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Pineapple — a sweet tropical fruit

March 16, 2013
By JEAN SHIELDS - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The golden pineapple is a sunny and easy plant to grow in our local climate. The duel outcome of buying this fruit is you get to eat the big sweet parts and have a fun time planting the stiff green, leafy top and watching it grow up to be another treat.

This homegrown fruit will not be exactly gigantic like the ones in the market, at least mine are never that large, but it is worth growing.

I am switching to a fruit theme this week because I have been so immersed in two large flower design and horticulture shows in the area and, of course, the annual Garden Club Plant sale at Jaycee Park last weekend. I need a change of pace.

At the recent Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council flower show, they had over 100 entries of horticulture cuttings and plants. There was a great selection from local gardeners' yards and lanais.

There was sometimes several of a same variety. The regal bird of paradise, a single cutting of a Sansaveria, and a favorite of all, the rose. Lots of philodendron leaves, so many kinds ranging from small and variegated to monster cutout verities. Tables full of a potpourri of rainbow colors and shaggy greens.

Right in the middle of all of this was a single perky entry of a pineapple plant. With tall strappy leaves and a small, almost tiny pineapple peeking out from the middle, it was so perfect. I am not sure just what fate is in store for that entry, but it did receive a blue ribbon and certainly deserved it.

I have said many times I am not a veggie growing person, except for tomatoes and bell peppers, and I do not grow any fruit. However, I do eat all of those healthily things and plenty more foods that are not so healthy.

I have helped my grandsons do pineapples successfully but they took their prizes home before harvest, and I was lucky if they saved me a bite.

Now I am in the mood for something sweet and tropical and easy to grow. I will not start mine until the first of next month. Still coming down from the recent highs of Garden Clubbing, and show events. April is also an unstable month temperature wise.

I hope everyone watches the newspapers and flyers that are around when there is a gardening event taking place in Lee County. There are a lot of events and most of them are free and even if you do not want to plant anything, touring around these events is very interesting and a great excuse to be out moving about. As a gardener, you will get plenty of exercise and that is good. As a non-gardener you still need plenty if exercise and there is no excuse to ignore some fresh air and a friendly tour around town. A great way to entertain visitors and work up a real thirst. You can always stop and have a cold beverage on the way home.

One thing we gardeners and societies do not do is serve alcohol. We are pretty relaxed and happy without any extra stimulation. When it is after time for us, we are relaxed and slow enough to just go home.

OK, lets plant our own pineapple. Oh, I guess I better make sure you are aware that the pineapple, Ananas comosus, is in the Bromeliaceac family. Their origin is Central and South America and the Caribbean. A bit of history: dear Christopher Columbus discovered it in 1493 in the Indies and brought it back with him to Europe - the first bromeliad to leave the New World.

It is quite possible a Spanish ship brought the pineapple to Hawaii in the 1500s. Thomas Dole, sound familiar? started a pineapple plantation there in the 1900s. The Del Monte Company started growing in Oahu, 6 years later. They left for Costa Rica about 9 years later, leaving the Dole Company and a local Maui Pineapple Company as the only growers.

OK, again, planting. I think everyone knows a fresh pineapple in the market when they see one - the diamond studded body topped with stiff fleshy, sharp leaves. The body may be a mix of green and gold, which means not real ripe, unless it has a very sweet scent. A golden body with a sweet smell is ripe. You can give a tug on one of the lower leaves and see if it comes off easily. You want the leaf to not come off too fast or it will mean the fruit is too ripe.

Once a pineapple is ripe, it rots quickly. It will not become more ripe, just rots. If you buy it green it will not slowly ripen, it will not be sour but not as sweet as it should be. It can be planted though.

You cut off the top green leaves at the base where they meet the body. You do not need a lot of the body at all because it is too wet and will probably rot in the earth. You can also twist the top off of the body, if you are strong enough and wear gloves. Those greens are prickly. That small pointy base works great after peeling.

What you need is a small base to bury in a pot of regular potting soil, or in a nice soft spot in the garden, in the sun. A little shade will not hurt anything.

You can take the time to peel off several layers of the tough leaves, which will leave a nice light looking root end. Peel about one inch but not more. I always let this end dry for a bout three days, before planting it in moist soil. Does not need food at the first planting but soil should stay moist for about 2 weeks so that a good root system will start and hold the plant steady. Fertilize with a regular fertilizer in about 4 weeks then twice more at three month timing.

You will see a small brownish tumble of roots around this end. You cannot see this if you plant a flat piece of the body with the top. Those roots will grow if they can get some soil and water, but not if they are to meshed into too much of the body cut.

It is going to take about 8 months to get a pineapple. Just let sprinkler do its job or if in a large pot, keep soil watered about once a week. The usual good drink around the bottom of plant and let it drain. In the yard, it should be able to drain well. Rain will not harm the green top but otherwise you do not need to be watering that top if it is in a pot.

You will see things happening as it grows. There will be a red inflorescence that will appear for a week or two. Just leave it alone. It will be in the center and that is where the tiny plant will appear.

When it looks golden yellow, even though it is small, pick it. They do not stay ripe for more that 3 or 4 days unless refrigerated. In the cold they will last about a week.

Some pests may come along during growing season - ants, thrips, scales. Little critters. Use a stream of water to wash off.

The plant should have room around it to spread its long strappy leaves as it grows. Not being crowded will keep it critter free, usually.

Pineapples are truly a healthy food, and have a medicinal value. It is an excellent source of manganese, vitamin C, sugars 9.26 g, and fiber 1.4 g. carbs.12.63 g and many lesser nutrients. Per 3.5 oz..

It is also used as an anti-inflammatory agent which can be used in pill form.

Culinary uses are many. I have never eaten a pineapple upside down cake without pineapple rounds, with a cherry in the middle. Fruit salad, as a garnish and in many countries it is sold roadside as a snack. Oh, don't forget our tropical pina colada drink.

Check the big stores for plants or maybe someone you know will have a mature plant that has a new little pup growing on it and that can be planted also.

The same mother plant will not grow and produce for years and years, so watch for your pups and start from there again.

As we get further and further into spring and summer there will be less and less public plant sales. The temperatures stay too hot and it is either too dry or too wet to be having horticulture setting out all day. It is also too hot for the gardeners and sellers to be out in the sun all day.

April will have two annual events: The Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange will be at Terry Park, in East Fort Myers on April 13. Cape Coral will have a Native Plant sale April 20 at Rotary Park. They usually run from 9 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m.

Watch for announcements of any such events.

The nice rainy day we experienced earlier this week did not break any records but is always useful. It does rinse off some dust, and if you were in the right spot even left a puddle or two.

Happy gardening until we meet again.

H.I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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