fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Greenhouses started with pits of manure

This cold, foggy weather makes me want to go somewhere warm and sunny. So, how about an imaginary trip to Hawaii, to learn something about pineapples?

Pineapples not only helped make Hawaii famous, they also had an important role in the development of hotbeds and greenhouses.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, when there was a great deal of exploration of the world, there arose considerable competition among the rulers of various countries to see whose gardens could be the most exotic. As ships sailed to new territories, they often discovered and brought back plants that were unknown in their native country.

And so it was with the pineapple. It was "discovered" by the Spanish when they landed in what is now South America. Because it is a tropical fruit, it did not do well in most parts of Europe, so it was raised in northern Africa, South Africa, and eventually Malaysia and other parts of southeast Asia. An ideal climate is Hawaii, where it still flourishes.

But kings in northern Europe wanted it in their gardens, so Europe's royal gardeners found ways to make that happen. One thing they did was grow pineapple plants on portable trays set over large pits of horse manure. Horse manure generates a lot of heat, especially if the horses have been fed corn. The plants liked that atmosphere and grew well. If they needed more heat during the colder seasons, small stoves were used.

In 1705, the English Queen Anne commissioned a huge structure to be built using sheets of glass to further protect plants and "conserve" heat for not only pineapples, but citrus fruit, myrtles, bay trees and pomegranates. Thus was born what would be called a Conservatory, and on a smaller scale, a greenhouse. Then, of course, competition began to build larger greenhouses. In 1847, one 295 feet long and three stories high was built in Paris, and one constructed in New York was 689 feet long.

From all of this eventually came the smaller greenhouse for the common man, which were used to grow cucumbers, melons and tomatoes. The idea of the hotbed, heated initially with horse manure, but nowadays more commonly with electric heat cables, has evolved for our use, as well.

What is it about the pineapple that made it so desirable? For one thing, it tastes good, and it's also quite easy to raise, as it readily grows from side shoots, or by planting the crown of a mature plant. It is still quite popular as a houseplant for that reason.

Probably another reason that it was considered exotic is the way it blooms and grows its fruit.

The knobby appearance of a pineapple that you see in the market is in fact a collection of individual fruits compressed together to form the whole fruit. Each of those little knobs you see was once a blossom, each row arranged diagonally in the shape of a spiral.

However, when pineapples are raised commercially, great care is taken to prevent pollination, as seeds in the pineapple fruit lower its quality.

In Hawaii, where pineapples are still an important export crop, there is a ban on bringing hummingbirds into the country for that reason.

Because I'm fond of hummingbirds, I guess I'll stay here in the Rogue Valley and just visit Hawaii — preferably when Southern Oregon is cold and foggy.

Coming up: Yours truly will teach the class "Think Spring in December," from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 9, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. We will focus on ways to get an early start on spring planting without the use of a greenhouse. Cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 for information.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.