Tropical Gardening — Vitamins abound
Sunday, January 15 2:10 am
Lucky we live Hawaii, but we can learn a lot from gardeners on other tropical islands. Right now, we are in the Dominican Republic working with farmers on a project sponsored by the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas, or FAVACA.
Voltaire Moise, who is from Haiti, is working on the uses of edible crops while I work on some of the production problems. Like the folks in the Dominican Republic, we in Hawaii can grow almost anything. We have many climates, depending on elevation and whether you are on the rain-swept eastern side or the dryer leeward part of the island.
Below 2,000 feet we grow the tropicals and above we can grow the warm, temperate and even cool season crops. Tropical fruits are the favorite for most, since they are varied and unusual.
Many of these fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and energy.
So instead of popping vitamin pills every day, we should consider fruit. Those vitamin pills on your shelf, besides being pretty expensive items, are not nearly as palatable and eye appealing as fresh fruit — especially when it is grown in your own backyard. You can purchase books on fruits of Hawaii from local garden centers and bookstores that give descriptions, nutritive value and uses of most of these fruits.
Let’s just look at some of the specimens introduced from South America.
Take Vitamin A for instance. One papaya is supposed to contain 4,000 IUs (International Units), while 5,000 IUs per day are listed as adequate. Passion fruit and relatives like banana poka, poha, avocados and surinam cherry are other South American fruits high in Vitamin A.
Some fruits famous for their contribution of Vitamin C are guava, papaya, soursop, poha, cactus fruit and passion fruit.
One of the fruits highest in Vitamin C is the acerola, or Barbados cherry. The fruit is not a cherry, but a member of the Malpighia family. The family is a fairly familiar ornamental shrub in many gardens and bears the highest known Vitamin C content fruit. As a comparison, oranges average 49 milligrams of vitamin per 100 grams of edible fruit (100 grams is about 3 1/2 ounces), while the Barbados, picked as they are turning green to red, average over 4,000 units per 100 grams!
And let’s not forget the pineapple. Even though we see them commonly in the stores, it is fun to grow your own. The pineapple will produce several crops a year if you have a large number of plants; varieties like Red Spanish, Smooth Cayenne, Queen and Abakka are found in our gardens. When grown in the home garden, they tend to be much sweeter than the commercial fruit found at the supermarket.
In addition, there are dozens of lesser-known fruits, like the mountain apple relatives, that make outstanding ornamental shrubs and trees as well as fruit producers. Although the mountain apple is native to India and Malaya, jaboticaba, pitanga and Brazilian plum are also very attractive with delicious fruits. The common Surinam cherry has fruit that varies from tasty to terrible, depending on seedlings.
Another favorite in its homeland is the sapodilla, chicle or chewing gum tree from Central America. It is an attractive shade tree that grows to about 30 feet. The dark brown fruit is about the size of an orange and tastes like a combination of brown sugar and butter. It will tolerate wet or dry conditions and will grow from sea level to 2,000 feet.
Before you plant, remember that the adaptability of a fruit tree to moisture, temperature and wind conditions will be an important factor determining selection. For example, West Indian avocado would have a chance of success in warmer, lower areas, but would be a definite gamble in high, wet inland locations. By the same token, Mexican strains are desirable in the higher, cooler areas.
In addition to adaptability to temperature conditions, there are other factors to consider in selecting fruit trees.
Fruits for home use should be selected on the basis of eating quality, rather than for their market appearance or shipping endurance. Pollination requirements must not be overlooked in selecting fruits. Solo papayas need no pollinators, but avocado varieties should be chosen with regard to assuring proper pollination.
Pest-resistance as a factor in selecting fruit trees is more important to the homeowner than to the commercial grower because the commercial grower has equipment for pest control while the homeowner may not. The less pesticides required, the better.
Selection of fruits for the home grounds should assure a long season of available fruit by use of a series of varieties of early, mid-season and late production within the range for the species.
There are hundreds of fruits that can be grown in our Hawaiian gardens. As we explore island cultures in other parts of the world like Hispanola, we may find even more to add to the list. If you need help in selecting fruit trees, contact your local nursery or garden store for assistance.
This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.