A Pawpaw Permaculture

I just got back from the Ohio Pawpaw Festival last night, pawpaws and all!

Pawpaws have an amazingly sweet fragrance. It gently pervades the whole bag I have them in, and could always be smelled elusively wafting around the festival grounds.
The texture is the best part: I can only compare it to the most delicate custard to have ever graced my tongue. That is, when they are fully ripe. I had a few that weren’t quite ripe, so they had a little added bitterness, and weren’t quite so custardy. All the same, they were still really good!

I attended a few workshops while I was there. The best was titled “Pawpaw Permaculture”  given by Chris Chmiel. Chris is the one who started the Ohio Pawpaw festival 15 years ago, and runs Integration Acres, a permaculture farm in Albany, Ohio. His talk was about what species he uses in his system, and how they all “integrate.”

The base and purpose of his system is of course Pawpaws. He grazes goats under the trees, and also grows spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and ramps (Allium tricoccum). All three species are native.

Since pawpaws are not attractive forage to goats, Chris grazes them under the pawpaws where they eat the multiflora rose and other competitive weeds. What annual-type weeds grow back (mostly ground cover weeds such as creeping charlie) Chris said are very helpful for conserving moisture and making a soft landing spot for ripe pawpaws, saving them from bruising.

The goats make manure, which improves the fertility under the trees, in addition to weed control. Even better, the goats turn those weeds into milk, which Chris makes into artisian cheese.

For nitrogen fixers in his system, Chris left all the natural black locust trees standing that were already growing in the area he planted his pawpaws. Since black locusts are legumes, they can work with bacteria in the soil to fix nitrogen for the pawpaws to use.

The amendment(s) that Chris makes to the soil, is adding organic matter around the trees when planting, and walnut hulls, which he pointed out are around 80-90% organic matter. So his main amendment is organic matter.

As a side note, walnuts naturally contain a plant poison called Juglone. Chris pointed out that pawpaws and walnuts naturally grow in the same ecosystems without bad effect, and that he has never noticed negative effects on the pawpaws from applying the hulls. If anything, it further deters weeds.

Besides hearing about Chris’s system, I also learned that I had a totally wrong understanding of what situation pawpaws should be grown in, at least sort of.

I was of the understanding pawpaws grow in shade (young pawpaws cannot be exposed to prolonged direct sunlight or they burn), and prefer low wet places, growing in thickets.

I saw some on the way, growing in a patch in an open field, and some growing at the edge of a woods by a lake in a low place at the festival grounds. The latter situation is what I gave the two pawpaws I have growing in my food forest -a place very near the bottom of Mortal Tree, although not very wet at all, where they get half the day’s sun.

From what I heard at the festival, I was right. What I have just described is one of the usual situations pawpaws grow in. That is not the situation you want them in if you want lots of fruit.

Pawpaws, for one, frost. If they are in a low place there is higher chance of the flowers getting frosted, and you losing fruit for the year. Two, pawpaws need full sun to have enough energy for lots of fruit. Three, I was told having pawpaws in a wet place isn’t always the best, because they can get root rot.

Of course, some of the pawpaw growers I heard these statements from use Roundup under their trees, and chemical fertilizers, mowing the grass between the rows of pawpaws in monocultures. Chris was not one of those.

In that respect, what applies to their pawpaw’s might not apply to mine. I especially wonder about the whole root rot from wet areas. Nevertheless, I planted two of the three pawpaws I bought at the festival in a high place in full sun. I will have to see how the two patches compare when they get older.

Here is a link to Chris Chmiel’s website: http://www.integrationacres.com/


  1. So, Nicolas, has the information I have in this post changed any of your Paw Paw planting plans? I know you’re site is fairly low and wet. Have you favored sunny, or shady planting site’s? You have several different named kinds too, right? So those would be grafted and should produce earlier than ungrafted types. How are they doing?


  2. Just stumbled upon your site. Paw paws naturally grow by rivers and creeks here in NC. It’s good to have a grove with at least 2 different types so they can be successful. Plant the seed as soon as you eat the fruit while it’s still moist so a new tree can get started. Good luck! It’s a worthwhile venture for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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