Skip to main content

Author: steve warrington

cocoa for fun yes, profit maybe.

The more I consider the options of what I can get to greenhouse grow, the more I’m interested in cultivating a variety of nuts and spices to complement my focus on fruits. Nutmeg, cloves, allspice, black pepper, coffee, and alongside these,  cocoa.

The missus and I were reconnoitering the conservatory at Matthei Botanical Gardens Sunday, and they have a decent-sized cocoa tree, maybe 13′-14′. Growing straight from the trunk were the seed pods, in various states of maturity, small green ones the size of an egg, large brown ones the size of a human heart.

The seed pods are full of seeds, or beans, which are first fermented, then dried, then roasted, then shelled, then ground. The fermentation and the roasting are the key to the flavor.

Sounds labor-intensive as hell, and a risky proposition for a novice like me. But what do I have to lose, save time and the pittance for a tree?

cocoa beans

in the night garden

I have had my night blooming cereus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) for two years now, and did wrong by it the first year with too much sun, and got wiser, but still abused it when it stretched four feet out into traffic and kept it in a tiny pot, and  did a little bit better by it this year but mostly ignored it, and still managed to kick it every oncet in a while in passing, and brought it in from the cold a week ago, and stuck it in the basement, crammed it between two far-more-nurtured bananas, and  moved it today to make room for another banana, and I was surprised, nay, shaken, to see that I am finally getting my first bloom.

Epiphyllum oxypetalum

I bought it after a dozen years spent coveting the sally mann image of the same name, arguably the most beautiful photograph of the twentieth century (so decreed by yours truly, among others far wiser, I’m sure) . My neglect has been rewarded with the promise of a beautiful bloom, seen in budding stage above. Stay tuned for a pic in all it glory.

In contrast, I have had my buddha’s hand citron nigh on three weeks now. I stuck it in the winter garden under the light, and it is so covered in flower buds I am downright shocked. Shocked, I say! To top that, it has two small fruit already, pictured below is the larger:

citrus medica var. sarcodactylis

Suck it monkeys (though it may be somewhat tart).

on the internet

“On the Internet, an ancient New Yorker cartoon caption observes, nobody knows you’re a dog. But everyone assumes you’re a sucker, susceptible to the pleas of hard-luck Nigerian royalty or eager to enhance your sexual prowess. You can have so many friends, fans and followers that you might not grasp just how radically alone you really are.”

–A.O. Scott

winter garden

I accumulated so many tropical plants this year that I couldn’t fit them all next to the big front window, which is north-facing anyway. Plus the tot and his adventuresomeness. So I bought a 1000-watt metal-halide grow light and fixed up the closet in the basement, and stuffed as many pots in there as would fit. Dreamy.

nutmeg and mace: myristica fragrans

I just learned what fresh nutmeg looks like. Here are some visuals to aid in blowing your mind:

Myristica fragrans

myristica fragrans

myristica fragrans

myristica fragrans nutmeg seed

What you buy in the store – if it isn’t ground – is the dried seed (which is inside the brown part inside the red web). But I don’t care about the spice any more. I just want to hold the insides of that fruit. It looks like it should still be beating. I have never seen anything come off a tree that looked so alive.

The shiny red web (the aril) around the seed is mace, another spice (and favored repellent). Two-for-one, this bad boy. About 3% of the oil is toxic, which is why smart guys trying to get high on nutmeg usually come close to dying.

Takes nine years to get fruit from a seedling. And only then if you’ve got a hermaphrodite. Otherwise, you better find your lady a fella, or vice-versa, depending on which it turns out you have. Which makes this one a chancy buy. Which is unfortunately for me not enough of a deterrent. TopTropicals down in FL sells 2-3 yr old seedlings, as well as Plant it Hawaii. Both great shops.

how to dry a dead snake

I found a little serpent in the driveway of the farm last time we went out to walk the paths. The Catholic lawyers ran him over, and he was good and dead by the time I discovered his carcass lying still in the dirt.

No more than nine inches total, just a baby probably, a life cut short by an early-model Florida-plated Chrysler 300. Florida. Chrysler. Catholics. It does not get any worse than that.

But he was so near-intact that I thought maybe I could preserve him and put him on a shelf for looking and wonder and study. I brought him home and put him in a tupperware to bake him dry out in the sun.

Callous as hell, it probably seems, but really, I’m mostly sure he won’t really mind. And too, my goal is reverence, not profanity. Being as spirit-forward as he is, he can probably read my meaning better than most of you meatsacks.

dead snake preservation technique
There's a chance I may still get into heaven yet.

sorry toots, me and cornus kousa got a little thing going.

Mercy child, the geometry of these fruits has got me all sortsa intuned to a spilling-seed-into-the-soil, last-month-of-the-summer last-ditch effort at monoecious reproduction. So hot and yet so smart: so warm and curved and beckoning and still so cold and sharp and hard. Gracious y’all, the intensity of the ambiguity that this fruit pops and locks has got me more than just a little bit flustered.

cornus kousa fruit
cornus kousa fruit in varying states of undress

Dogwood, you have been inaptly named. You are a harder-to-hold pretty, meticulous, and remote kitty than a dirty sloppy hairy best friend. A change is in order, if I may be so bold. May you roll henceforth: Kittywood.

the impossible mangosteen (garcinia mangostana)

My two new mangosteen trees arrived from Hawaii today, looking wonderful. I had pretty low expectations for the size and health of the plants after all my searching and researching. Not only are they nigh-impossible to grow in the US, it seems they’re also pretty hard to come by.

Most of the tropical fruit tree nurseries I’ve been dealing with don’t carry it. And I was nearly tempted by an ebay seller who ships them from Hawaii bare-root, but I bought a rambutan from him a couple weeks ago, and it now looks like death warmed over — I’m not even sure it’s alive — so I figured there was a better route and kept looking.

I finally found another grower, Hula Brothers in Hawaii, selling them for $100/ea. or two for $150, shipping included. I figured what the heck, I’ll most likely lose one, might as well get two, improve my odds. I kept checking the door all day today, and they finally came at five pm. They were the best-looking plants I’ve gotten in the mail yet.

mangosteen treeThat’s probably a five-year-old tree there. Which means just five or six more years until I have a chance at some fruit.

It takes ten years for a mangosteen tree to fruit in favorable conditions, favorable being ultra-tropical always moist and never-lower-than-eighty-degrees kinda weather, preferably on a riverbank. There’s only one known instance of anyone getting one to fruit above the 200th parallel. Some feller in S. Florida got lucky. But I’m going to mimic Thailand/Puerto Rico in a greenhouse, and I’m going to get it to fruit. Mark my words. Check back in six years re: deliciousness.

The fruit is a beaut is the reason for my mania. I have never seen anything so pretty that tastes so good.

mangosteen fruit