It grows in your front yard. It smells a little like vomit. It’s a natural laxative. It’s papaya!
I first started taking gardening seriously in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One little tomato patch next to the garage eventually turned into multiple raised beds with trellises filled with rich, dark soil fortified with homemade compost and compost teas. When my wife and I decided to ditch the often-snowy and gray Steel City for tropical Costa Rica, I assumed the equatorial sun would provide an even more impressive array of fruits and vegetables.
Then we arrived in coastal Guanacaste. Instead of lush jungle growing uncontrollably in the perfect combination of rain and sun, I was instead presented with extreme heat cooking a dry, dusty landscape.
My initial attempts to recreate my Pennsylvania-style gardens proved fruitless. Literally. So the new plan was to look around at what people had growing in their yards. Instead of fighting the environment, I’d just work with the plants that knew how to work with the weather conditions. Along with yuca and the ever-present mango, one of the obvious candidates was our friend the papaya.
Before Costa Rica, I had never really heard of papaya. I was introduced to it during my first visit to the country when my wife and I told everybody that we were going on vacation, but we were actually secretly scouting out as many places as you can visit in a week to see if we wanted to move here or not. Though I didn’t know it at the time, papaya was the orange fruit that I wouldn’t eat in the fruit salad at the free hotel breakfast.
Many sources, including your very own Tico Times, have written about the extensive health benefits of papaya. But let’s be frank, it’s an acquired taste. Some people are all in, for others it consistently produces a stink face, and still others travel the road from having to get used to it to actively enjoying it. I know this because these three descriptions perfectly describe different members of my little family. I’m staunchly in the stink face encampment.
I can’t get past the slightly vomitty smell when cutting it up. My wife has slowly acquired the taste over the years to the point now where she gushes over the taste of a particularly sweet papaya pulled from the front yard. Hands down the papaya king of the household is my youngest son.
For him, papaya is a required medicine. He’s had digestive issues his entire life, and we found early on that this magical stinky fruit helps him do his business. He literally eats it every day. He eats it so much, he’s orange. I’m not kidding. His palms and the bottoms of his feet are orange from the high levels of beta-carotene in the fruit, but the Oompa Loompa-ish complexion on his extremities is well worth the digestive magic that papaya provides.
So, Tico Times reader, I encourage you to give papaya growing a try. Save some seeds from a store-bought papaya or go to your local vivero and buy some seedlings, find a sunny patch of yard, and start your papaya experimentation.
I’ve been told that seedlings bought from a garden center are more likely to produce better fruits but try telling that to the massive fruit-packed tree growing from the side of my compost bin. Either way, it’ll be worth it. We’re experimenting with papaya growing, not starting a farm. With luck, in a few months you’ll feel the pride of adding your very own papaya to your fruit salad. Just don’t eat too much. You might turn orange.
PS – If you’ve already grown an impressive papaya tree that you’d like to show off, then post a pic on the Tico Times’ social media. I’m always interested in the horticultural prowess of others.
About the Author
Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org