Papaya is an important fruit crop easily grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates. The fruit tree deserves more attention due to the high nutritive value of the fruit and production potential in a comparatively shorter duration. Papaya is the most common fruit tree in the kitchen garden owing to its adaptability to climatic variations.
Nutritive Value and Uses: The ripe papaya fruit is eaten as a dining table delicacy while the raw fruit is diuretic and mildly laxative and can be used in vegetable preparations. Papaya fruit is a rich source
of carbohydrates, minerals (calcium, phosphorus, iron), vitamin A
and ascorbic acid. A ripe papaya fruit contains 89.60 percent water, 9.50 percent
carbohydrates, 0.5 percent proteins and is rich in minerals and
vitamins like calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, riboflavin, etc.
Soil and Climate: Papaya cultivation requires good fertile soil with good drainage. Papaya has a soft single stem, prone to rotting when it comes in direct contact with irrigation water. That is why papaya needs well drained alluvial soil with neutral pH ranging from 6.5 to 7.0. Papaya requires a warm and humid climate for its normal growth. Temperatures below 10 °C are bad for growth as they inhibit plant growth, maturity and fruit ripening. Papaya can be grown from the
sea level to an elevation of 1,000 m above sea level but it cannot withstand frost conditions.
Papaya Varieties: Several varieties of papaya are grown in South Indian cities like Honey dew, Coorg honey dew, coimbtore1, coimbtore2, Pusa dwarf and Washington. However, Pusa varieties are very common. Taiwan varieties of papaya are very dwarf and bear fruits at 60-90 cm above ground level and are very popular because they are free from wind damage.
Propagation: Papaya is a cross-pollinated crop normally propagated by seeds. It is advisable to collect seeds from the best quality ripe fruits, clean and dry in the shade before sowing. If stored properly in an airtight container, the seed can remain viable for 6 to 9 months. Seeds can be sown at any time of the year except during very hot, very cold and heavy raining periods of the year. Seeds can be sown on raised beds or in polythene bags prepared with drainage holes at the bottom of the poly bag. Seedlings can become ready for transplanting in the field within 1.0 to 1.5 months, when it has 5-6 leaves and is 5-6 cm height. The soil of the raised beds should be mixed with farm yard manure and sand to facilitate drainage of excess water. Similarly, poly bags should be filled with equal quantities of alluvial soil, sand and farm yard manure.
Plantation and Manuring: A single papaya plant can be planted at any location where sufficient sunlight and space for growth are available. However, since papaya is a cross pollinated crop, it is advisable to plant a minimum of 3-4 plants at nearby locations so that there are chances of generating at least one male plant. Plants are planted at least 2 m apart to provide sufficient space for canopy
growth. The best season for planting is from the beginning of June till October.
For planting in the soil, 30 cm long, 30 cm wide and 30 cm deep pits are dug which should be filled with a mixture of three parts of top soil, one part of farm yard manure mixed with 1 kg of bone meal or 100 g of single superphosphate. Seedlings should be planted at the center of the filled pit keeping the soil mass around the root system below the ground and the stem above the ground. Care must be taken to provide supply soil to the stem and avoid direct contact of irrigation water.
Male and female plants in papaya can not be differentiated at the seedling stage. Therefore, if the planted seedlings happen to be male plants, then they will not bear any fruits and your efforts may be lost. So it is advisable to plant two seedlings at one spot or go for bisexual (hermaphrodite) varieties of papaya that consist of both sexes in a single plant and where every plant can bear fruits. Since papaya is an evergreen plant and can grow continuously, it also requires continuous feeding. Therefore each plant should be fed with 5 kg of compost mixed with 100 g of complex fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. When papaya is planted in big earthen or cement pots, care should be taken that at least 50 kg of well drained alluvial soil is available for the plant to absorb essential nutrients. Otherwise, papaya will become bonsai and will not bear good and healthy fruits.
Plant Protection: No serious pests attack the papaya crop; however the crop is affected by a serious virus disease called yellow vein mosaic virus. It can spread through insect bites like aphids, jassids and white flies. The insects can be controlled by spraying any insecticide at the beginning of plant growth but botanical pesticides like Neemark, Neembin, Neembidin, etc., should be used when the plant is in the fruit bearing stage.
Harvesting: The papaya tree starts bearing fruits when it is 12-14 months. The color of the fruit changes from green to yellowish and the milky latex turns waterish indicating that the fruit is ready for harvest. Papaya fruits on the plant matures and become ready for harvesting one by one; therefore, matured fruits should be harvested individually by hand picking, avoiding all possible damage to other fruits on the tree. Under good feeding and management, one papaya
tree can produce 20-30 fruits weighing about 40-60 kg in the first 16-8 months.