How to Plant Your Pineapple Slips

A good pine takes time.

Sooo…you stopped by the ARTfarm and bought some pineapple slips, or a pineapple fruit with its spiny top, and you’d like to grow your own pineapple. Hooray!! Here is the ARTfarm step by step guide to becoming a blissful pineapple farmer. We’ve also made a short video of most of this information! Link at the bottom.

  1. The first thing you will need is patience. A pineapple plant with optimal conditions can fruit in a year but could take three years. Usually it will take up to 18 months for a slip (one of several shoots or runners that sprout from right below the mature fruit) to form a pineapple fruit. If your plant start comes from the fruit’s top (the ‘crown’) it can take two to three years.
  2. Prepare and strip your slip. If your slip has a bulge at the end, like a mini-fruit with dark rough skin, remove that (cut it off). You’ll see some short leaves at the bulb of the end. The emerging roots of the pineapple plant are hidden inside those short leaves. To give your pineapple slip a little head start, peel off a few layers of the leaves (about half an inch along the bulb) and reveal some of those tiny roots. If you are a visual learner, check out our YouTube video linked below that contains a demonstration of the trimming and peeling techniques for the slips.
  3. Age and dry the slip. After removing those leaves, let the slip injury heal for two to three days in a dry shady location. They can sit for a week or longer, without water. No worries. Pineapples are drought tolerant, slow growing plants, so don’t fuss over them like they were lettuce.
  4. Choose your planting site. Pineapple plants are not terribly picky about their location but they have a few requirements. Full sun will help your plant grow fastest. Pineapples do not like caliche (kuh-LEE-chee) soil* (whitish color, limestone deposits, high pH, alkaline). They like good drainage (loose gravelly soil is good) and don’t tolerate waterlogging. If growing in a pot, use a minimum of a 3 gallon pot (with loose soil and good drainage) so you won’t have to repot it before harvesting. In the garden, Farmer Luca likes to plant pineapples on raised beds (or on a slope) so they aren’t subject to flooding or standing water. Also, if mud or loose soil gets into the crown of your pineapple plant, it will rot and die. So keep your digging animals (particularly dogs and chickens) away from your pineapple patch! And remember pineapples are somewhat spiny plants and will get fairly large, so space multiple pineapples at least 12 inches apart and not in high traffic areas.
    Farmer Luca plants his pineapples in raised beds to keep their “feet dry”.
  5. Plant your slips about two inches deep in the soil. Just deep enough to keep the slip from flopping over, but not so deep that soil can get into the heart of the slip.
  6. Don’t overwater your pineapple. Mulching is highly recommended to prevent water loss and prevent the need for weeding. Water a pineapple plant once or twice a week at most.
  7. Protect your baby. In terms of pests, the biggest issue we’ve seen is rodents eating the ripening fruits. Surprisingly young unripe pineapples can be eaten by mice and rats. Set traps, or get your pets to help out.
    Our adopted border collies, Ginger and Spice, vigilantly patrol the pineapple gardens in fallow summer times to discourage rats. We’ve seen these athletic dogs leap all the way over the row of spiny plants during the hunt. This is a viable and much more entertaining alternative to poisons for controlling crop pests on an organic farm. During dry times there is increased pressure from all pests on farm crops and resources.
  8. Harvest! Keep an eye on your pineapple fruits, and as soon as the green of the fruit turns a slightly different color and the scent becomes tantalizing, harvest it and bring it inside! It will continue to ripen off the plant as long as the fruit is full-sized, and some ripening has started before harvesting. This timing of the harvest is a tricky thing to learn… through trial and error.


* “Caliche is calcium-carbonate cemented soil that is formed in semi-arid climates. Calcium carbonate is derived by the dissolution of [coral reefs,] shells and shell fragments … especially during the Ice Age when the sea level was much lower and the beaches were more extensive. Rain is a weak acid, formed by reactions between water vapor and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and it is this acid that dissolves the shell fragments … [Caliche forms in] a semi-arid climate; …when it rains, the volume of water is too small to carry dissolved materials away from the area, and they remain in the topsoil. …Groundwater dissolves the calcium carbonate from [coral and] shells in the surface layer and re-precipitates it a little lower in the surface profile, where it will act as a cement, binding the soil material into a hard substance that is called ‘caliche’, or ‘calcrete’, or ‘hardpan’.” From NPS information about the Channel Islands, CA. Some plants in the Virgin Islands prefer caliche soil (avocado trees) but most crop plants find it difficult to secure nutrients out of the calcium-rich caliche.

