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EAT YOUR YARD: Growing tropical fruit trees can boost your health--and happiness.

THEY SAY WE LIVE IN PARADISE.

But do your doors open onto a Garden of Eden? Can you walk outside and pick fresh fruit from a tree? No? Well, why not? We live in a semi-tropical area where many of the great fruit trees of the world can grow. In fact, growing exotic tropical fruit trees is downright trendy, Listen to Charles Boning, author of Florida's Best Fruiting Plants, published by Sarasota's Pineapple Press.

"Florida is experiencing a surge of interest in growing fruit for the home," Boning writes in his book. "Dooryard orchards have sprung up across the state, Tree sales attract crowds. Fruit festivals draw thousands, Even home-supply warehouses have capitalized upon the growing variety of rare and unusual fruit by stocking cultivars of lychee, persimmon, and passionfruit."

Funny he should mention lychee. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, Sarasota was the place in the United States to grow lychees. Then, in 1958, a freeze wiped out the crop here. Lychee production moved farther south. Subsequent freezes drove citrus south of what would become Interstate 4,

Today the commercial growing of tropical fruit is largely located in South Florida. But noncommercial growing of fruit trees is easily done in Southwest Florida, including Sarasota.

The popularity of tropical fruit trees has been accelerated by immigrants from the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia. They wanted the fruit native to their country, and that's led nurseries to stock varieties that until recently were unknown to most in the United States. (State agricultural agents cannot recommend non-native trees, so many popular fruit trees do not make official lists. They're also not recommending planting citrus trees because of the canker and greening epidemics among those trademark Florida fruits,)

Locals hungry for tropical fruit can travel to nurseries in Pine Island, which grow and sell all sorts of exotic varieties, But they might not like the prices: On a recent visit, a single soursop fruit--a popular staple in the Caribbean--cost $18, Instead, many newcomers-and even longtime Floridians-are picking up shovels and planting their own trees. And really, you don't need to be an expert to have a backyard fruit tree, For most, you just dig a hole, put a tree in the hole, watch it grow and water as needed. That's it. Until you harvest your reward.

It would be hard to find any authority who does not recommend more fruit in American diets. You can't live on fruit alone, since fruit is often absent important minerals like iron. There is insufficient protein in a fruitarian diet, and "good fats" are rarely found, except in avocadoes. But fruit is bursting with nutrients we may not get from other food, such as potassium, fiber, vitamin C and folic acid.

Nutrition-conscious consumers sometimes argue that fruit contains too much sugar, But fruit sugar is fructose, while table sugar is sucrose. It's sucrose, most argue, that spikes blood sugar in an unhealthy fashion. Fructose rarely causes such a spike. Just brush your pearly whites and have another mango!

Celeste and Craig Welch got the fruit tree bug about 20 years ago, planted some trees and fell in love with them. Craig grafts new trees; Celeste sells them from the couple's home on 2.2 acres near DeSoto Road. The Welches spent some frustrating years in Archer, Florida, near Gainesville, before moving here.

"We tried growing many subtropical fruit trees there," Celeste says. "But winters were too cold. We did grow loquats, blueberries and some citrus and had some marginal success with apples, bananas, peaches and nectarines,"

Then they moved to Ecuador for three years and their passion for rare fruit trees grew,

Their Sarasota yard is now so productive that they sell trees at the Manatee Rare Fruit Council's annual sale, That began three years ago and Sultana Groves, as they've named their business, is doing well,

Celeste loves special varieties of bananas. She and Craig grow 65 varieties for sale in their yard, but that's only the start. The Welch yard contains mango, lychee, avocado, dragon fruit, jackfruit, grapes, ice cream bean, Barbados cherry, passion fruit, coconut, sugar apple, jaboticaba, miracle fruit, sapodilla, pomegranate, sugar cane, Jamaican cherry, cinnamon, cinnamon apple, peanut butter fruit, blackberry jam fruit, figs, guava, mulberries, blackberries and raspberries.

"People go through a few stages when they get the tropical fruit tree bug," Celeste explains, "At first, when you realize just how many exotic and delicious fruits there are, you want to grow them all, After a while, and when you run out of space, you start focusing on a few of your favorites."

Dave Goodman, who writes books under the pseudonym of David the Good, has maintained gardens in North, Central and South Florida. "If you're not sure what to plant," he writes in Create Your Own Florida Food Forest "plant a little of everything and then give away the fruit you don't like to the poor."

Goodman scoffs at recommendations about how far apart to plant trees, Look at the natural forest, he says. There are canopy trees, but lots of others growing under and near them, Yes, grow some large trees, but don't waste space beneath them by leaving that area barren,

Not everyone wants to turn his yard into a forest, of course, but even a few trees can give you years of enjoyment--and bushels of fruit.

Mangoes are the most popular fruit on the planet, and they do well in Sarasota, There are many varieties to choose from, including a new cultivar called "Cotton Candy" that is said to taste just like its namesake, You can even find what are called condo varieties, trees small enough to grow in a pot on a condo balcony.

At the Manatee Rare Fruit Council's sale in May, the most popular trees were mangoes and lychees, Passionfruit vines, jackfruit trees and dwarf banana varieties also sold well, And you can also search out such exotics as peanut butter fruit, sapodillo and ice cream bean, Rip open an ice cream bean pod and you'll see fluff that looks like cotton candy but tastes like vanilla ice cream,

"Most fruit growers will tell you that the best fruit is the one that's ripe right now, and that's true," Celeste says. "A good mango is hard to beat. Craig is a big fan of jackfruit and I love lychee, sapodilla, ice cream bean and bananas. Our daughters love mangoes, mulberries, raspberries and bananas,"

All growing in a Garden of Eatin'. Their yard.

10 Top Trees

What should you plant?

We asked a number of experts for recommendations; here's a consensus list of their favorites, in order of popularity.

Also getting votes: canistel, banana, caimito, papaya, passionfruit, sugar apple, tamarind, dragon fruit, persimmon, blueberry, miracle fruit, loquat and peach.

RESOURCES

The University of Florida Fruitscapes website at tree. ifas.ufl.edu/fruitscapes/ has extensive information about where and how to grow different varieties,

Fruits of Warm Climates, by Julia Morton, free at hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ morton/index.html.

Sugarcane, edis.ifas, ufl.edu/sc052

Overview of best Florida fruit trees, edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg373
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Title Annotation:EAT WELL
Author:Bowden, Robert
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Words:1181
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