Ready, set, here comes the annual Manatee Rare Fruit Tree Sale
Darryl McCullough didn’t always have more than 200 rare and exotic trees growing on his SweetSong Groves spread.
In fact, his former life as a mathematics instructor at the University of Oklahoma was about as far removed from that as imaginable.
After retiring and falling in love with the Bradenton-Sarasota area, he discovered the climate was suitable for growing almost everything. He started attending the Manatee Rare Fruit Council’s annual rare fruit tree sale and buying trees.
Everything from mango to macadamia nut, sapote and wax jambu. So many in fact, that he hardly has room for more on his two-acre spread.
McCullough will attend the 31st annual rare fruit tree sale, which is scheduled to run from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto, not as a buyer, but as treasurer of the Manatee Rare Fruit Council.
“It’s the best day of the year for buying trees. It’s not like you can visit 20 nurseries in two hours,” he said, referring to the 5,000 trees that 20 vendors will assemble inside the convention center.
If history is an indicator, the crowd will arrive early, a line wrapping around the convention center with attendees eagerly waiting for the chance to buy trees and make new discoveries.
Admission and parking are free. McCullough recommends bringing a cart to roll purchases out of the building. Cash or checks are the only accepted payment methods. The convention center is equipped with ATM machines.
First-time buyers are always surprised at the diversity of exotic offerings.
Five years ago, McCullough bought a macadamia nut plant in a three-gallon pot. It is now 15 feet tall. About three years ago, it started yielding nuts.
His trees are now growing so much fruit that he sells some of it to local vendors, including Jessica’s Farm Stand and the Sarasota Farmers Market.
“Basically, I wholesale it to organic sellers,” he said.
As McCullough showed a visitor around his collection of trees, he pointed to a heavy laden manilita mango tree.
“This is what a mango tree should look like. It’s a good mango. Sweet, small and tasty,” he said.
Joshua Starry, a member of the rare fruit tree sale promotion committee, said that the event is more than a chance to buy trees.
“This is a great opportunity to meet experienced fruit tree growers and purchase trees, fertilizer, tropical fruit jelly, honey and possibly sample some fruit vendors may bring,” Starry said.
“Once again, the Myakka Allstock 4H club will be helping to load your trees,” he said.
The Manatee Rare Fruit Council is a nonprofit, committed to sharing the love of cultivating rare fruit trees.
The club meets the second Monday of every month at the Manatee County Fairground. Guests are welcome to attend.