Tree sale to attract Manatee's budding Johnny Appleseeds

rdymond@bradenton.comMay 12, 2014 

MANATEE -- Papaya, passion fruit, guava, figs, kumquat, persimmon, green mulberry, lychee and mango.

Just the sound of their names conjure visions of faraway places and unusual tasting experiences.

Manatee Rare Fruit Council members will enthusiastically tell you these fruits and hundreds more like them are grown right here in Manatee County.

Budding Johnny Appleseeds who want to plunge into the world of rare fruits can start from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto, at the 26th Annual Rare Fruit Tree Sale.

"We will have 5,000 trees for sale that day," said 82-year-

old Pete Ray of Parrish, an avid council member who is contributing about 50 trees he nurtured on his property for the sale.

Fruit sale Chairwoman Betty Kearns said the 22 vendors who will turn the Convention Center into a small jungle are passionate about rare fruit and will patiently answer questions from any novice fruit farmer.

"You can go there and talk to the vendors and they will tell you about different varieties and different tastes and if they are early or late in the year," Kearns said. "There will be plenty of people there to help you get started."

Besides free advice, the sale also features free admission and parking, Kearns said.

Proceeds are used for maintenance and expansion of the Manatee Rare Fruit Council's rare fruit exhibit on 2 1/2 acres at Palma Sola Botanical Park, Kearns said.

"We've put in a gazebo and a bridge over different areas in the park," Kearns said. "In June we have a multiclub picnic where other rare fruit clubs come to view our plantings out there."

The all-time record gross gate receipt for the one-day sale is just more than $60,000, Ray said.

"Last year we were right up against the record but didn't hit it," Ray added.

The mango continues to be most prized fruit at the sale, Ray and Kearns agreed.

"More people buy mango trees than any other," Kearns said. "There are hundreds of varieties. You can get a dwarf mango that you raise in a pot. There is one called lemon meringue that tastes like lemon meringue pie and one called lemon sherbert that tastes like lemon sherbert. It all comes down to how they are pollinated with other varieties."

Ray's favorite mango is the Keitt variety.

"There are a thousand varieties of mango but the Keitt is the best yard variety," Ray said. "It's a little less susceptible to diseases. It's a later season fruit. By the time Keitts come up in September, people are eager to get some of your mangoes."

"There should be some Keitts at the sale," Ray added.

Citrus diseases also fuels the push toward mango and other fruits, Ray said.

"My citrus trees, well, half are gone and the other half visibly diseased," Ray said, referring to citrus greening, which has cut down many citrus trees in their primes. "Citrus trees don't have a future unless a cure can be found. Now you see, more and more, blueberries and peaches as alternative crops to citrus."

Information: Betty Kearns, 941-723-9879.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.

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