Garden Life

Backyard bounty
Kiran Narain

Papaya (carica papaya) is a common fruit tree grown in homes in India. Originally grown in South America, it is known as fruta bomba in parts of the Caribbean, mamao in Brazil and paw paw in Australia. Although it is a tropical herbaceous plant yet it does well in sub-tropical areas where it can stand negligible frost. It is widely grown in Hawaii, Florida, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and India.

The fast-growing plant starts bearing fruits within 10 to 12 months and attains an average height of two to four metres-though more and more dwarf hybrids are coming every year. The individual fruit borne on the trunk of the female plant may weigh 10 to 12 kg growing in clusters of 30 or more fruits. One healthy plant can produce up to 100 kg of fruit in a year.

The delicious and refreshing fruit is rich in vitamins, particularly C and E and is an excellent source of betacarotene besides containing a fairly large amount of calcium and other minerals. The papaya also contains an enzyme called papain which is miraculously effective in digesting proteins and provides lots of fibre in diet.

Papain can digest 35 times its own weight of meat or 300 times its weight of egg albumen. The secret lies in the combination of enzymes in papaya though these are most active in the unripe fruit. Ripe fruits are eaten for breakfast and desserts while green papaya is cooked like pumpkin. Shredded green papaya is extensively used in Thailand for Som Tam salad.

Papaya can be grown on a wide range of soil but it does best on well-drained sandy soil. It should be free from frost in winter. Being a hallow-rooted plant, it does not tolerate water logging and weekly watering should normally suffice. Shelter from strong winds is also necessary.

Buy good quality seeds from trusted varieties like honeydew, washington, solo, mammoth, java, coorg honey CCI or disco. Sow the seed thinly (above 2 inches apart and half inch deep). When the seedlings are 9-12 inches high, transplant them carefully into pits 2.5-3 feet deep, keeping a distance of about 10 feet apart. Good amount of sharp sand and well-rooted farmyard manure should be added to the pit.

Male trees (bearing flowers on pendant racemes) are to be removed as they do not bear fruit. A couple of them per acre would suffice. Two or three papaya trees will suffice for a medium family.