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Grow Your Own Paradise PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
March 2017

Nothing is sweeter than a home-grown garden

I Pix_YourGarden_3-17have a pile of delicious caimito fruit in my kitchen right now, so to get inspired for this article, I just ate one.

The dark purple fruit, about the size of a hardball, is a bit soft and at the perfect stage for eating. I sliced the fruit in half and easily pulled the viscous “meat” away from the skin. It’s not so juicy as an orange, which squirts all over when you eat it, and the four or five smooth and shiny black seeds inside, shaped like almonds and all about the same size and easy to separate from your meal.

A caimito, or Chrysophyllum cainito, tree grows in my garden. It’s a perfect small- to midsize landscape tree, with beautiful foliage like its cousin, the satin leaf, only a bit larger. The canopy is not so dense as to block out all the sunlight, so you can grow other plants beneath it. And best of all, it produces lots of tasty edible fruit.

A happy tree growing in the proper conditions with good soil drainage and full sun will produce fruit the size of a softball. Just keep an eye on the fruit when it ripens. It tends to disappear quickly.

All the caimito trees at Jungle Island were grown from seed when I began to expand the plant and tree nursery at the Parrot Jungle, in preparation for the new landscape at the new park. I had grown satin leaf trees, Chrysophyllum oliviforme, at the park before, but I had never tried the caimito. It seemed to be a bit cold-sensitive, and the foliage would burn off after a freeze. With warmer winter temperatures and definitely less frost, caimito should now be in every garden.

The caimito, sometimes also called star apple or cainito, is in the same family as the sapodilla, limoncillo, lychee, mamey, and canistel. Oh, and also the miracle fruit, which makes everything taste sweet.

I often find these trees on many older residential properties that I visit just before the places are to be demolished to make way for newer, much larger buildings. It’s really a shame -- so many fruit trees and edible plants that we can easily grow in our gardens. Recently in Wynwood on a single property that was about to be demolished, I found bananas, papaya, breadfruit, Jaboticaba, cherimoya, moringa, and, of course, the ever-present mango and avocado. All of those fruit trees were flourishing in a not-so-large yard. Someone now long gone really knew how to cultivate that garden.

One of the more prolific edible fruit plants that I cultivate at home is the papaya. There are so many different varieties to grow. I have one variety that never produces seed. This is the sweetest of all the papaya I’ve ever eaten, but more on papaya in a later column.

We are really missing the boat here by overbuilding our residential properties at the expense of our yards. I enjoy spending time in my garden, keeping an eye out for fruit or vegetables to collect for smoothies or to add to dinner. Maybe you can think of the time spent outside as therapy. When you’re really stressed, go outside, grab the hose, and water your plants. Maybe you’d be less stressed if you spent less on that giant house.

I noticed just today that my red pineapples are in full glorious bloom. I used to plant them at the Parrot Jungle because most people didn’t know you could eat them, so the fruit never got stolen. These large beds of bromeliads would color the garden for a couple of months. Yes, gasp, I used the bromeliad word, but don’t worry; they don’t hold water, so mosquitoes will not breed in them.

My collection of gingers and turmeric are growing well. Some of the gingers are very aromatic and tasty. They grow best in large containers, rather than directly in the ground. Collecting the tubers is much easier when you can just take a small shovel and slice a section of the rootball and leave the rest intact. I add my compost to the hole that is left after the roots are removed. My pepper plants produced fruit for the first time last year. They really like my earthworm-produced compost.

So instead of building or buying that giant house, how about taking possession of a smaller, more tasteful house with a yard where you can grow lots of neat stuff? Try different varieties of jalapeño. Get a dehydrator, dry them out, grind them up, and use them on pizza.

Get rid of that damn chemically cultivated grass. Plant sweet potato instead. Cultivate your own garden, really.

 

Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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