Growing fruiting plants at home can help you to offset your grocery bill for the entire year. The more plants you have in your garden the better off you are going to be. One thing you must do is to have diversity in the plants you are growing or propagating. A continual supply of fruits and vegetables necessitates you plant many different plants and follow a calendar to remind you of when to plant them. I know that many of you only plant one thing like tomatoes or peppers because you are used to planting them and you know how to care for them, but you need to be bold and try something different. I can tell you from my personal experience that you will enjoy experimenting with different plants and I am here to walk you through the process. This week we are going to start by planning ahead for our spring garden by planting papaya seeds. In this article I will tell you how to harvest your papaya seeds, dry the seeds, plant the seeds, and then grow the plants large enough to put into the garden. Starting papayas needs to start now so we can plant them out in the garden in about eight weeks. Time to get started!
If you have a papaya you will need to slice the papaya in half exposing the seeds. The seeds should be dark brown in color and most will have a gelatin coating (the aril) covering the dark colored seed. If the seeds are white, the papaya is probably not ripe yet and another papaya should be chosen for seed collection. If you do not have a papaya then you can do what I did and go to the local grocery store or as in my case stop by Sam’s Club and purchase a ripe papaya. The papaya I chose was a Caribbean Red papaya. This is a large papaya and produces many seeds. Once the papaya is cut in half I will use a fork to remove the seeds from the papaya and I will let them fall onto a paper plate with a Bounty towel over the plate. The Bounty towel helps in the drying process. I needed two plates to hold all the seeds from my papaya.
Drying papaya seeds is necessary before planting. Fold the paper towel the seeds were dropped on into a square with the seeds on the inside and place in a cool dry place. If you want to dry them faster you may put them in a southern exposure window and let the sun dry the seeds inside my paper towel. Normally I will let them dry for at least a week. If you placed your seeds in a sunny window they may be dried faster but do not leave them there too long as they may cook in a sunny spot reducing your yield. Once the seeds are dried your seeds will look like tiny little prunes. Some will be attached to the paper towel and some will be loose. I start my planting with the loose seeds first. Now we have to make our soil we will use for planting.
If you have read my articles in the past you know that I use a soil mix called Fafard #4. This is a mix of peat, perlite, and a little bark. This mix comes in three cubic feet bags and I pour all this mix into a wheelbarrow. Next, I add one cubic foot of perlite and a one quart can of 8-10-10 fertilizer and mix well with a shovel. The additional perlite gives me light mixture with good drainage and the fertilizer will help the plants get a good start. I use this mixture to plant all my seedling plants, vegetable crops, and containerized plants. If you can not find Fafard #4 at your local garden center, I am sure you can use any good quality potting soil. Potting soil is sterilized so you do not have to worry about weed seeds or fungal pathogens ruining your new seedling plants. Now that you have your soil you will need to pick up some one gallon containers to start your new plants.
Some people may want to plant these papaya seeds in smaller containers and that is fine. However, I have been in the nursery business so long that repotting plants has become cumbersome and time consuming so I prefer to start my plants in one gallon containers and then pick out the healthiest of the new seedlings for the garden. Anytime I can save a step and forgo repotting then I take the opportunity. Also, when planting papayas you have so many seeds to start with you need dozens of smaller containers or a few larger containers. I start my planting by filling the containers three quarters full of soil then I will pick out about ten seeds and place them in the container making sure that there is space between each seed. Next, I sprinkle a little soil on top of the seeds to a depth of about a half an inch. I will repeat this process for each of the one gallon pots I decide to plant. I normally will fill ten pots with ten seeds each which normally results in about seven plants per pot germinating. You may ask why you need so many plants.
The problem is that more male plants are produced than females and you will need several female plants for the garden. All but one male plant will be cut down once you determine which plants are male and which are female. I will let the new seedlings grow in the one gallon pot until they flower. Normally they will flowers at about 3-4 months in age. Look for the flowers to form along the stem of the plant. These are the female plants. Flowers forming on long stems are the male plants (see photo). Choose the best male plant for your garden and cut off the rest of the male plants at ground level. You only need one male plant. If you were lucky and have several female plants in one pot and the size of each plant is about 3 feet tall, you can plant them in the garden.
Planting in the garden should begin in late February or early March after temperatures start to warm up. Choose a sunny location for your new trees that is rich in compost and group them about five feet apart. Place the male plant you saved near the females to give you good cross pollination. Plant them in the ground at the same height as they were in the pot you grew them in. Adding mulch over the top of the soil will help retain moisture and do not forget to water frequently. Small fruit should appear as small marbles next to the trunk of the female papaya. Fruit will grow slowly and as many as twenty fruit may be on each plant at any time. Lower fruit will ripen first so be sure to keep your eye on them. Fruit is ready to pick when papaya looks plump and yellow spots appear on the fruit.
Papayas can be a great addition to any landscape. Their tropical appearance and wonderful fruit will add a conversation point and food for your table. I hope this information will help you grow bigger and better papayas for your table. Keep growing as many fruits and vegetables from your own garden as possible and remember, without plants we would not be here!