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Organic Care of Papayas in the Tropics and Subtropics

by Andy Firk, owner of Bamboo Grove Farm, Arcadia (FL) & Sunlife Farm, Ithaca (NY)

“Organic papayas should be planted in rich, well-drained soil, raised up if flooding is a possibility. They should be mulched, kept regularly watered, and if you want the healthiest papayas, then spray them with liquid seaweed fertilizer regularly on the underneath of the leaves. Fruits infested by fruit flies should be bagged individually when still young and green.” - Andy Firk

Papaya, Carica Papaya, Caricaceae Family

Mature Height: 15″ average (different varieties will have a mature height from 3-30′ tall), 7″ wide on average.
Light Requirements: Full sun.
Soil Preparation: Tolerates poor soil. Prefers enriched soil with plenty of organic matter, compost,… The soil must be well drained! Poor salt tolerance.
Soil pH: Likes a pH of 5.5 to 7.0
Planting: Seeds all year although some say that May is the best month to plant. Rub off the gelatinous covering from the seeds, air dry for a day or two in the shade.
Spacing: 6-8″ for most varieties
Top Dressing: Mulch (to partially alleviate nematode problems)
Rate of Growth: Fast
Watering: Regularly/ frequently if possible. Every other day for seedlings. Twice weekly for older plants. Plants are easily killed by flooding.
Fertilization: Frequent spraying of the underneath of the leaves with “Maxicrop” or other liquid seaweed fertilizers is highly recommended. Balanced granular fertilizers such as 6-6-6 or 10-10-10 can be spread around the soil 1/4 lb. every 2 weeks, to 1/2 lb. every two weeks until they are 8 months old, then reduce to once a month. If in good soil with mulch, use half this amount.
Care During the Growing Season: Remove most male plants when the flowers appear (some are bisexual). The male flowers occur on flower stems while female flowers develop directly on the trunk.
Pollination: Mostly by wild Sphinx moths. Hand pollination: for select seed production.
Freezing: freezes about 31 degrees F, young plants are tender.
Pests: Nematodes are a serious problem. Keep soil mulched and never use weed killer near the plants. Papaya Fruit Fly- bagging is the only control besides relentless chemical pesticide spraying (which is not recommended). Papaya Webworm and Papaya Whitefly can also pose a problem.
Diseases, Viruses, etc.: Powdery mildew-spray with sulfur. Anthracnose may rot fruits. Papaya viruses may mottle leaves and cause greasy rings and spots on fruits, and distort and weaken plants. Destroy affected plants immediately. “Cauliflora” variety is quite resistant to ringspot. Fungal diseases may also occur.
Seed Storage: seeds will remain viable up to 2-3 years if kept in a cool, dry, dark container.
Life Expectancy: 2-3 years average, up to 20 years if properly cared for and if freezes do not kill the plant. Make new plantings annually for replacements.
Related Species: We are going to experimentally plant some Babaco Papayas which are different species, Carica pentagonia. Unlike common papayas the skin of this species is edible. If you would like to buy some of these seeds to try for yourself write to: Exotica Rare Fruit Nursery, 2508-B East Vista Way, P.O. Box 160, Vista, CA or call 760-724-9093. These are organically grown seeds. Other species we will try are “Toronchi” Mountain Papaya, Carica candamarensis and “Chamburro” Mountain Papaya, Carica pubescens, all from Exotica Nursery.

References:
Florida Fruit, Maxwell.
Growing and Using Exotic Foods, Van Atta.
Florida Home Grown, Mac Cubbin.

©2000-2011 Andrew P. Firk.

Filed in: Andy's Organic Garden

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