By PENNY FLETCHER
WIMAUMA — What most Americans don’t know about mangoes could fill volumes. In fact, mangoes may just be the most misunderstood fruit in the stores.
Until I visited Anne Pidgeon’s Colorfield Farms in Wimauma, I thought green mangoes weren’t ripe; all ripe mangoes were yellowish-red and soft; and that Florida was one of the highest mango-producing places in the world.
Boy, was I wrong.
As it turns out, the United States isn’t even listed in the top 10 mango producers in the world. While here in Florida they usually cost between 80¢ and $1.25 each. They aren’t considered a luxury item in many third-world countries, and are grown in great quantity in China, Indonesia, Pakistan and East Africa. There, large trees with more than 1,000 different varieties are cultivated in many colors and eaten as plentifully as Americans eat green beans and corn.
The fruit we see in Florida grocery stores and fruit stands is usually yellowish-red and soft, Most of it belongs to the Tommy Atkins variety, which was initially rejected by researchers in Florida until it proved very durable and disease-resistant in the local climate.
The color of a mango, however, does not depict ripeness, and many varieties are ripe when green. Other varieties offer a wide range of yellows and oranges.
“Many never even get a blush, yet they’re completely ripe,” Anne explained. “Stores sell the ones that look yellowish-red because people perceive that they’re ripe.”
While visiting with Anne and her longtime business partner Helen Marsh Schoonmaker, I met Suzie Espinoza from Odessa, who had been looking at Colorfield’s varieties of dwarf potted mangoes and other fruiting trees on line at <domain removed – ed> for months and had finally decided to make the 50-mile drive to Wimauma to purchase some.
As Anne showed us the different varieties, some of which – although dwarfs – were more than 30 years old and had huge trunks and branches laden with fruit, we learned that Anne carries about 20 varieties of mangoes that she allows people to sample at what she hopes will become an annual event: The Mango Festival.
“I held the first one last year,” she said. “And we had several hundred people even though it was out first one and we didn’t do much advertising. People want to taste the difference between varieties (once they find out all mangos aren’t the same!) especially people who want to buy trees and grow them for home consumption.”
This year’s Mango Festival will be Saturday and Sunday July 24 and 25 with mango tasting beginning at 10 a.m.; followed by a talk about growing tropical fruit in Central Florida. At noon there will be a culinary demonstration; at 2 p.m. a class called Mango 101; and at 4 p.m., another talk, this time on how to select a mango variety.
“People don’t realize we have more than 20 varieties right here in our area, mostly dwarf trees that can be grown in pots on porches and in home greenhouses and even in small yards.”
One good thing about most of the local varieties is that (unlike many tropical and subtropical fruiting plants and trees) a little cold is good for the mango trees and they don’t need to be covered until the temperature actually goes to freezing – 32 degrees.
Anne says they never put their “plastic” greenhouses up until it freezes.
One type she carries fruits twice a year. (Most fruit trees only produce once.) To simplify things for our readers, Anne just called this the “miracle mango” rather than by its long scientific label of species and genus.
By Googling the words “mango images” I was able to see a plethora of varieties in an assortment of colors I never imagined existed.
After looking at the fruit trees, especially the mangoes, Anne and I sat amid flowering plants and a small garden waterfall as I asked her questions about her background and work.
It seems she and Helen (her business partner) went to college together and both earned degrees in horticulture from State University of New York.
After they had become friends, Anne accompanied Helen to this area to visit relatives and they both liked it so much they stayed.
“That was in the early 1980s,” Anne said.
After that, Anne took the position of lead designer of floriculture for Busch Gardens in Tampa, from which she recently retired after 20 years. Meanwhile, she had started a greenhouse of her own in Riverview on the side.
Two years ago they opened the 40-acre Colorfield Farms at 8221 State Road 674 in Wimauma. About 20 acres are covered with plants, trees and shrubs, and about 20 acres still wooded. They also sell all kinds of seeds, pots, and garden décor.
Plants are grouped for ease in making decisions. Plants that are displayed in sun, thrive in sun. Plants placed in shaded areas, must be in shaded areas. There are even “native” plant sections and a whokle area of plants and shrubs that attract butterflies.
To find out more about the Mango Festival or to inquire about the varieties sold at Colorfield Farms, call (813) 672-4142.