Saturday morning, started out with a great three hour class at Fairchild Farm taught by Noris. The class started with a sophisticated mango tasting. Noris shared with us how she learned about sophisticated tastings (think wine tastings) through a class on art of chocolate tasting in Europe. She did a great job of teaching us about setting up tastings according to geographical location of the fruit, smells, and comparative tasting. Such a treat! We then learned about growing mangos in Florida. Noris is growing organically at her farm and shared the difficulty being faced by fruit farmers in Florida due to low cost, imported fruit from Mexico. We learned about the cancer causing chemicals being used in Mexico to induce off season production, to satisfy the desire for typically seasonal fruits to be available year round. Florida fruit farmers are having to add value to fruit through tastings, better marketing, and niche markets. The class finished with a tour of the grove.

We then headed to Lara Farms to drop off some of our Purple Ambrosia passion fruit vines and picked up some loquat scions Craig had been wanting and some fruit trees. We then stopped at Pine Island Nursery to pick up some different jackfruit tree varieties.

Our final stop was Fruit and Spice park for a short visit during their Summer Fruit Festival. Because of all of the fruit trees and scions we had collected, we decided to head back home early Sunday morning. 

We ended Saturday night with our first dinner out the whole trip. We stopped at a fantastic Mexican restaurant in Homestead -El Rincon de Jalisco.

Sunday morning, we made room in our packed van for our suitcase among all of the fruit trees and made one last stop to Brothers Fruit Stand for more guanabana. Our trip home provided many views of alligators and various species of turtles.

Once we arrived home, we had much more work ahead of us. Craig grafted all of the scions we collected onto rootstock we had at our farm while I potted up fruit trees we brought, planted coconuts, and placed orchids under our oak tree.

 I also collected all of the passion fruit which had dropped while we were gone and packed some up for some of our fruit customers. It was great to come home to ripening lychees too!

We then filmed a couple of mango tasting videos with some of our mangos which were getting quite ripe.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Moving On

Today marks the end of an era, as MRFC members gather at Palma Sola Park, at 2:00 this afternoon of March 19, in remembrance of Ray Jones. More than three decades have passed since he founded this organization, and all of us who have enjoyed its benefits--- and all of those who ever will--- owe him our gratitude. I’m very glad that I’ve had five years here to learn from Ray and so many other masters.

Today marks the end of another, far less significant era: my four years as weekly blogger at the MRFC websites. At the behest of Pete Ray, and with Ray Jones’ encouragement, I took on the task as a learning experience. I resolved that every Sunday, I would post whatever I could come up with that might be of interest to someone, somewhere. And I’ve enjoyed the experience, even though at times it seemed like Sunday came around every three or four days. But the world is ever-changing, and it’s time for me to devote more of my writing energy elsewhere.

I’ll continue to post articles, when inspiration strikes, and for the time being I’ll serve as blog editor. Any submission of writing about fruit trees and related topics, from anyone, anywhere, will be duly considered. If it’s appropriate for the MRFC Articles section of our site, I’ll help with whatever editing may be needed, and post the article and any accompanying photos. Of course each article will carry its writer’s name (unless they prefer to remain anonymous, in which case credit will go to “an author who prefers to remain anonymous”). It doesn’t matter whether you use fancy-dancy, stuck-up elitist words like “behest”, or you don’t know what a dangling participle is. Just write from the heart, and leave it at the “Contact” section of the MRFC website, or email it directly to me, and we’ll see what we can do.

Our writers can share their hard-won knowledge of the unique horticultural conditions of our region. Or they can be the eyes and ears for news from the fruit tree world, or the recorders of the history of our club and of the larger fruit-tree community. They can recount the sights, sounds, and tastes from their travels. Or they can simply brighten our day with their observations, tales, or creative musings. There is much to say, if that is one’s calling.

Supporting the home growing of rare fruit in our region helps to address more different ecological, economic, health, and social challenges than, well, anything else I can think of, and its value is something that all of us, whatever our world view, ought to be able to agree on. Maybe your part in this enterprise is writing articles, or maybe it’s selling fruit and trees, or maybe just growing your own for family and friends, or maybe it’s something else. But however you choose to share this great blessing, I wish you, in one of Ray Jones’ favorite phrases, good growing!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Windy Day In March

I hadn't been to East Bradenton Park since December, and it's time for the first spring fertilization. So one afternoon this past week I headed up to the Park with a 50-pound bag of processed poultry litter, plus some Fertrell and elemental sulfur. Fortunately, as it turned out, I also brought along some bamboo poles and staking ribbon.

As spoiled rotten lucky as I am, it's not surprising that my property is surrounded by heavily treed land, including the conservation woods along the southern border, and the good neighbors to the north. So I'm not used to the wind problems that can plague an unprotected grove like East Bradenton Park. I got a quick lesson.

At least there was only one total loss, this formerly beautiful canistel. It was well-staked when planted, like most of the trees in the grove, but the stake was nowhere to be found. I don't believe anyone unstaked it; most likely the mowing crew picked it up.

A couple of other trees looked like they just barely withstood the high winds of the past few weeks. First was the one and only guava tree in the grove, a Billy Hopkins selection called Pink Barbie.

Sporting three new stakes, it's now somewhat straighter.

The fast-growing Tice mulberry was leaning heavily. I didn't try to restore it to verticality, just to sustain it without further damage.

There were a few other signs of high wind. The carambolas had lost all of last season's leaves, but were leafing out nicely.

The trees aren't as pretty as most of what we see at home, but overall the grove is in good shape. Of course the community is eager to see some fruit. This year we will need to strip the mangos, longans, and most of the other fruit from these young trees, but there should be papayas, carambola, and maybe bananas. And maybe this little bunch of loquats will ripen up.