Monday, August 29, 2016

Pineapples - easy to grow, yummy to eat

When I go to the produce department to pick out a pineapple, I look for one with the greenest leaves and at least some yellow on its rough outer skin. I also give it a sniff hoping to catch a whiff of sweetness. Following those three indicators - bright green leaves, yellowy skin, sweet scent - dramatically increases my chances of selecting a tasty fruit.

With homegrown pineapples, choosing a sweet, ready-to-eat fruit is simpler. There’s only one indicator - the color of its skin. When the entire pineapple turns yellow it’s ready to pick.

Homegrown pineapple with bright yellow skin

Using a knife, cut the yellow pineapple off close to the base of its stalk. Take it inside. Slice it open, cut it up and take a bite.

Delicious homegrown pineapple
The flavor and texture of this homegrown edible is so incredibly sweet, fragrant and delicious edible you might wonder if it can really be the same fruit as its store-bought counterpart? 

It is and it isn’t.

All pineapples are bromeliads, a type of air plant that requires minimal care, soil or water in order to produce fruit on a sturdy stalk growing out of the center of a swirl of sharp, stiff, sword-like leaves. 

Young pineapple growing resembles other types of bromeliads

In Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, where most commercial pineapples are grown, fruit intended for grocery bins is often sprayed with a plant growth regulator called Ethephon a week before harvest to induce yellowing. This is done because, unlike fruits that continue to ripen after picking, pineapples stop developing upon harvest. No commercially grown, sprayed and shipped pineapple will ever taste as sweet and flavorful as a homegrown fruit left to ripen on its own.

Fortunately for anyone with a desire to taste the difference between commercially grown and homegrown pineapples, this tropical treasure is one of the easiest fruits to grow. 

Easy and fun to grow in a container or in the ground

A pineapple plant takes up little space, can be grown in the ground or in a container and thrives on neglect. It can even be grown indoors in cold climates as long as it is placed in a sunny location. The main requirement needed to secure a sweet harvest is patience because it takes about 18 months for a pineapple to reach maturity.

A homegrown pineapple normally begins with the cut off crown of a store-bought fruit. 

A cut off crown placed directly into the ground will produce another pineapple in about 18 months

While many websites offer complicated instructions on pineapple propagation, the method I have used for years is not only effective but ridiculously easy. I slice off the leafy top along with about an inch of flesh and skin - the part normally thrown away - and stick it in the ground right away. I don’t place it in a bowl of water like some suggest or let it dry out for a few days before planting. I also don’t try to remove all flesh and plant only the leaves. The most important step is choosing the right spot for planting.

Pineapples like dry, sunny or partially shady locations. They do well in places where other bromeliads grow - beneath the base of trees or out in the open. However, it is important to make sure the selected location is not wet. Too much water will kill pineapple plants. The plant’s leaves and flowers, which fuse together to form the fruit, collect as much water as they need all on their own. They also don’t require much soil. When I’m planting a pineapple, I merely scratch the surface of the ground before inserting the cutoff crown into the dirt. Fancy soil mixtures aren’t necessary nor are fertilizers or fuss of any kind.

No need to dig a deep hole or add any special soil amendments.
Just place the cut off crown slightly beneath the dirt and leave it alone. 

Once planted, a pineapple is a forget-about-it edible that rarely needs attention except when harvest time approaches and competitors take note. People aren’t the only ones savoring the flavor of homegrown pineapples. 

Raccoons, squirrels and opossums also like to bite into the fruit’s juicy sweetness. I recently lost one of my almost ready to pick pineapples when some animal - I never did find out what kind - managed to sever the entire ripe pineapple from its stalk and take it away without leaving behind any trace of either the chewed up fruit or the thief’s identity.

Although I was disappointed that an animal stole away one of my homegrown goodies, I wasn’t devastated because, I knew I could grow more. Sure, it would take a while - a good year-and-a-half - to reap another harvest but that’s not important. Any fruit that requires such little effort to produce such an amazing contrast to its store-bought counterpart is worth waiting however long it takes.

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