Monthly Archives: July 2012

HOW TO GROW PINEAPPLE

Anne K Moore 
Photograph Anne K. Moore

Early Caribbean Explorers discovered that if a pineapple was set outside an island village, then visitors were welcome.  Slaves probably brought the pineapple as a symbol of welcome to the southern United States, and the symbol has flourished ever since. 

Pineapples are carved into the columns of stately homes, into the columns of stately beds, into gates, and are used on many different fabrics and crockery.  No self-respecting Southerner would think of leaving fresh pineapples out of their Christmas decorations. 

Edible pineapples (Ananas comosus) are in the Bromeliad family.  Many bromeliads are epiphytic, meaning that their roots cling to trees and take their nutrition from the air.  Some in this family, like the pineapple, grow in soil.

It is possible to grow your own pineapple, even if you live where the winters are frigid.  You can get a pineapple to thrive in a pot.  And, this is one case where you can have your fruit and eat it too.

Purchase a pineapple with a good-looking green leafy top.  It’s okay if the tips are brown.  It is often impossible to find a totally green top after the long shipment and lay about in the grocery store. 

Twist out the pineapple top wearing gloves.

Twist Out Pineapple Top

When you’re ready to prepare your fresh pineapple, grab the base of the leaves near the top of the pineapple (Careful, the leaves are spiny, you might want to wear gloves.) and twist until you can twist it out, just as if you are unscrewing a lid from a jar. 

Peel off the bottom leaves to expose the bottom one-third piece of stem.  Lay the prepared stem on paper towels and let it dry out for 4 or 5 days.  Then it will be ready for potting.

You can purchase a bromeliad potting mix, or you can mix one up using orchid bark, perlite, charcoal, and peat moss.  Choose a pot that is quite small, one that is deep enough to plant the naked stalk up to the leafy top.  The leafy top of the pineapple should overhang the sides of the pot.  If it won’t stand up, just sink the small pot into a larger pot and surround it with stones or gravel to hold it upright.  Set it in a brightly lit area.

Bromeliads have a vase shape center in order to catch and hold water.  Because of this, Bromeliads are watered differently than regular plants.  Watering the center of other plants could quickly rot out the growing tip.  Not so with bromeliads.  They need water in the center portion to thrive.  Water your pineapple in the middle of the top and at the root area.  When you feed it, use a water-soluble fertilizer, either organic fish emulsion or a chemical fertilizer – your choice mixed at half strength-, and water the leaves, the top, and the root area.

Since the pineapple grows best in humid tropical regions, it will grow best in your home with daily misting to raise the humidity.  Once the pineapple top shows new bright green growth, it’s time to move it into a little larger pot. 

It will also flourish if you move it outdoors during the summer months, after the temperatures reach 60° day and night.  Be sure to acclimate it from indoors to outdoors by slowly moving it into a sunny situation for just a few minutes a day, increasing the time spent in direct sun.  Just like you, it will sunburn unless you bring it into full sun slowly, over a matter of days.  Move it back indoors before the temps fall below 55°.  You will need to supplement the light in order to get it used to the dimmer indoor conditions again.

As your pineapple plant gets larger, be sure to move it into bigger pots.  After 3 years, if it is a happy plant, you very well could have a pineapple fruit on a stalk above a substantial size pineapple plant, growing in a 5-gallon container.  Pineapples have a very interesting flower.  You can tell they belong to the bromeliad family when this blue on red flower spike appears.  When you look at a pineapple fruit, you can distinguish just how the flower stalk looked.  The outer segments were flowers; the inner core was the stalk.

Once the pineapple blossoms and sets fruit, the mother plant will die.  Before hand, she should be putting out some little pups at the base of the plant, which you can remove and pot up to start the whole process over again.  Harvest the pineapple you’ve grown and use it in one of Chef Linda’s yummy recipes.

