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Pineapple is thought to have come from somewhere in the area of Paraguay, South America. Over the centuries, the Indians of South America selected suckers from mutations of large, seedless fruit for further propagation. Eventually 5 distinct groups of seedless pineapple arose (see Pineapple and the Plant Kingdom).
Virtually all commercial production world-wide consists of "Smooth Cayenne" selections (i.e. the 'Dole' pineapple). Our Antigua Black variety belongs to the "Queen" group and is renowned for it's golden yellow flesh, crisp texture, low fibre, low acid, high sugar content, and delicious taste.
Queen pineapples produce small (2 lb), conical fruit. The plants introduced to Antigua by the migrating Arawak Indians perhaps 1,000 years ago, have now naturalized and produced a distinct variety, the Antigua Black pineapple.
Claremont Farms is extraordinary in trying to grow this variety of fruit commercially. The Antigua Black yields only one sixth of the commercial 'Dole' varieties. Also, this cultivar has not undergone the rigorous clonal multiplication like other commercial varieties (see Quality) and remains somewhat wild (heterozygous).
Pineapple is included in the family of Bromeliads (so-called 'air' plants) which contains 50 genus and over 2,000 species. Along Fig Tree Drive you will see tall Kapok trees (Silk Cotton) with pineapple-like plants perched on their limbs. These are also Bromeliads.
The species Comosus is the only one producing commercially grown fruit crops. The Comosus species comprises 5 groups shown below, including the largest group called Cayenne, which James Dole made famous in Hawaii. Our Antigua Black pineapple is of the Queen group. Other varieties in the Queen group are listed with their major area of cultivation noted.
If you want to grow pineapple, you'd better have a lot of patience. Antigua Black pineapples require at least 18 months to produce their first crop. After fruit harvest, suckers grow out from the base of the mother plant. When left on the plant these suckers will grow and produce a second (ratoon) crop of fruit a year later.
Under ideal conditions, newly planted suckers begin to root within 2 to 3 weeks. With adequate fertility and water, Antigua Black pineapple plants will double in mass every 4 months. By the time the pineapple plant is about 12 to 14 months old, it should be of sufficient mass to produce a good sized fruit.
At this point, the plant is 'induced' to flower (see 'Flowering'). Six weeks after induction, a flower bud arises out of the central ring of young leaves. Over the following two weeks, 200 to 300 flower buds will open up on each fruit, one after the other, starting at the base of the fruit and ending at the top. Each fruitlet becomes an 'eye', and all these fruitlets fuse together to form one pineapple.
It then takes another 3 months to complete the filling, maturation, and ripening of the fruit. At Claremont Farms we do not ripen the fruit artificially. Instead, each plot is harvested over a three week period as the fruits ripen naturally.
Pineapple flowers naturally only once a year. The plants can sense the increasing day length by late January or early February (northern hemisphere). Plants that are mature enough will initiate flower buds that cannot be seen until the small, red bud arises out of the central ring of leaves 6 weeks later. It requires another 3 1/2 months to complete the filling, maturation, and ripening of the fruit. Therefore, in all it takes 5 months (February to July) for a mature plant to finally produce a fruit.
For the past 60 years, growers have been able to 'induce' pineapple plants to flower at any time of year. Anything that produces ethylene gas will cause a mature pineapple plant to 'differentiate', changing from the vegetative stage to reproductive stage of growth.
Efforts to improve crops of all kinds require compromise between quality and quantity. When a fruit crop is selected for higher yield (quantity), one must ultimately sacrifice characteristics of quality (high sugar, high nutrient content, low fibre content, low acid content, reduced water content, higher disease resistance).
Our Antigua Black pineapple has never undergone such a selection process and as a result, it still possesses those qualities bred out of the modern, higher yielding commercial Hawaiian varieties.
Claremont Farms has made a commitment to promote and improve our pineapple without compromising these desirable characteristics. Though we do have to concede that the Hawaiian varieties can out yield our Antigua Black by 6 to 1, improvements in cultivation, irrigation and nutrition should narrow the gap in future generations.
Pineapple has defenses against excessive water loss.
1. To begin with, the plant does not "breathe" during the heat of the day. Unlike most plants, the pineapple opens its pores (stomata) during the night rather than the daytime. Most species open their stomata during the day to avoid overheating.
2. Pineapple also has a special layer of water storage cells on the underside of the leaf that act as a reserve in times of water stress.
3. The epidermis of the leaf is especially thick and tough to resist damage and desiccation.
Few crops can boast the degree of tolerance pineapple has to hurricanes. Antigua endured four major hurricanes within five years (Luis 1995, Georges 1998, Jose 1999, and Lennie 1999). Hurricane Luis pounded Antigua with 150 mph winds for 36 hours, while Georges and Jose lasted only six and four hours respectively. Even so, our plant population has doubled in the same time period.
Two major factors contribute to this amazing ability of pineapple plants to continue to grow and produce after such an horrendous event. The first factor is the resilience of the pineapple leaf to mechanical damage. Virtually every living plant will have most of their leaf canopy and limbs torn away by hurricane force winds, and then drop the rest of their leaves soon after the hurricane has passed. The form of the pineapple leaf (channeled), their strong fibrous structure, and tough cuticle surface enables the leaves to resist destruction.
Secondly, the roots of the pineapple are of two distinct types. The first roots to establish are thick, tough anchoring roots reaching to 16 inches depth. These are able to keep the plant anchored in high winds so that the fine fibrous roots, responsible for most of the nutrient uptake, are kept intact and functioning. In this way, the outer row of pineapple plants is able to shield plants behind them from the major effects of these winds.
Although pineapple has only 1/4 the water requirement of most other crops, it still requires adequate supplies of good quality water to the root zone. Due to Antigua's irregular annual rainfall pattern and extended drought periods, we have to irrigate all our crops.
Claremont Farms employs the latest in drip (trickle) irrigation technology in our pineapple crops to achieve the highest watering efficiency possible. After the land is ploughed, banked into ridges, and rotovated, the irrigation tubing is laid along the middle of the ridges.
To eliminate evaporation losses, a thin layer of plastic mulch is laid over the entire ridge and irrigation tubing. The pineapple suckers are planted directly through the mulch by hand which results in an impervious barrier to water evaporation loss. Using this method, we are able to irrigate up to 1 1/2 acres (~1/2 hectare) at one time, and new plantings start rooting within two weeks.
At the end of the crop cycle the irrigation tubing can be rolled up on large reels allowing us to use it over and over again.
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