Saturday, July 18, 2009

Papaya Trees in New England

Yes, I know. Papaya's are tropical. They're not supposed to be grown in the frigid Northeast where blizzards and NorEaster's are more common than sun bathing gecko's on a lanai. Where the vegetable growing season is just a short 3 - 4 months long before frost sneaks up and casts a cold spell of death on any living crop just before you get a chance to pick it. It just doesn't make sense.

But sometimes it's fun to buck the odds and see if life can flourish in places that you'd never expect.

As a native New Englander I enjoy the change of seasons, the brisk Autumn, the hopeful Spring and yes, on occasion, even the stern brace of Winter. But the season I love best is Summer. Ahh, summer. Sunny summer days make my heart sing. That's probably why I lived in beautiful South West Florida for a short while. To escape the chill and live in the sultry, humid swelter of a more tropical climate.

On my most recent trip back to visit Naples, FL, I reconnected with a cousin and his family who live there. Immediately I noticed he had papaya trees growing in his back yard. When I explained that I love the sweet taste and smooth consistency of ripe papaya, he plucked one and handed it to me to take back to the hotel for a late evening snack. Sweetness.

I decided then that I'd try to grow them myself at home in New Hampshire. I tucked away the seeds and planted them in seed trays when I got home. Things didn't develop very fast at first. After all, the dead of a New England winter is not the best time to start papaya tree seeds, but I remained optimistic. I kept them warm and moist and gave them as much sunlight as New Hampshire could naturally offer and then added some extra light with lamps. Sure enough seedlings started to emerge.

Countless repottings and a few good growing years have yielded a bountiful wealth of papaya trees. In fact, I have a whole grove of them. In summer, they enjoy spending time outside on my deck which has wonderful southern exposure and provides the 70 - 90 degree temperatures they adore. In the winter, they're not quite as happy. They hunker down inside with cooler temps and less light, but have seemed to adapt. Actually, I've adapted more than they have. I keep the house temperature much warmer than the 60 - 65 degrees that better suited my heating budget in order to accommodate their tropical preferences.

The papaya trees now range in height from 18" to 6 feet. Some have even flowered and produced small sweet fruit, which I've eaten with emmense pride and a side of accomplishment. I've even donated a few trees to Fuller Gardens, a botanical garden in Hampton, NH to be added to their collection of standards there.

Papaya trees in New England. I guess it just goes to show you that with a little care and attention, fruitful life can not only survive, but flourish. Even in the most unlikely of places.

Additional Papaya Resources
Papaya Facts:
Papaya Recipes:

How to Cut & Prepare Papaya:

Papaya Seed Dressing:

Papaya Nutrition:

Friday, July 3, 2009

Green Living Tip for Gardening: Making Plant Markers from Mini Blinds

Reducing, reusing and recycling are great ways to go green, especially in the garden. Here’s another living green tip on how to reuse broken mini blinds as plant markers. I can't really take full credit for this great idea. It was shared at an Herbal meeting I went to last month by Daryl Hoitt of, an organic grower who was kind enough to pass along her sage gardening advice.

At first glance, mini blinds may not seem to be an ideal candidate to reuse as plant markers. When I first heard it, I thought the very same thing. Mini blinds are big, bulky and not all that attractive, how can they possibly be re-purposed for gardening, I thought. It didn't take much convincing though before I understood that they are a perfect way of going green in the garden.

Here's how to make handy plant markers for your deck plants, vegetable garden or even seedlings.

1. Find a set of broken mini blinds. Sometimes that's as easy as walking through your house and finishing up your "to do" list. Item #4 to do - fix broken mini blind. If you don't have your own, ask friends and neighbors, or even pluck them curbside to save them from an inevitable life in a landfill. You'll probably want to use light colored ones like cream or white.

2. Make sure the blinds are relatively clean. If not, dust them off or take a hose to them to remove the major dirt that may have accumulated during their first career as window coverings.

3. Snip the horizontal plastic strips with a pair of scissors. Make sure at least one end is cut at an angle so it can be easily pushed into the soil. Depending on the width of the blind you can cut several plant markers per blade. I found that cutting the angled end next to the holes that allow for the vertical cords works best. That way, you don't have to use the piece with the holes, but still end up with lots of markers.

4. Use a china marker (I know them as grease pencils) to write the name of the plant on the marker. You can use whatever color you'd like, I just happened to have a red one handy. Then push the marker into the soil next to the plant.

5. When you're finished cutting you'll have reused the majority of the blind and only the broken "skeleton" will remain, which you can then discard knowing that you saved most of it to live again in your garden.