Collier and Lee Counties Edition

Fruitalicious Edible Landscapes

The Perfect Backyard Pharmacy

Neopolitan Marianne Luch with her sapote tree

Neopolitan Marianne Luch with her sapote tree

There are 67,000 pharmacies in the U.S., and Florida numbers among the top five states with the most of them, so in all likelihood, each of us is aware of a local drugstore within a short distance. What we are less likely aware of is that much of the decorative plantings in our landscaping can be easily replaced with edible plants and fruit-producing trees. Combining edibles and ornamentals yields a virtual living apothecary that can reward us with health and economic benefits.

Reducing the grocery bill may be the first enticing feature of a yard with shade-providing fruit tress until we learn that the nutrients of their fruits have the potential to save us from spending excessively on supplements and pharmaceuticals.

If we can’t grow our own due to homeowner association restrictions, the next best option is purchasing them fresh from a local farmers’ market, community garden or neighbor that has a bumper crop they can’t consume or preserve. Getting fresh nutrients from the tree or the garden guarantees that our body can more easily absorbed them.

From blueberries and bananas to papayas, strawberries and more exotic fruit such as the nectar sweet sapote, local residents such as Karen Knotek and Russell Jones, Debby and Terry Kays, and Marianne Luch, as well as small farms such as that owned by Food & Thought, in Naples, are enjoying the organic fruits of their labors in a good growing season.

There are two totally unrelated things that Karen Knotek and Russell Jones, owners of PineyWood Morels Seasonal Fruit and Vegetables, are passionate about—seven species of blueberries and the elusive morel mushroom, a gift of the eastern Oregon Mountains, where Knotek and Jones spend their spring and summer. “We sun-dry the morels as soon as we pick them so they never lose their flavor and nutrition,” says Knotek.

There are 500 varieties of blueberries, but only seven grow in Florida. In the Arcadia and Ocala areas, Knotek and Jones found the perfect temperatures, soil and natural spring water that constitute a great recipe for growing blueberries. Picked and packed by hand, the couple sells their berries at Naples’ Third Street Market and at the Pine Ridge Road Farmers’ Market, as well as the several other farmers markets and Oakes Farms Market, in Naples.

From January through June, adventuresome individuals that want more than a morning stroll can pack a picnic lunch and drive north on a sunny afternoon to enjoy picking berries for $3 per pound at one of the three blueberry farms cared for by the couple. “Anyone interested in ‘you pick’ can follow our blueberry season online at our Facebook page. I also make and sell my own blueberry, blackberry and raspberry preserves. They sell really fast,” notes Karen.

Food & Thought has the answer for all the mouths that drool at the thought of strawberry season. When Mother Nature fully cooperates, planting starts in October. The berry bonanza starts in January and continues through March. “Unlike in the north, where berry plants come alive again in the spring and produce for several years, we have to replant every year,” says Jameson Johnson, Food & Thought general manager.

Colder night temperatures increase the sweetness of strawberries. “This is why our berries have an amazing flavor and fragrance this year,” says Johnson who reminisces about the late Frank Oakes, founder of Food & Thought. “Frank’s favorite variety of strawberry was the Chandler, an old-fashioned berry with a good flavor, but not as sweet as today’s popular variety, the Red Merlin.” The Food & Thought farm also grows pineapples, papaya, bananas, three varieties of avocadoes and five varieties of peaches.

If Naples had a blue ribbon award for nurturing and managing a successful community garden, as well as a flourishing business that sells homegrown fruit, vegetables and herbs, it would go to Naples residents Debbey and Terry Kays. In 2010, the couple organized a community garden that grows bananas and papayas, as well as passion fruit, lettuces, greens, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants on an empty lot offered to them by a neighbor, Justin Finch. “Today, the garden has a committed group of 15 gardeners that are largely repeaters. All the plots are full. This year the garden is looking particularly spectacular, even though we’ve had little rain. The lushness is due to the fact that in 2015, Justin installed a well on the lot and now the plants are watered via a wicking bed method that supplies water from the bottom up. We don’t need to water too frequently because we used plastic liner and mulch on the bottom,” advises Debbey.

The Kays formed Tiger Toes Herbs and Teas in 2016 with the intention of growing the moringa tree, which has been praised for its nutritional value and health benefits for thousands of years. Rich in healthy antioxidants and bioactive plant compounds, almost all parts of the tree can be eaten or used as ingredients in traditional herbal medicines. The Kays dry the moringa leaves and turn them into powder. Their varieties of herbs, which are made into teas, as well as their produce, is sold to local customers through direct sales, farmers’ markets and co-ops, in addition to local stores and restaurants.

