The Dirt: A tree grows in Millville

Millville is known for a lot of things. Fried chicken at the fire hall and the Great Pumpkin Festival come to mind. But a hotbed of tropical fruit production? Not so much.

Special to the Coastal Point •  Ginger Hogan: Ricky Hall, an employee at Lord’s Landscaping, has begun growing tropical fruits and other plants in unused corners of the greehouses at Lord’s.Special to the Coastal Point • Ginger Hogan
Ricky Hall, an employee at Lord’s Landscaping, has begun growing tropical fruits and other plants in unused corners of the greehouses at Lord’s.

However, there is one man in Millville who has jumped into the endeavor wholeheartedly. Ricky Hall, a native of Jamaica, is my friend and co-worker. Ricky came to the U.S. in 2005, after working on an orchid farm in Jamaica. He found his way to Lord’s in 2007, and it was a natural fit. He loves to have his hands in the dirt!

Missing the fruits and veggies of his homeland, he didn’t waste any time once he had access to a greenhouse. First, he slipped in a few pineapples and peppers. Every trip home, he would bring back fruit and germinate the seeds. He also likes to play around with seeds from fruit he buys locally, such as oranges, tangerines and avocados (which he refers to as “pears”).

In four years, he has accumulated an impressive collection, including papayas, starfruit, pineapples, passionfruit, figs, avocados, tangerines and oranges, plus the Jamaican staple callaloo and turmeric for curry.

Ricky and I work at separate locations, and I don’t get over to his side very often, so I had to do a double-take on recent visit when I saw his plants. I knew he was growing this stuff in unused corners of the greenhouse, but seeing it was a shock. They had grown!

The papayas got my attention first. They’re monsters that reach almost to the top of the greenhouse. Their incredibly fragrant blooms have given way to big clusters of ripening fruit. These trees were started from seeds of fruit he brought back from a trip home in 2008. These babies grow fast! He has two varieties that he expects to be ready sometime in December.

After being startled by the size and abundance of the papayas, I got curious about what else he might have stashed in those odd corners. The starfruit was the next thing to catch my eye, since it was in bloom at the time. He started them from seeds three years ago, and it looks like he’ll be picking fruit from them sometime around February. They have just set their first two fruits and are still blooming.

Next I spotted his citrus crop. These are oranges and tangerines that he started in 2008 from seeds of fruit he bought locally. They haven’t flowered yet, but the plants are looking great and he has high hopes for flowers next year.

Avocados are popular as houseplants, and many people like to start the seeds after a good batch of guacamole, but I had never seen one flower before this year. They often take five to seven years before producing flowers and fruit. Ricky started his two years ago and has already seen blooms, but no fruit as yet. They grew so large this year he had to whack them back to keep them from growing though the greenhouse plastic.

We have been growing hardy figs for years but, in 2009, Ricky got access to some cuttings that came from figs in California. We’re not sure of the identity of these trees, or their hardiness, but they’re already producing delicious fruit.

Passionfruit is a flowering vine that is grown as much for its intricate blooms as its fruit. There are some varieties that are winter-hardy here, but their fruit is nothing spectacular. Ricky’s tropical vines are producing big, juicy, impressive fruit. He just has to keep it from taking over the greenhouse.

So Ricky is my horticultural inspiration of the week. While I scoffed at first when he said he was going to grow fruit, his passion and dedication have proved me wrong. Way to go, Ricky!