Papayas can cut expenses in hard times


Growing your own garden is a good way to save money. Planting short season vegetables is one approach especially if you are limited in space. If you have more space, pineapple, bananas and papayas will give you great results with little effort within a year or two. If you can wait three or four years, plant citrus, mangoes and avocados. For even more exotic fruit, you have to think long term for production. Fruits like jaboticaba, mangosteen, durian, breadfruit and white sapote are examples of fruit that can take 10 or more years to give decent crops. The jaboticaba is worth the wait. A mature tree can produce several heavy crops during the year. The Brazilian exotic is very nutritious and makes great jams, jellies and even wine.

Home-grown fruit can be harvested at its peak, and is more delicious than imported fruit found in supermarkets.

Many of our tropical fruits are not grown commercially. If so, they are limited in availability.

For the best return on time and effort, I recommend papayas. Papaya plants are a natural for almost any garden. They are prolific and nutritious. Probably no other plant supplies the home gardener with so much for so little effort. This tropical American, herbaceous, tree-like plant will grow and produce fruit year-round with a minimum of care.

Green, unripe papayas are high in papain which helps digestion. The leaves are also high in papain and used in cooking. Ripe fruits are high in calcium and vitamins A and C.

Start out with good plants, proper attention to fertilizer and moisture needs, and keep insects under control. You’ll harvest some very good fruit that will repay you for your trouble.

There are several varieties, from the big watermelon fruit to the small solo types.

Most folks prefer the bisexual or solo strain of papaya. This type produces a high percentage of top quality fruit. Seeds from the large watermelon types produce male, female and bisexual trees. Most of the male trees must be eliminated as soon as they are detected. They are identified by means of their bloom stems. These are sometimes up to more than a foot in length and have many flowers. Female blooms are produced close to the stem but have no pollen-bearing stamen. Bisexual flowers have both ovary and stamen and can self-pollinate.

Occasionally, garden shops and nurseries offer solo papaya plants for sale, and the gardener who needs a few plants will do well to buy plants rather than attempt to grow them from seed. For larger numbers of plants, you may grow seed from selected fruit. Seed order forms are available from the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service.

The papaya is a relatively short-lived plant, reaching a height of 12, 15 or even 25 feet in five years. A quality plant should produce more than 150 pounds of fruit in a two-year period. Commercial growers often harvest up to 300 pounds from a plant during a two-year period. After that, the plant becomes so tall it is difficult to pick fruit. Production drops rapidly.

Select seeds from a fruit that you like or purchase UH seed. Plant three or four seeds in individual containers from which the plants and soil can be removed without injury to roots. Paper potting cups are okay for planting, as long as they have good drainage.

When seeds begin to sprout, use a soluble fertilizer once a week, mixing according to the manufacturer’s direction. It takes six to eight weeks to raise plants large enough to set out in permanent locations.

Set plants in permanent locations at least 8 feet apart. The area should receive as much sun as possible. Put about three plants to a hill, 1 foot apart in the hill. Keep them there until you determine the sex, then remove the males and weak females.

If the soil in which you are to set young papaya plants is poor, prepare it two weeks ahead of planting by spreading complete garden fertilizer such as 4-4-4 or 8-8-8, compost and well-rotted manures over a 4-square-foot area about the site of each hill and dig the fertilizer into the soil. Wet it down so the fertilizer will dissolve and mix well with the soil.

Fertilize newly set out plants once a week with soluble fertilizer for the first month. Then begin fertilizing with a regular dry garden fertilizer, applying once a month. Papaya requires large amounts of fertilizer for best production. Remember, it is a giant herb and not a tree. Spread the fertilizer out over an area roughly covered by the leaves.

A papaya plant won’t thrive in soil that is very dry or soggy and wet. Young plants must be kept well-watered until they are established, then watered every four or five days during the dry season. Mulching will help to conserve moisture. In wetter areas of the island, irrigation will only be necessary during drought periods.

Pests, such as aphids, mites and fruit flies, can give papaya growers trouble. No insecticide controls the fruit fly in dooryard plantings. Harvesting fruit before it is overripe will keep damage to a minimum. Mites, almost microscopic spider-like creatures, sometimes cause visual damage. This does not usually affect the fruit’s taste.

Nematodes, microscopic worms that feed on papaya roots, are also a problem. Good fertilization practices and mulching will minimize nematode damage.

Occasional diseases may cause fruit blemish. Fungicides applied according to manufacturer’s directions usually clear up this problem.

Once you have started your papaya plants, consider the many banana varieties, since they are also easy to grow. Vegetable gardens can be a challenge but with the right seed and preparation you can cut those food bills.

If it is meat you want, there are many farmers having problems with wild pigs and chickens. If you are into the hunting mode, they will be happy to have help reducing the population of these animals.

This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. For more information, contact the nearest office or visit ctahr.hawaii.edu.