7 October 2008

Growing pineapples in the backyard

Here's a closeup of what's happening in the old kale patch.

It's well into its second year and sure enough, a pineapple is growing in the backyard. I started this one off by planting the top of a store bought pineapple, it hasn't required any special treatment but it did take up a fair bit of space for just one plant.

Pineapples are surprisingly easy to grow here - in fact I live in the middle of the Golden Circle pineapple farm region, so that's no great surprise. It did surprise me, however, that the growing of this pineapple was as easy as it turned out to be. No pests attacked it, it withstood periods of pelting rain and then no rain at all for weeks. As long as we kept the water up to it, it thrived.

Stuck out in the middle of nowhere, our solo pineapple is slowly giving birth.

You grow pineapples from the tops of old pineapples. But make sure you grow a decent one. Be sure to only plant the top of a pineapple that was sweet and juicy because whatever traits your old pineapple had, so will the new one. You don't want to plant a pineapple that wasn't sweet, or tough, because that's what you grow in the new one.

Make sure you treat every pineapple like one that you will plant. Carefully twist or cut off the top green section off the fruit. Test taste, and if it's good enough to plant, remove all the flesh from the base of the green leaves, pick the lower leaves off so you have a bit of a stem to plant, then leave the pineapple top in the shade of your verandah to dry out for a week.

I'll plant this pineapple top during the week. Make sure you remove all the lower leaves.

During that week, prepare your garden bed. Pineapples like very good free draining soil. They won't produce fruit if the roots are standing in water. Add compost to the soil, dig it in and mound up the soil.

OR ... you can plant in a terracotta pot. Get yourself the largest pot you have, fill it with a mixture of ½ potting mix, ¼ compost and ¼ sharp sand and mix it well. Water the mix and let it sit for a week. Pineapples need a long hot summer but if you live in a frosty area, I'd still give them a go. If you plant in a pot, you'll be able to bring the plant inside during winter and keep it near a sunny window.

Plant the pineapple top in the soil just covering the base plate where the roots will come from. Don't bury the green stem as it might rot. Firm down the soil around the roots to make sure it doesn't fall over. Keep checking the plant for the first few weeks to make sure it's still upright and, hopefully, growing strongly.

Pineapples like an acidic soil in which to grow. Our soil here where the pineapple is growing is 6.5. If your pH is higher than that, add sulphur, according to the instructions on the packet and water your pineapple every so often with the leftover tea in your pot. That will help keep the soil slightly acidic.

Give the plant a good watering at least once a week and fertilise with weak compost or comfrey tea once a month. A pinch of sulphate of potash around the base of the plant at the beginning of the second summer will help with flowering.

Above all else though, you'll need patience because you won't notice any growth for about a year. In the second year the plant will grow and probably at the end of the second year, or in the second summer, you notice a fruit growing deep down in the middle of the plant. That's the point we're at here now.

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