The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. Being a ‘fruit bat’, I usually head to the fruit section in the market to check out what may tempt my taste buds. Pineapple is hard to pass, especially around Christmas. Any fruit that is out of season or out of locality is even more desirable. Pineapple can be found occasionally out of season, but how can we be sure that this has not been accomplished by chemicals?
Pineapple is a perennial plant and many successive crops can be taken from one planting. If plants are healthy, second and third ratoons are possible, although fruit size will decline with each successive crop. Ratooning is a method of harvesting a crop, which leaves the roots and the lower parts of the plant uncut to give the ratoon or the stubble crop. Pineapples are not tied to flowering and fruiting in seasons; for plants to flower naturally they need to have reached sufficient maturity and some form of stress needs to occur that causes a check in plant growth. Examples of stress include cool temperatures, drought or physical damage such as cutting out slips or ratoons, insect or disease attack.
Tops (crowns) and slips are the normal choices for planting. Slips, which are normally larger than tops, produce a mature plant earlier. In Vanuatu, slip plantings are ready for flowering at about 12 months, whilst crowns planted at the same time can be expected to be ready at 14 months.
Normally one ratoon crop is taken following the plant crop but sometimes single crop cycles are used. For ratoon crops the fruit form on the suckers that develop from the stem of the earlier crop. Again the time from plant crop to ratoon crop harvest is highly variable, but generally in the range of 12 to 15 months. Typically, a two-crop cycle takes four years from planting to planting.
The size of the stem (butt) determines the size of the fruit. When selecting plant material, ensure that there is a big stem in which the plant can store starch. Allow the slips or ratoons to cure – dry for seven days before planting and remove some of the lower leaves from the base before planting. For the home gardener, prepare a raised bed one metre wide. Plant two lines down the bed 60cm apart and 50cm between each plant. Commercial plantations will jam the slips or ratoons in at 30cm but this will reduce the size of the fruit and number of slips produced to replace the old crop. A double line of pineapples close to a boundary fence will be a formidable prickly barrier.
The roots of the pineapple are not very strong and only provide a fragile anchoring. The soil should be easy to penetrate and kept hilled up around the base – especially if ratoons are taken from the mother plant. The leaves are very efficient at storing and directing water to the base. Liquid feeding a plant is the most efficient way of giving nutrients for vigorous growth.
Position in the full sun as shade will delay flowering and fruiting. Sunburn is not a real problem in the lower latitudes of Vanuatu. If shading is required, a stand of pawpaw within 1.5 metres will give dappled shade and two tiered fruiting block.
Pineapple during the dry season will appear slightly green yellow when ripe. The best way to tell if the fruit is ripe is by smell or pulling a single leaf within the crown rosette. If it comes away easily, the fruit is ripe.
Fresh pineapple fruit should be peeled and frozen on a tray to make individually quick frozen pineapple pieces ready for smoothies or turning into fruit salads. That way the oversupply is secured for a perfect dessert.
By Cornelia Wyllie
Cornelia is the caretaker of Rainbow Botanic Gardens. She is well known for her in depth knowledge of tropical plants and gardening. Rainbow Gardens Nursery and the Botanical Gardens is open Monday to Friday 7:30am to 5pm, Saturday 7:30 to 12pm and after hours by appointment. Take a tour of the Gardens to view Vanuatu’s fantastic range of tropical plants. Contact Tudsie on 7726720 to book a Garden Tour. Contact Cornelia to arrange functions and catering on 7724720.