May Showers and Hugel Beds and Freeman Rogers!

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Farmer Bob builds a hugelkultur bed at ARTfarm using leftover storm debris. Hugel beds improve drainage, sequester carbon, reduce cultivation work, increase good fungal growth in soil, save on irrigation water, tidy up storm debris and grow huge healthy plants… What’s not to love? More below on DIYing your own hugel bed at home!

Six months ago, in November 2017, we had newly opened for the season and were giving away birdseed amidst barren trees and broken everything. We were hosting our farmstands on the roadside due to Hurricane Maria damage. Around that time, a journalist from the BVI Beacon, Freeman Rogers, visited us while researching a Caribbean-wide story on climate adaptation and resiliency. He is a humble and thoughtful character and his findings are well-researched and noteworthy. Hope you’ll enjoy a read and share on social media! (It would be great if his story made its way to a major news outlet!) There are mentions of St. Croix and quotes from Luca and other residents in both articles listed in this link, do take a few minutes to read them both, and share: http://bvibeacon.com/sections/climate-change-series/

Saturday farmstand, 10am down the South Shore Road: Plentiful sweet salad mix (thanks to recent, frequent small rain showers that made the size of the lettuce heads grow bigger), a very few slicer and cherry tomatoes, Italian basil, parsley, lemongrass, some seasoning peppers, serrano and chili peppers, lots of fresh ginger and turmeric, cooking greens, bunched arugula, some papaya, some watermelon, some pineapples, and zinnia flowers. For the growers: lots of native trees, bigger pots of rosemary herb, small pineapple slips! For the art lovers: we have performance/raffle tickets to the Caribbean Dance School 2018 show available, Friday and Saturday June 8 & 9 at Island Center, $15!

Okay, get a cuppa and a few minutes for some deep farm talk here: Farmer Luca and Farmer Bob have been busy this week building some new hugelkultur, or “hugel” beds on the farm. And YOU CAN TOO!!! Read on if you like food and want to save the planet!!! The secrets will be revealed!!! Mom! Dad! Uncle Fungus!!?

Hugelkultur is a ridiculously simple permaculture farming technique with a fancy name and multiple benefits: carbon is sequestered, water and fertilizer is conserved, erosion prevented, and messy, organic storm debris such as logs and branches are repurposed and turned into a valuable resource.  You make a tidy brushpile, and you bury it in soil. No burning, no chipping. And then you grow food or other plants on it. That’s the whole story. And it’s AMAZING!

A hugel bed is a raised garden bed that is naturally, passively aerated and thus doesn’t need any cultivation (tilling or plowing or other soil preparation) other than mulching and weeding. Hugel beds hold micro-pockets of air and water underground, as the slowly decomposing wood in the center acts like a sponge. Plants growing on top LOVE it. After a rainstorm, the beds require much less irrigation for a looong time. This is a great garden bed technique for the lazy or forgetful gardener, as it is forgiving!

Here’s how it works at ARTfarm: Farmer Luca has modified the typical hugel bed stacking technique for our dry, subtropical latitude and conditions by partially burying the hugelkultur bed into a minor trench in the soil where water can collect. This low spot helps to slow runoff and erosion, conserve water and topsoil, and limits the bed’s exposure to wind and sun. Farmer Luca’s basic process involves the digging of a large, relatively shallow bed area (carefully setting aside the topsoil), the burying of the brush into the hole with that topsoil, and mulching, and it can be done on virtually any scale. Here’s the step-by-step:

  • Dig a shallow area (18″-30″ deep as you wish) to fit the brushpile you want to bury, reserving the topsoil nearby.

  • Optionally, you can line the bottom of the hole with compostable plant-based material to help slow down water flowing out of the bottom of your hugel bed. Seaweed adds essential nutrients and minerals (with an added plus – burying kills the stink of decomposing south shore sargasso seaweed!) Also effective on the bottom might be cardboard packing material, leaf litter, grass and yard clippings, or even old cotton clothing.

  • Add the brush and logs into the hole. The neater you stack ’em, the more you can fit in the bed, which is good. Stack a few inches above the original soil level.

  • Optionally, if you want to get fancy and improve the bed further you can sprinkle or layer nutrients such as charged bio-char, compost, more seaweed, coconut husks, green waste, some woodchips. We haven’t had time to experiment with this yet!

