June 1, 2018

Hi Neal,

I first started planting pawpaws about 15 years ago and over time have built up a nice patch of a number of named cultivars, some of which I bought from the late John Gordon and some of which I got from you and other places online. They’ve all grown great here in Western NY Rochester area (Zone 6A / 5B) and are vigorous, looking very well. They put out lots of flowers and I’ve no trouble with natural pollination. We always have a ton of fruit set as well, so much that if I don’t thin it a bit the trees occasionally take damage when it gets heavy and there’s a storm.

The one problem is that my whole family (me included) thinks the fruit tastes/smells bad, a bit like bleach. (All the cultivars, doesn’t matter). Over the years I’ve experimented with the harvest time and while extra ripeness helps, the off-taste is still there no matter when we pick them, from green to brown mush.

I’ve looked all over for other people experiencing this and no luck. Everybody online and YouTube raves about them. Unfortunately, I’ve never tasted others but our own and I’m wondering if the growing conditions ours in are slightly off which is affecting the taste . Our pH for example is neutral to slightly basic (7.0-7.2), rather that a bit on the acidic side. Or perhaps some missing soil micro-nutrient? The soil is very sandy. The roots are never wet. If anything, they are shorted water, but the trees never show any drought stress.

So, any idea any conditions which could be affecting our fruit? I so want to like these things and the trees themselves are super-healthy. If I knew where some other trees were locally, I’d surely taste-taste their fruit, but ours is the only patch I know of.

thanks so much with any help you can supply,
Jim Burkhard
Churchville, NY

This is peculiar. Perhaps I have encountered a couple pawpaw trees whose fruit is off flavor, like bleach. But this is out of more than 1000. I have but two ideas. Your pH is neutral to alkaline. Obviously, your trees are healthy, but maybe nutrient availability is off, affecting taste. pH does alter the availability of elements for all plants. Best pH range for pawpaw is 4.5 to 6.5. Sulfur can correct this —- or read up on nutrients that are short when pH is neutral. Let me know what you find out.
September 25, 2018

This year, I was increasing puzzled about why everyone else online raves about them except our family. So, I did online research and examined my growing conditions. I finally tested (home chemical kit) the soil for nutrients and discovered my soil is very low in all major nutrients N, P, and K. (Neal’s comment: N-P-K is often low in sandy soil that lacks organic matter.)
I’m an engineer, so I hate to deal with problems with a shotgun approach, but since I have only one batch of trees (no separate “control” planting) and one crop of fruit a year, I figured I would brute force deal with the obvious issues at once this year and then adopt more proper methodology in the future:
• I applied granulated sulfur in early July an application rate sufficient to drop the pH 0.1 point.
• I applied a moderate 10-10-10 fertilizer to make up the major nutrient weakness.
• I applied a moderate dose of HollyTone to supply possibly lacking micronutirents.
• I applied a moderate dose of gypsum on the advice of Facebook Pawpaw people.

About a week ago the trees started dropping fruit and I sampled it from the varied trees. Amazingly, they all tasted great, with virtually no evidence of the prior problem — the improvement from my past years of experience has been most dramatic. I also passed a box of fruit to a gentleman who is familiar with proper pawpaw taste. He critiqued them as tasting very good — “right in bounds” with his past experience.

Jim Burkhard
Chili, NY

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