How Papaya is grown
Papaya (Carica papaya L.) is a plant of the Caricacee family native to Mexico, known and used throughout America for many centuries, although today it is cultivated in many countries of other continents, mainly in Asia and Africa. .
Papaya cultivation is currently practiced, with varying degrees of intensity, on all five continents.
Papaya can be grown in temperate climates provided that the winter conditions are not harsh, as in some areas of Italy where it is grown in greenhouses almost exclusively in Sicily.
Before moving on to the cultivation technique, it should be emphasized that papaya is a polygamous species, which means that it produces exclusively male, female or hermaphrodite flowers.
Papaya plants with male flowers produce only the pollen, but not the fruit.
Those with female flowers are the productive ones, but they need the pollination of the male flower (or hermaphrodite).
Trees with hermaphrodite flowers have both male and female flowers. The latter are therefore able to self-pollinate and autonomously produce fruit.
To grow papaya it is important to understand the difference between the different types of flowers. For a correct pollination, in fact, the presence of a male plant every 8-10 females is necessary; moreover, pollination is anemophilous, that is, carried out by the wind.
To distinguish the male flowers from the female ones, consider that the former are grouped together, supported by a peduncle that makes them protrude from the trunk of the plant and when closed they look like a small bunch of grapes; the female ones are single and we find them attached to the stem.
Hermaphroditic specimens have both types of flowers.
In addition, in tropical areas the plant blooms and bears fruit all year round, continuously while in our latitudes, the flowers appear in the period of late spring – early summer and the fruits ripen, gradually, in midsummer. Furthermore, the fruits below the apex of the plant ripen earlier.
The fruits of the papaya are of different shape and size depending on the variety. Those that we usually find in supermarkets have an oval-elongated shape, with green skin, tending to yellow-orange when fully ripe. Furthermore these, inside them, there are hundreds of seeds of black color and rounded shape that have a very high degree of germination, which allows easy reproduction from seed.
Weather conditions –
Since papaya cannot stand the cold, the cultivation of papaya is feasible only in warm areas which, in southern Italy, still need protection, namely a heated greenhouse.
These limits make papaya in Italy a cultivation relegated to a niche market.
To start a papaya plant cultivation, just plant the seed in the period from April to June, when temperatures are stable.
The seed must be collected from the fruit and washed and soaked overnight in water. The planting should be done at about 2-3 cm of depth; if everything has been done well and the temperatures have remained within the seasonal average, within 10-15 days we will have the first sprouts.
Papaya growth is very fast. In a few months it exceeds 50 cm in height and large leaves and a sturdy trunk develop. Due to the biological characteristics of this plant, due to sexual differentiation, it is advisable to plant more seedlings and then observe the sex from the flowers and once the excess male plants have been identified, these must be eliminated.
For the creation of the nursery it is advisable to start from small pots, with a diameter of 20 cm, with containers that are wider than deep. The decanting, in the ground (in the greenhouse) or in a larger pot, must be done after about two months.
Papaya should be exposed in full sun to have an optimal flowering and therefore fruiting.
Furthermore, the plant must be protected from excessive ventilation, if not grown in a protected environment.
Substrate and irrigation –
The soil where the plant is to be carried out must be well worked, of a loose type (also to avoid stagnation), with a neutral pH and rich in organic matter. If the organic supply is not sufficient, a basic fertilization is necessary, to be done with well-mature manure or earthworm humus or other mature organic compost.
For a pot cultivation, we recommend the purchase of a good quality soil.
At the bottom of the vase it is advisable to place some perlite, so as to facilitate the drainage of excess water.
Papaya is in fact a plant that suffers from drought, so it is necessary to operate regular irrigation shifts, but it suffers from stagnation.
In pots, the humidity of the soil must be manually controlled. This operation must be done daily, because, in general, potted plants require more water than those in the ground.
In the open field, on the other hand, natural mulching is recommended, a technique widely used in tropical intensive cultivation, which allows the substrate to be kept moist enough without resorting to continuous and expensive irrigation.
Another tip for our latitudes is protection from the cold, which is easy in a heated greenhouse but much less in the open field.
As for the plant maintenance technique, it is emphasized that papaya does not need pruning. It loses its oldest leaves by itself when they have done their job.
Furthermore, at the moment, there are no particular parasites and diseases in Italy.
An interesting idea to overcome the problems caused by the cold may be to grow papaya as an annual plant. In fact, some “dwarf” varieties bear fruit less than a year after sowing. This is why you can try to sow the plants in autumn, grow them protected in winter and plant them in the open field in spring, in order to make them bear fruit in September. This is obviously a technique that needs to be refined.
In ordinary cultivation, the fruit is harvested by hand, from November to June. The productions can reach up to 150 q.li/ha.
As for the most popular varieties today we remember: “Solo”, “Kapoho Solo” and “Sunrise”, all with fruit weighing less than 0.5 kg.