SWEETEN UP YOUR LIFE:
How to Grow Your Own Organic Pineapples
You haven’t lived before you’ve had a good pineapple. No, I’m not talking about one of those nuclear yellow corporate pineapples with a plastic tag attached, or those soggy pineapple rings that come drowned in a tin can. I’m talking about a real PINEAPPLE. One that you pluck from a sunny Hawaiian farmer’s market on a Saturday. Or one that you even grow yourself. Here is a step by step guide that will show you how to grow your own organic pineapples at home.
Step 1: EAT A PINEAPPLE
The first step in growing your own pineapple is to eat a pineapple or several. If you can get your hands on one, I highly recommend a white pineapple, also known as the Kona Sugarloaf variety. These babies have beautiful purple-hued skin, a jade green crown, and the sweetest, juiciest white flesh on the inside. Their low acid content relative to other varieties makes them way too easy to gorge on. I’m starting to drool just thinking about the last one I ate.
Once you’ve stuffed your face with pineapple, be sure to save the crown. This is what you will use for planting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dug through my neighbor’s compost pile scavenging discarded pineapple tops like a total creep.
It’s worth mentioning here that professional growers usually use pineapple slips or suckers rather than crowns as starts for planting. Slips and suckers mature and fruit more quickly than crowns. This article will focus on growing from crowns, as this is what the home grower is most likely to have access to.
Step 2: CHECK YOUR HARDINESS ZONE
Before you plant, you’ll need to check your USDA plant hardiness zone. To grow outside, pineapples need a hardiness zone of 9 or warmer. Here in Hawaii, we fall in hardiness zones 9-11.
For those of you who live in colder climates, don’t despair. While trolling the internet’s home gardening blogs I found that you can grow a pineapple indoors in a container, so long as the indoor temperature doesn’t drop below 61 degrees Fahrenheit and it gets plenty of sunlight. During the warm summer months, you can move the pineapple plant outdoors.
Step 3: STRIP ‘ER DOWN
Starting with your pineapple crown, remove any remaining pineapple flesh from the bottom. Then remove about half the crown leaves, starting from the base. This will leave you with a nice exposed stalk for rooting.
Step 4: DRY AND SOAK
To prevent molding, dry your pineapple crown in a sunny window sill for 1-2 days. After drying you can either plant it at once or, as I like to, place the crown in a glass of water to allow root development before planting. Make sure that the leafy part of the crown is not submerged in the water. Only the bottom part of the bare stalk should be submerged in water. Be sure to change the water when it becomes cloudy. Once you see the white roots emerging in about two weeks, you are ready to plant.
Step 1: PREP YOUR SOIL
Pineapples like a sandier, well-drained soil. I find a mixture of organic potting soil, compost, and a little sand works well. I like to mix in a few medium sized rocks (about the size of a golf ball and no larger than a tennis ball) into the soil as well. If you live in Hawaii, you probably have plenty of mineral rich volcanic rocks lying around in the garden that will work perfectly.
Step 2: FIND THE SUN
Pineapples are sun worshippers. Plant your pineapple in a location that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day.
Step 3: PLANT AND ANCHOR
When planting directly in the ground, dig a hole twice as wide and deep to allow room for root development. Bury the bottom half of the crown that is stripped of leaves in the soil. Allow the leafy part of the crown to remain above the soil, and pat the soil firmly around it. If you are planting more than one plant at the same time, leave space between plants. Mature pineapples will spread out to a diameter of about 3 feet.
You’ll also want to use 3-4 fist sized rocks or larger to anchor the pineapple plant. Place them snuggly around the base of the crown on top of the soil. Pineapples have a shallow root system and can easily be knocked over when freshly planted. If you’re planting outside, the rocks deter delinquent cats or chickens from digging up your precious pineapple while it’s still a keiki.If you choose to plant in a container, make sure that it has holes for water drainage at the bottom. A 3-gallon container is a size you want.
Step 4: GIVE IT A DRINK
After planting, give the plant a good watering. Water from above, allowing water to collect in the leafy part of the crown. If it is planted in a pot, make sure to saturate the soil until water runs out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
Now that your pineapple baby is planted, here are a few care taking tips to keep it happy, and hopefully ready to deliver some delicious pineapples to your face.
First, be PATIENT. Just like you didn’t sprout up overnight, your pineapple plant takes time to mature and bare fruit. When starting from a pineapple crown, it takes about 24 months for your plant to flower, and then another 6 months for the fruit to fully develop. Hey, it’s not so bad. Pick your jaw up off the floor and remember, the best things in life elude instant gratification.
When your pineapple is freshly planted, daily watering is important, unless it’s getting regular rainfall. Once it begins to show signs of new growth in the crown, you can scale back on watering. Allow the soil to dry out a bit between watering, but not bone dry. Due to their shallow root system, Pineapples absorb most of their water and nutrients through their leaves. Keep this in mind when watering. Make sure water gets caught in the crown, rather than just poured around the plant’s base. Waterlogged soil can cause root rot.
Plants need to eat too. Because you are going to eat its fruit, its best to use organic fertilizers with natural ingredients. I find that my pineapples love organic fish emulsion fertilizer. Like watering, Pineapples prefer fertilizer sprayed on their leaves.
- PEST CONTROL
Pineapples are a pretty tough fruit and generally don’t face much trouble from pests. As the fruit begins to grow, you may want to protect the plant with some chicken wire fencing to keep out hungry critters who might take a curious bite. In my rural neighborhood in Kona, Hawaii, wild turkeys, and marauding pigs are the chief suspects.
If you do encounter a problem, the blog Grow Anything has a wonderful section on organic pest control and preventative measures.
- PLANT MAINTANENCE
The pineapple plant is a perennial, meaning that it continues to grow year after year. However, the pineapple is a little different than your typical perennial. After it fruits, the original plant dies off, leaving behind suckers. Suckers are baby pineapple plants that will grow into mature plants. You can choose to leave them in place, or space them out in a new planting to allow for optimum growth. Certain pineapple varieties also produce slips, which are new plant growths that occur on the pineapple stalk right below the fruit. You can learn more about handling slips and suckers here.
Allow the pineapple fruit to fully ripen on the plant before picking. You will know when it’s ready by its sweet smell and fully developed color. Use a sharp knife to cut the pineapple off the plant. Now throw your hands in the air and do your victory dance. Try not to drool on yourself in anticipation. Feel the bottom of the pineapple, if the flesh has a little give to it, it's ready to eat.
EnjoyA pineapple is amazing sliced fresh and devoured with your bare hands. To give it a little more oomph I like to sprinkle pineapple slices with some sea salt and a little fresh chopped Hawaiian chili pepper. Or go Hawaiian style with some sweet and sour Li Hing Mui powder. If you want to get in touch with your inner Betty Crocker, there is a trove of recipes devoted to pineapple online. One ono classic is pineapple upside down cake.
For the true pineapple enthusiast, Hawaii is the motherland for delicious, locally grown pineapples. Here is a list of farmers markets on the Big Island (Hawaii Island) to guide your hunt for the perfect fruit. Keep in mind that Summer is prime pineapple season. You may just meet a farmer that will give you a tour.