By A. MATTHEWS
As Seen in India Journal February 13, 2009
GRANADA HILLS, CA – If you’re interested in growing an exotic fruit tree which bears your favorite Indian fruits like Alphonso arid Dasheri mangoes, chiku, jamun, jujubes, Sitaful and many others, make a trip to Papaya Tree Nursery, a retail nursery based here, run by Alex Silber.
The Nursery has been around for 25 years and was started in 1983 by Alex’s parents David and Tina Silber. Explaining why it was named after a Papaya Tree, Alex says the Papaya was the first plant species they offered for sale. It was a special seedless papaya from Ecuador called the Babaco. This particular papaya is unlike any other as it has the very unique flavor combination of white nectarine and pineapple! Before offering the plant for sale, they took the time to verify its adaptability to various climates throughout Southern California and in the process of doing so, learned how best to grow it.
Alex points out that there was very limited cultural information available back then as only a handful of people had ever even heard of this papaya, much less attempted to grow the Babaco in California. It took a hands on approach utilizing available text, speaking with friends in Hawaii which then led to preparing the soil, proper fertilizing, careful watering and through some trial and error, a successfully heavy crop of deliciously juicy fruit!
This was the approach they adopted over the next 20 years. “We verified the climate adaptability of a given species. If it yielded consistently favorable results, it allowed us to confidently and responsibly add more specialty fruit trees to the list such as papayas, mangoes, guavas, cherimoyas, litchees, longans, miracle fruit, bananas, starfruit, dragonfruit, jujubes, allspice and eventually over 60 different proven species to the list. The nursery also offers some of the gifts of India such as ‘Alphonso’ and ‘Mallika’ (‘Dasheri’ x ‘Neelum’) mangoes, two guavas varieties, “Jamun” (Jambolan),”Chiku” (Sapodilla), ” Rasberi ” (Cape Gooseberry ), ” Sitafal” (Sugarapple/Sweetsop ), ” Kari Patta ” (Curry Leaf) and a few others.” Alex is disappointed as so far the nursery has remained somewhat of a secret for the Indian-American community. But slowly, over the last ten years, mainly through “Word Of Mouth” advertising, the nursery has developed a following but still only a small fraction of the entire community is aware of our existence,’ he adds. Asked if the current economic downturn had impacted his business, he says, so far the nursery is doing well enough to keep the doors open. ” I hope people will continue to appreciate and remember the difference between home-grown and store bought fruit. It has been my experience that there are increasingly fewer choices made available to the consumer wishing to have access to high quality fruit and that is where I can help. We have taken the guess work out of choosing the right variety of fruit tree for a given climate zone and we can show you how and when to plant, feed, add mulch, water, prune and control the most common “pest” problems using all natural proven organic methods.
Explaining how the tree are acquired, Alex reveals that about 20 years ago, when the nursery had just launched out, many of the species offered were not readily available here and had to be brought in from other countries following the current legal procedures from the USDFA such as receiving a phytosanitary certificate and having the plant material inspected and sometimes placed under quarantine for over two years! Afterwards, the work of establishing the new species at our nursery would oftentimes take a few more years. Once established, we could reproduce it and make it available to the public. Today, all the stock is replenished using contract growers to custom propagate all specialty fruit bearing plants. “I supply the custom propagator with a paycheck and clean sanitized plant material that was acquired by us 20 years ago from India, China, the Philippines, Central and South America, Thailand and Indonesia,” he adds.
Alex makes it clear that the nursery does not sell produce, just the plants so that the buyer can grow their own produce. The standards are high and the nursery is inspected by the USDFA. Usually the inspectors look for some undesirable insects (such as the med fly, light brown apple moth or magnolia scale) that would be
cause for alarm if the plant that the insect was found on was allowed to be sold and thereby spread to other areas.
As to future plans, Alex says the nursery will continue to inform the general public which variety of a given species of fruit tree is. most adaptable to a given climate and also offer that particular plant for sale. He says, “Keep in mind that we do not offer a plant for sale just because it grows well in a given climate. It has to have other qualities that make it a good candidate for inclusion in our plant list such as superior flavor and productivity while not being too difficult to grow. Most of our selections are naturally semi-dwarf or can easily be maintained at under 10′ tall which I have found to be useful for situations where planting space is limited. Over the years many people have contacted us to help answer some cultural questions regarding the proper care of their fruit trees and I am happy to offer whatever help I can. Now I can also respond by e-mail via my website www.papayatreenursey.com which is a useful tool being that my responses are sometime rather lengthy and when it is typed one can always refer to it at a later date. Of course we still welcome a phone call if you wish the question answered that way or if you do not have a computer.”