  • Replace the removed topsoil back onto the bed to bury the brush and logs. Pack the soil in well – stomp on top or agitate as you go – don’t leave large pockets of air in the bed that will erode in the rain!

  • Cover the topsoil with a thick, heavy layer of mulch – such as wood chips or hay.

  • The finished bed will be raised about 8-10″ above the original soil level.

  • Add drip or microsprinkler irrigation.

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Bigger logs were used in a hugel bed we built in 2016. These logs grew some great watermelons, and are now growing peppers.

Beds can be built consecutively next to one another to create a larger hugel bed growing area, if desired. Our objective was to bury tons of wood to sequester carbon, but you can take a little more time to add even more nutrition to your bed by adding composted materials as suggested above. Think of the worms!!

To start, Farmer Luca chose areas in the gardens to build hugelkultur beds where he had observed the soil was underperforming – that is, where crops were less successful. These spots, he discovered as he excavated, had very hard, compacted clay-like subsoil. If you’re not sure how your soil is performing, you may want to choose a spot that tends to collect water, if that is an option.

The type of wood used in the bed is not terribly important, although known toxic tropical varieties such as manchineel apple are best avoided. A mix of both harder and softer wood varieties (mahogany, manjack and palm trunk, for example) is probably most effective. It’s better to use both large and small sized wood pieces (both logs and branches), but whatever you have will work. Fresh cut wood is arguably better in the short term since it already contains a lot of moisture, but it can also start growing in the bed (we’re talking about you, Beach Maho and Madre-de-Cacao)! We have mostly used old, dry wood materials and that works too. Fine material such as wood chips alone might decompose too quickly, whereas larger diameter hard logs offer a more slow-release effect over the course of years. Hugel beds are a monster sized, long-acting injection of fertile organic matter into your garden’s topsoil!

The quality of the available nutrition for plants in hugel beds change over time, tending to improve for a wider variety of crops as the interior wood composts into humus, and fungal growth and diversity inside the bed starts to really kick in. That’s yet another big win-win of hugelkulture: a biodiverse world of fungus, that create mycorrhizae, a working symbiosis with fungi and living plants, creating more bioavailability of nutrients and breaking down dead plant material. (Think kombucha or sauerkraut!) We had noticed years ago on the farm that impromptu/accidental hugelkultur beds created by the bulldozing of old brush piles with some topsoil resulted in an almost bluish-green color, drought resistance and vitality in the grasses that grew on those spots, even after the pile itself was moved away. Go fungi!!!

After establishing the first hugel beds, Luca started some simple trialing of different crops into the hugel beds with every transplant set. So every time a few hundred seedlings went into the drip-irrigated garden rows, he’d also put a few plants from that same batch into the hugel beds. The hugel plants tended to be noticeably healthier, larger and stronger, without the additional fertilizing and regular daily irrigation that the row plants got. WOW!

This finished hugel bed, with young watermelon vines, is approximately 15′ wide by 55′ long.

Crop plants that seemed to best tolerate the environment of a new, freshly layered hugel bed included pumpkin, zucchini, watermelon, herbs, and peppers. Corn, sweet potato and jicama (a crispy root vegetable) were not as successful in the newest beds. Our oldest hugel beds were built during the extreme drought of 2015, and exploded with zucchini in their first year. Those three-year-old beds are now successfully supporting lettuce and brassicas like kale. (Whenever we have extra tree trimmings and a little time, we build another hugel bed.) Even more exciting, Luca has been trialing fruit trees in a few of those older hugel beds. Citrus, mango, avocado and coconut trees are so far very healthy and show robust growth.  We are especially excited about the success of the avocado, which is a variety that normally requires heavy watering and has never really taken to ARTfarm’s high-drainage, rocky south shore soil and dry conditions.

Farmer Luca uses water-conserving drip irrigation or microsprinklers on his hugel beds, so the plants do receive some irrigation in dry periods, but only every 3 – 4 days instead of daily, as the row crops require. And if it rains heavily, the hugel beds can go for weeks without watering. In our super dry conditions on the South Shore, this is essential resource conservation. So a new hugel bed made from dry woods will need a bit more irrigation, but once it gets a good heavy rain, that seems to prime the bed, and water is soaked up and maintained inside for an extended time.