Another interesting pineapple tidbit:  If you’ve ever added fresh pineapple to a gelatin dessert you learned that gelatin will not set up with fresh pineapple in it.  Pineapple contains an enzyme, which is used as a tenderizer.  This protein-eating enzyme is another reason why it makes a good meat marinade.  It doesn’t just add flavor, but also helps to tenderize meat.  It digests protein, and that’s why it cannot be used fresh in gelatins.

GROWING BLUEBERRIES

by Anne K Moore

BLUEBERRIES IN THE GARDEN

Blueberry bush in front of white picket fence.

Blueberries on the bush.

HOW TO GROW BLUEBERRIES
Anne K Moore

Blueberries are extremists. They need intensely acid soil, a pH of 4.0-5.0. Add sunshine and a steady supply of water to the roots and you will produce a bumper crop of those tasty berries. To acidify soil that is too “sweet,” use agricultural sulphur according to label directions. After you plant the blueberry bushes, use acid-producing organic mulches such as pine, oak, or hemlock leaves/needles at least 2 inches thick. You can also use a fertilizer formulated for acid plants.

You can prune blueberry bushes into ornamental shapes so they will even fit into a street-side garden. They have little bell-shaped blossoms in the spring, which turn into plump berries, first a kind of pink and then the rich blue. You will know when the berries are ripe because they will easily spill into your hand when you gently tug on the clusters.

Northern gardeners can grow the Northern Highbush varieties that withstand the cold and snowy winters. If you live in a warmer climate, you’ll want to seek out the Southern Highbush and Rabbiteye blueberries, which tolerate heat and humidity. Some of the newer varieties don’t require a pollinator to produce fruit but you will have a larger crop if you plant two different cultivars. For cross-pollination, be sure to purchase two that bloom at the same time.

HOW TO GROW SWEETCORN

Sweet Corn

Sweet Corn
photo by Anne K Moore

Anne K Moore
Sweet corn is a sun worshiper.  It prefers to grow in the heat of summer, so don’t plant it too early.  The seed should go in the ground after the soil has warmed up and all danger of frost has passed.  Sweet corn rows should be three feet apart and the seed two to three feet apart in the rows although you can plant 2 seeds per hole.

You should also plant just one type of sweet corn in your garden.  Old fashioned rush-to-the-pot corn, sugar enhanced corn (SE), super sweet corn (SS), and the newest super sweet can all make a good backyard vegetable crop.  You ought to choose only one type, although you can choose several cultivars of the same type. 

For instance, it is all right to plant the different super sweets together.  It is also OK to plant different named cultivars of sugar enhanced corn.  However, you should not plant sugar enhanced corn and super sweet corn together.  The reason is pollination. 

Corn is wind pollinated.  If you plant different breeds of corn in your garden, the resulting crop will be undesirable.  Sweet corn, popcorn, field corn, and the new super and sugar enhanced varieties all will cross pollinate.  If you plant them too close, you will end up with starchy, very un-sweet corn. 

To keep your corn separate and sweet as advertised, you must have at least 70 feet between blocks of corn.  It is safer, and you are more likely to harvest what you expected, by following the spacing suggestions.  Another way is to plant them at least two weeks apart.  This can still be risky if they decide to tassel all at the same time.

One of the biggest problems backyard gardeners have with growing sweet corn is getting the cobs to fill with kernels.  Since sweet corn is pollinated by the wind, it cannot be planted in a single row.  Even two rows of corn will not pollinate correctly.  A plot 4 feet long by four rows wide is the minimum to getting good full ears of sweet corn.  Sometimes you can get by with three rows. 

Grow corn in good fertile well draining soil.  The pH should be between 5.5 and 6.5.  Keep the stalks watered throughout the growing season.  The stalks need an inch of water a week so if the rains are sparse, you will have to irrigate.  Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer every two weeks.  If you are growing organically, use fish emulsion diluted according to package directions.  If not, you can work in a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 granular fertilizer around the rows.

One of the common problems of corn ears are earworms and/or armyworms.  Both look very much alike:  Brown caterpillars with a dark stripe along each side.  These caterpillars eat the corn kernels, usually starting at the silk end.  You can cut out the damage they cause and dispose of the worms themselves.  The undamaged part of the ear is OK to eat. 

