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Gardening With Jack: Pineapples

A dear friend of mine has been bugging me to write about raising pineapples so I decided that the first article of the year should fulfil my promise to him. Pineapples can be started at any time of the year but that is predicated on the availability of the starting material. A mature pineapple plant will bear one fruit. From the roots of the plant grow ratoons, what bromeliad growers call pups. Between the leaves grow suckers, below the fruit grow shorter slips, and on top of the fruit is the crown. All of these are like miniature pineapple plants. Suckers and slips produce fruit in a year while ratoons take about 18 months. Crowns usually take two years or longer.

A pineapple is a bromeliad and those gardeners who have bromeliads will already know how easy they are to care for. They can endure low water conditions and most of them take in the majority of their sustenance from specialised leaves at the centre of the plant. Like orchids, bromeliads do not mind being in close contact with family members and even seem to benefit from the company. Although many bromeliads like shade conditions pineapples can take full sun but also do well in partial shade. Some bromeliads are epiphytes and use their roots to cling onto trees. Pineapples are not epiphytes and use their roots to absorb nutrients from the soil and hereby lies a problem.

Our native soil in The Bahamas is very alkaline and pineapples like acid soil. In some areas there is red soil called laterite that is neutral with a pH of 7 and it is in such areas that Bahamian pineapples have been grown traditionally. Were you to plant a ratoon, slip, sucker or crown directly into your garden soil it would likely survive without growing very much, if at all. What we need to do is raise our pineapples in containers with acid soil.

Fill 4-gallon containers with premium potting soil and for this I recommend Miracle Gro without water retaining additions. Rain water is slightly acidulous so try to do all watering with rain water. Dampen your soil and plant a slips, sucker, ratoon or crown in the centre of each pot. You are on your way.

Prepare a gallon of water and one tablespoon of Miracle-Gro Miracid and fill a small spray bottle with the solution. Once a week (Saturday morning is my designated time) spray the centre of your pineapple plants with half a dozen squirts per plant. As the plant grows you will notice the inside of the central leaves develop a brownish-red hue. After three or four months you should strengthen your fertilizer mix to 2 tablespoons of Miracid per gallon. Much of the Miracid runs between the leaves and enters the soil. After three months add a sprinkle of Osmocote time-release fertilizer to the surface of your soil and repeat three months later.

Pineapples generally produce fruits in the warmer months of the year. A red inflorescence appears in the centre of the leaves, with blue flowers. A short central stem forms and a single pineapple is produced over 4-6 months. Harvest your pineapples when they turn gold from green. They do not ripen after being picked.

There are several gardeners raising pineapples on Abaco and they can be the source of your starting material. Pinewoods Nursery has pineapple plants but they are not on display so you will have to ask for them.

Always keep in mind that pineapples are slow but steady growers and only need a little fertilizer on a regular basis. Pineapple plants do not like wet conditions so should rarely be watered, and then only lightly.

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