Newsletter Feature

 

 

FOOD HORTICULTURE: PINEAPPLE by Kathy Clough

 

     I find pineapple to be a most interesting food, and the juice is really refreshing. The fresh version of the fruit, currently called Ananas comosus, is even better than the canned variety, but a lot more work. It must be peeled, cored, “eyes” removed, then cut into the size needed, be it slices, chunks, or crushed. The fruit is tropical and subtropical, being native - in a much smaller-fruited version – to southern Brazil and Paraguay, and was used by the natives much before Columbus sailed. The natives carried it northward, through South America and into Central America. The fruit then was spread further by the Spaniards, taken and introduced into Europe by Columbus, then by Dutch and French rulers to their own countries and colonies as well. Pineapples grow in South and Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia - even into China. In the US, Hawaii is the major producer, though Florida had a thriving industry from about 1860 thru the first two decades of the twentieth century, but a disease/root rot, along with a lack of fertilizer during WWI, decimated the commercial production, which has not recovered. They can be and are grown as a yard plant in south Florida areas where it does not freeze. They also are grown in Puerto Rico, a U.S. Territory.

     Besides the fruit, all parts of the plant are used for various reasons in one culture or another: bromelain derived from the juice or left-over stems, is used as a meat tenderizer, to chill-proof beer, to add to gelatin, or to put into latex paints. Leaves of the plant yield a long strong fiber which can be utilized to make a type of cloth, made into cord, used in some shoemaking or casting nets, and for tying or sewing cigars. Other than for drinking, the juice has also been used for cleaning machete and knife blades, and boats-when used along with sand. Remainder crowns can be fed to horses and processing waste may be dried into bran for cattle, hogs, and chickens, or as silage when mixed with other products such as urea, molasses, and grain.

     The pineapple, as is evident from its appearance, is a member of the bromeliad family, having the usual long, narrow, pointed leaves usually with prickly spines along the edges.

     There are a few varieties without the leaf spines. It takes full sun (at least six hours) and is somewhat drought tolerant, though likes high humidity, as all bromeliads. It will take the tropical temperatures and humidity, down to BRIEF exposure to cold as low as 28oF. Prolonged cold will delay maturity, make smaller fruit, and increases the acidity of the fruit, not to mention killing it totally. Ananas is one of the groups of bromeliads that grow in dirt, as opposed to those which attach themselves to trees by their roots, the epiphytes. All bromeliads are able to absorb water and nutrients through the leaves, rather than necessarily the roots. Roots are used primarily for stability, to keep the plant upright to retain the moisture in the vase and leaf nodes. The bloom, when it does appear, is from the center of the plant -as usual in this family, and has small purple and red flowers. Within a few months of the inflorescence, the fruit forms and enlarges to a more or less cylindrical (some taller, some squarer) fruit with the crown of leaves at the top. There are many varieties, with outer skin color ranging from reddish to pale yellow, and inner flesh from almost white to golden yellow. Acidity and sugar content also vary between varieties. The shipping and keeping stability of most varieties is prohibitive for global distribution. The major market variety is “Smooth Cay-enne”, or one of its variants. One third of the entire pineapple crop is grown in Hawaii.

     A pineapple is easy to grow at home:

•Find and/or buy a fruit that is ripe, unbruised, and has a nice set of leaves on the crown. OR, remove a slip (baby plantlet at the bottom of the fruit on the stem), a sucker (a small plant which arises in the axils or leaves), or a ratoon that grows out from the under-ground portions of the stems. (See directions for the last three below.) These latter three probably will not be found on grocery-store-bought fruit.

•To use the crown: Cut the top off the plant about half of an inch below the bottom of the leaves and stem.

•Remove ALL the juicy flesh around the stem, being careful not to damage the stem. Any remaining flesh will decay and rot, and may increase the chance for fungal disease/root rot.

•Remove, individually and carefully, some of the bottom leaves remaining on the stem itself until there is about a half inch leaf-free portion. 


Trim the bottom of the stem by cutting thin slices off it until you see “root buds,” which are brown dots within and around the edges of the stem flesh. Let the stem dry for 2-3 days.

•Place the stem bottom into potting medium, which should be a friable rich, heavily sandy loam with acidic propensity – abt 4.5-6.5. Just add some sand to a good potting mix. You may use a rooting medium if desired, before placement.

•Water just until the medium is moist. Do not keep it overly wet. Let it dry some between each watering. Spraying with a water mister may be enough. Remember: the leaves take in water.

•It may take several months for roots to form. To tell if it is, pull LIGHTLY upward on the stem.

•You may use a general, balanced fertilizer once it is growing well and roots have formed.

     If you have removed slips, suckers or ratoons, those may be planted directly into potting mix “as is.”

     Pineapples have small root systems despite their 2-5 ft. height ( in outside field planting) and up to 4 ft. leaf spread. They may be planted in a 4-6” pot initially and kept there for a while. At maturity, and in order to bloom and fruit, however, a plant should be in a 5 gallon bucket-size container.

 •Once planted and rooted, the plant may be set outside in a sunny spot, but must be taken inside before frost.

•Plants may be 2-3 years old before they bloom, if they do. As with any of the bromeliads, they may be difficult to get to bloom. And, once they bloom, may die after putting on slips and/or suckers. Removing these slips and/or suckers may prolong the life of the “mother” plant.

•Nitrogen is needed for increasing fruit size, but magnesium is also needed for increased weight of the fruit. Iron in the form of ferrous sulfate may also be needed. Apply all every four months as with a general fertilizer.

References; https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/pineapple.html https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/children/planting-pineapple-tops.htm https://www.todayshomeowner.com/how-to-grow-pineapples-as-houseplants/ http://www.tropicalpermaculture.com/pineapple-growing.html