Sunday, December 16, 2012

PINEAPPLE (Ananas comosus)

Pineapple is a fun plant to have in the tropical garden. The young children like to watch the fruits growing at an easy eye level.  I got into it several years ago when some free pineapple plants in pots came my way.  Giveaways from an elderly gentleman who could no longer look after them. Thank you.  At first I thought I should plant them out in my garden.  Within a few months I realized that I had done the wrong thing.  Out of sight and planted in our coral sand soil, they were dying from neglect.  I managed to save a few and planted them into a big old rusty tub that I picked up along the road from some some body's rubbish pile.  The tub of pineapples hangs out amongst the containers of herbs and makes a nice contrast to the little leaf green plants.  Every few years we harvest a few pineapples from it so I guess it is more for fun than for food supply.

The type of pineapple I have is sweet and very white fleshed.  I am guessing that it is what is locally called "Kona White" variety.  It has reddish leaves.  Dole Pineapple company used to have a display of different varieties of pineapple up at an intersection of the road near Wahiawa in their pineapple fields. We used to love stopping by with our visitors as part of our North Shore tour.  We would always look for our favorite-- the Samoan variety with red leaves.  The sweetest pineapple I know grow in Samoa.  Now that the fruit canneries have closed down in Hawaii, there are a lot more sweeter varieties being grown here for serving fresh at the table.  e.g. Maui Gold.

Pineapples are in the Bromeliad family which will grow in tree branches and rocky places so are a fairly tough plant.  They have a small root system so actually do well growing in pots.  I have seen them looking healthy in little pockets of soil in lava field gardens in Samoa.  I have three plants clumped a foot apart in the old tub.  They are mainly growing in old wood chip compost and soil that I add to occasionally.  They are growing in full sun and get a bit of fertilizer.  The main thing about growing pineapples is that they hate wet feet.  They like rain but must have good drainage.  They do grow very long and sharp pointed leaves so you need to give them some private space.  Some gardeners like to grow them inside old tires.

It is fairly easy to get new plants going from the pineapple you buy at the grocery store. Just twist the top off your pineapple.  I have found that the tops grow better if they have not been stored in the refrigerator so twist the top off before cooling the fruit for eating.  You also need to remove any remaining fruit flesh on the top, if you cut the top off, and also pull a few layers of the small leaves off the bottom to expose a bit more of the stem.  The usual problem in growing pineapples is that the leaves turn black.  The plant has rotted and died..  To prevent this you just need to leave the cleaned pineapple top on a bench for a week to dry out.  Once the stump has dried out you then can plant it in some loose potting mix in a 6 inch size pot and let it get rooted there before planting it out or into a bigger container.  Some people swear by putting the pineapple top in a glass of water to grow first.  Make sure to change the water every few days and once the roots start showing, get it planted.

It will take two  years before you will harvest your first fruit.  Like all Bromeliads, the mother plant will die after fruiting but will give off some suckers/keiki first.  If you leave these in place these suckers may produce more fruit in a years time.  The pineapple plantations pull up the plant after the second crop and grow new plants again from the suckers and tops.

I am trying to think of food ideas with pineapples.  mmmm  I guess it is all the usual stuff that everybody knows.  We just usually cut them up and eat them fresh.  If serving them at a party, the sliced fruit always looks nice with a piece of green banana or ti leaf placed under it on the plate.  It has become popular in the last few years in Hawaii to serve fresh pineapple sprinkled with salty Ling Mui powder that comes from China.