Slugs and snails and termites, oh my! With all of the fantastic nutrition available in a hugel bed, of course there may be some less welcome visitors. Our experience has been that, given a bit of time, balance happens and the pest invaders leave of their own accord. Here’s what happened:

There was a period after the 2015 drought broke when conditions were very wet on the farm, and our existing recent infestation of slugs and snails (who hitchhiked here in some donated pots in 2014) started booming. These creatures were probably attracted to the hugel beds’ moisture as conditions began to dry out, and were feeding on the leaves and fruit of the crop plants. Farmer Luca stopped planting and irrigating in that bed for about six months and gave it a lot more mulch, and the problem resolved itself. As for the slimy population of intruders, they were virtually wiped out all over the farm after another year or so by another stealthy predator, possibly mongoose or night herons.

Termites seem to be the biggest fear with this technique. We have had surprisingly little issue with them except for one hugel bed that was built only 3 meters away from an existing huge woodpile with a very large termite colony that was extremely active and untreated. They built tunnels above and below ground into that hugel bed. After a few years, they disappeared from the bed. The termites did NOT affect the watermelon crop in that bed, but they probably did a lot to aerate and decompose the wood within! I might not build an enormous hugel bed right under my untreated wood house, but it seems that generally speaking we have not seen termites sprouting up in these beds despite having active colonies around the farm. In general, termites are always around whether we see them or not, so the presence of a hugel bed is not going to create termites. It might even divert them from structures! Here’s a discussion about it: https://permies.com/t/28384/Termites-Hugelbeds

Gungaloes (large armored millipedes) are also attracted to the hugel beds, which is great because they can improve soil (much in the way that earthworms do). But they would sometimes eat the skin off the stem of very young plants, girdling and killing them. The solution was to pull the thick mulch layer back from around the seedling, and/or to put a small ring of stones around the base of the plant to protect it.

Farmer Luca would love to see agricultural researchers in the Caribbean do more experimentation and dedicated trials with hugelkultur beds. Unfortunately, since ARTfarm is a commercial production farm, we don’t have the time or staff to devote to approaching all the variables from a purely scientific method or collecting more than anecdotal data – but the early results show that this technique is incredibly productive while solving a post-storm solid waste problem at the same time.

You can read more about hugel beds here: https://richsoil.com/hugelkultur/ and also here: https://permies.com/t/17/Paul-Wheaton-hugelkultur-article-thread

And if you missed it this week, here’s an article in the St. Croix Source about farmers and post-storm mulch material. Ask any farmer how they feel about all of the downed tree debris being shipped out of the territory:  https://stcroixsource.com/2018/05/09/st-john-farmers-disappointed-by-missed-mulch/

ARTfarm Wednesday Corny Mamey Madness, 3-6pm Today!

Organically grown here on the South Shore for you: sweet salad mix, spicy salad mix, baby arugula, microgreens, fresh crispy cucumbers, sweet corn (Farmer Luca says this is the sweetest corn yet from ARTfarm), purple yard-long beans, freshly harvested onions and beets with their tops, a few late-season slicer tomatoes, Italian basil, chives, recao, lemongrass, tamarind pods, papayas, passionfruit, pineapple, and fresh Mediterranean figs. From our partner farmers today: mangoes and the last of the mamey apple from Tropical Exotics, tropical fruit coconut-based vegan ice cream from Feel-I, fresh brown eggs from Marti Gotts, and raw local honey from Errol Chichester.

Summer begins on Sunday! Celebrate with local farm-fresh salads, fruits and treats for you and your family! Open today, and every Wednesday, 3–6 p.m., and Saturdays 10 AM – 12 noon. ARTfarm is on the South Shore Rd. (route 62), between Ha’Penny Beach and the Boy Scout Camp. 20140618-124642-46002835.jpg

ARTfarm Wednesday, 3–6 p.m. today!

ARTfarm_figatfarmstandSometimes, we run out of art for Art Wednesday, so we just tell you about figs. If anyone tried our figs at the Taste of St. Croix, they will be shocked to know that they are EVEN TASTIER NOW! Because the weather has been dry, the fruits have higher sugar content and are absolutely sweet. Treat yourself to some delicious organically grown figs today at the stand! 3–6 this afternoon on South Shore Rd.

Things are getting fruitier as the summer beckons from the wings. Other treats we have in store for you today: Sweet salad mix, teen spicy salad mix, teen arugula, lettuce heads, onions, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, garlic chives, Italian basil, holy basil, lemon basil, dill, kale, collard greens, broccoli greens, cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, lots of aforementioned fresh Mediterranean figs, maybe pineapple, yellow passionfruit, raw local honey, and citrus: sour oranges and kafir limes. Hope to see you this afternoon!