They recently expanded and started a one-acre farm on Santa Barbara Boulevard, where they grow moringa and fruit trees, as well as a variety of greens, Asian vegetables, turmeric, galangal, a rhizome that gives a citrus flavor to curry pastes and Thai dishes, Thai basil, Thai peppers, papayas and jackfruit, which won’t be ready to harvest for two more years. The Kays also lease a small space at Nick Batty’s certified organic Inyoni Farm, in Naples. “We sell our produce and teas at local markets and directly to the public,” says Debbey.

Marianne Luch, another Naples resident, converted her yard from ornamental into edible. As a raw foodist who eats mostly fruit, Luch particularly delights in her veritable “Garden of Eden”, picking fresh fruit daily. Her lush and edible landscape includes gardens and 20 fruit trees—leche, longan, mangoes, strawberry, eggfruit, moringa, mulberry, soursop, jackfruit, several varieties of sapote, banana, star fruit, avocado, passion fruit, fig, pomogrante, jabot cava, olive, Barbados cherry and tangerine.

“It’s good to have several varieties of some trees. I have two leches, seven varieties of mangoes, four varieties of sapote and several varieties of avocadoes. It was necessary for me to plan my yard for harvesting purposes. I don’t want trees bearing fruit all at the same time; that would be too overwhelming. For instance, one of my sapote trees recently produced 500 fruits. Generally, I have to pick them and then they ripen, but this year they ripened a little early on the tree and were falling off,” says Luch.

Her seven mango trees bear fruit from May through October. “The longan bears fruit after the leche. The white, creamy fruit of the leche is so delicious that I’m disappointed when it’s over. Fortunately, I have the sweet, juicy, longan used by the Chinese as a tonic for the heart, to look forward to shortly thereafter. It tastes similar to the leche,” she says.

Facebook is Luch’s tool for letting people know she has fruit to sell. “I put a notice out on a raw fruit website. Sporadically, I take some to a local farmers’ market. Sometimes I send fruit to individuals by mail, especially for the holidays. I also sell to my neighbors, give some away to friends and family and donate to several charitable organizations in the area.” She guesstimates that she gives away or sells 50 percent of her mangoes and 60 percent of her black sapotes, but eats and/or freezes all of her bananas. “I do eat much of the fruit myself and preserve what I can’t eat in two large upright freezers and a smaller one,” advises Luch, who notes that local individuals often take some of their bumper crop to the Asian Market, in Naples.

Luch finds that eating mono meals of only one fruit is easier on digestion and can be more energizing. “Last year, I ate a total of 20 jackfruits, but obviously not all at one sitting. They are one of my favorite and easy to binge on. I’m not too strict with mono meals. Sometimes I mix fruits or make smoothies with almond milk. I don’t like to waste any of my fruit, so I also juice it,” she explains.

Florida is a wonderland for fruit, but few individuals are familiar with much of the fruit that can grow here. The state is mostly known for its citrus crop, bananas and papayas, but there is so much more, including unusual farm to fork restaurants such as the Barefoot Beach Farmacy & Café, a one-of-a-kind café in Bonita Springs that grows their own organic microgreens, lettuce and basil hydroponically on the premises. Plants are available for sale by order.

For individuals that may be interested in converting their yard, but wonder where they might find help to care for it, Luch notes that there are local individuals who do care for the trees and yards of numerous Neapolitans. “People like me, who have so many fruit bearing trees, need to have help sometimes, especially if we need to leave town for an emergency or go on a vacation,” says Luch.

Local Resources

Asian Pok Market, 1951 Pine Ridge Rd, Ste. 102, Naples. 239-300-1533.

Banana Sanctuary, on Big Corkscrew Island, grows bananas, papayas, guavas, melons, avocados and sapodillas.

Barefoot Beach Farmacy & Café, 4277 Bonita Beach Rd. SW, Bonita Springs. 239-676-9238.

David Bird, organic exotic fruit, Third Street South Farmers Market, 245 13th Ave. S., Naples. 239-263-0424.

Food & Thought, 2132 Tamiami Tr. N., Naples. 239-213-2222.

Harvest Bee Biodynamic Farms, 4870 Tallowood Way, Naples. 239-248-8938.

Inyoni Organic Farm sells produce at four farmers markets in the area of Naples/Marco Island. 239-980-3605.

Marianne Luch, organic frozen and fresh seasonal fruit. 239-269-3808.

Oakes Farms Market, 2205 Davis Blvd., Naples 239-732-0144.

Pine Ridge Road Farmers’ Market, Marquesa Plaza, 3370 Pine Ridge Rd., Naples

PineyWood Morels Seasonal Fruit and Vegetables, 239-248-9254.

Third Street South Farmers Market, 245 13th Ave. S., Naples. 239-649-7607.

Tiger Toes Herbs & Teas, 726 98th Ave. N., Naples. 239-450-6060.

You Pick organic oranges, $10/bucket. Call 239-657-4996 for times and directions.

31 Produce, 18672 State Rd. 31, Alva. 239-313-8213.

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