PALMETTO -- Tracy Fox slowly pushed a cart filled with tall, potted plants Dunday afternoon through the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
The 67-year-old retiree and his wife, Sue Fox, were leaving with a nectarine tree, peach tree and two navel orange trees to plant in the backyard of their Parrish home.
The couple already have a few trees on their land, but this is their first experience with planting fruits. There's a lot to learn.
"How to fertilize them, how to take care of them," Sue Fox said.
Another lesson, her husband added, was figuring out which ones to plant next to each other for cross-pollination.
The Foxes were part of a large Sunday crowd at the 26th Annual Rare Fruit Tree Sale inside the convention center at 1 Haben Blvd. in Palmetto.
Backed by the Manatee Rare Fruit Council, the sale featured rows and rows of unusual fruit plants and trees -- Barbados cherry, Sambokan lemon and lychee were just a few.
On one cluster of plants a sign read: "Passiflora Quadrangularis," which was described as a deep purple, red and white fruit with a rind that can be cooked and served as a vegetable.
Fruit sale chairwoman Betty Kearns said trees were moving Sunday afternoon.
"I think we probably went over our record," she said, in reference to the $60,000 all-time record gross rate receipt for the one-day sale. About 24 vendors attended,
"The turnout was excellent. I would estimate about 5,000 people," Kearns said.
Trees covered the floor during the first three hours of the sale.
"A lot of them are homeowners who want to put a fruit tree in their yards so they can benefit," Kearns said. "Everybody is wanting to do more growing their own things -- because everything you buy is so full of chemicals."
Toward the back of the convention center, Sherry Dodson of J.A. Dodson Citrus & Tropicals of Pinellas Park just finished speaking to a potential customer who was on the fence about taking home a finger lime plant.
"You put it in your mouth and it's like eating lime Pop Rocks," Dodson told the man's daughter with wide eyes. Nearby customers smiled.
Half of Dodson's inventory is in lemons and limes, which she says have always been popular.
She didn't skip a beat when asked the most commonly asked questions by customers.
"How to take care of my plant? What is wrong with my plant?" she said with a smile. "We spend well over a third of our time educating people just on how to take care of citrus in general... educating them on the different varieties than what is actually out there."
Dodson said she also educates people on the kinds of diseases gripping the citrus market.
"We've always dealt with different diseases or insect problems, but right now greening has taken up a lot of our time," she said.
Outside the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 68-year-old Diane Day waited for her friend, Dennis Jones, to bring his car to the front. The real estate agent kept her hand on a tall plant, one of many stacked onto a short cart. There were a few different papaya plants, a blackberry plant and dragon fruit.
Day said she learned a lot at the fruit sale -- including the fact certain trees need cold weather in order to grow.
As a member of the Manatee Rare Fruit Council for many years, Jones knows quite a bit about fruits.
"I like to grow things, be close to nature. Also, I believe a lot of people are going to be wishing they had grown things in the near future," the 65-year-old said. "I would encourage people to go and get with growing fruit because I think that there's some hard times coming -- not to mention the health benefits now."
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.