To keep these pests out of your corn ears, try using one of these old remedies:  When the silks on the ears have drooped and before they turn brown, pour about a tablespoon of mineral oil on the silks.  On the other hand, you can sprinkle the same amount of sand on the silks of each ear of corn.  Both additions discourage the female moths from laying her eggs on the ears, where they hatch and begin to feed on the corn.  The larvae can also feed on the leaves and stems of the corn stalk.  Get rid of any you find so that they don’t mature into moths to start the cycle over again.

Raccoons love to raid sweet corn patches.  To keep them and other marauding wildlife out, encircle your corn with two strands of electric fence.  The bottom strand should be about five inches from the ground and the upper strand about seven inches above the lower.  Follow all safety directions that come with the transformer.

Sweet corn straight from the garden is delicious.  I think it is worth the little bit of trouble to grow it.  My favorite is the old fashioned Silver Queen.  If I want to eat it, I have to grow it. 

With the advent of the sugar enhanced and super sweets, farmers don’t grow the old timers any more.  The newbies hold on to their sugar.  They don’t turn to starch for days, and in some cases weeks, making them perfect for markets and shipping.  The only travel my Queen does is from the backyard to the boiling pot.  Although, I do admit that the new sugar enhanced Silver King is pretty good, as far as SE corn is concerned.

HOW TO GROW CUCUMBERS

cucumber on trellis

cucumber on trellis

Anne K Moore

In a restaurant, I am not a huge fan of cucumbers in a salad. I usually push them to the side. Fresh from the garden, though, is a whole ‘nother story. Who knew even the lowly cucumber could taste this great fresh from the vine.

Don’t be tempted to plant the cucumbers too early in the season when temperature fluctuations are most common. If the temperature varies by more than 20 degrees F., the fruit can turn bitter. Cucumbers grow best in temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The soil should be good garden loam. To save space, construct a slanting trellis to hold the vines off the ground. This will help to keep the cukes clean, dry, and free of soil borne diseases, like mildew.

Trellising also helps to keep the cucumbers from running rampant down your rows. When it’s time to harvest any vegetables, it’s a lot easier to walk the rows than tiptoe through the vines.

FERTILIZING
Apply a balanced fertilizer next to the row or spray the plants with a water-soluble solution when the plants start to bloom.

WHY ARE THERE FLOWERS BUT NO CUKES?
Many of the first flowers may be male and won’t set fruit. The female flowers do the fruiting. Male blooms connect straight to the vine, while female blooms have a small bulb at their end, which will develop into the cucumber, if pollinated. Misshapen fruit is often due to low fertility or poor pollination.

Bees are essential for pollination. Make sure you never apply an insecticide to a flower. That includes insecticidal soap, which is safe only after it dries. Bees are still killed by it if they touch it (or it touches them) when it is still wet. If the temperatures rise too fast or drop low overnight, fruit-set can fail. Or, maybe there are too few bees in the garden. You might not be able to “fix” the temperatures but you can invite the bees for a visit.

To increase bee activity in your vegetable patch, grow some wildflowers such as coneflowers, and flowering herbs like borage, which is a bee magnet. This will also add color and beauty to your patch along with drawing pollinators to the plot.

WATERING
Cucumber plants are shallow rooted and need a steady supply of water. You don’t want soggy soil but try not to let it dry out, either. Make sure you water to a depth of six inches. Place mulch, like straw or marsh hay, around the plants to keep down weeds and hold the moisture. Try to keep tap water off the leaves. These wide leaves are very susceptible to mildew. Good air circulation along with watering underneath the plants at the soil line will keep the plants in better shape. Healthy plants make for huge crops.

Slicing types include bush varieties for small gardens, which you can grow in pots; ‘burpless’ varieties, which are long and skinny and are just what their name implies; and heirlooms that are just as tasty now as in years past. There are also small-fruited types for pickling.

However you grow them or slice them, there is nothing better than freshly grown and picked by your own hand.