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Old 03-23-2015, 04:32 PM
1,448 posts, read 2,154,149 times
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Many people may not realize that the Upper Florida Keys, and in specific Key Largo, was once the site of enormous pineapple plantations. The pineapples were grown by the tens of thousands in the Upper Keys, and then shipped fresh via the sea directly to Northern states like NJ, or via railroad down to Key West for canning first. The pineapple plantations were first established in 1860, and at the peak around 1900 Elliott Key alone was producing some 75,000 pineapples in a single crop.

This is particularly hard to fathom for current Keys residents, because the soil is exceptionally poor here, and hard to grow virtually anything on that is not native to the area. The soil is sandy and full of coral rock which makes it nearly impossible to dig into, and has a PH too high for most plants to survive without amending it first. But apparently in the old days before Miami dug all its canals, we had a lot more fresh water on the land, and a fair amount of soil with actual nutrients in it.

Apparently, quite a few tropical fruits did well enough for commercial farming down here, before the land became more profitable as real estate. Commercial farms included crops of key limes, oranges, grapefruits, avocados, melons, sugar apples, and tomatoes.

The Keys pineapple business went under when the Flagler railroad allowed for Cuban pineapples, which due to lower labor costs were far cheaper, to be shipped through Key West directly up into the mainland US.

Today, pineapples will still survive, as will Key Lime (if they don't get a citrus disease), but they would do much better in more acidic soil than the Upper Keys today can naturally provide. Nearly all of the other crops need a lot of soil amending and extra water to be able to survive - and most varieties of tomato find it just too hot on the islands and wilt and succumb to disease, outside of a variety known as "Wild Everglades Tomato."

So this is not really the fruit-laden tropical paradise that many people think it to be. But, certainly some things do grow well here, like coconuts, and mango. But Hawaii's soil and far greater rainfall (not to mention bigger islands) is much better suited to commercial farming today, especially of a crop like the pineapple.

Here is an article about the history of commercial farming in the earlier days of the Upper Keys:History Of Farming

I've been doing some research on the history of these islands lately, and thought those who have been here, plan to visit, or are hoping to move here would be interested to learn some of these aspects of the land and culture here in the islands. Although the Keys did not have much of a stable population (post-US govt) until the 1950s, much of the development and rise of tourism has totally wiped out the way people lived not all that long ago here. Nearly all signs of Keys history have been erased from prior to 1950, except for some buildings that remain in Key West - some of which date back to the late 1800s (but are generally not deemed habitable)! It's nice to stop and learn a little bit about the history of these islands so many think of as a party and vacation destination today.

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Old 03-26-2015, 09:07 PM
Location: Heartland Florida
9,324 posts, read 23,804,398 times
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I had pictures of the pineapple plantations in Key largo. The hardwood forests were destroyed to make way for the pineapples and that is why there are no trees older than 60 years old in much of Key Largo. My home had a pineapple patch I grew successfully for years and still has some surviving plants. I had plenty of acidic soil as my home was the local dumping ground for yard debris that I chipped and composted. If you find land that has not been filled in you will see the black soil hiding between pockets in coral rock. A long time resident showed me where a spring fed pond was on north Key Largo. Evidently before the everglades was drained there was fresh water in the ground water on some parts of Key Largo. Developers never care about history, only $$$$$$
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Old 03-26-2015, 09:14 PM
Location: Heartland Florida
9,324 posts, read 23,804,398 times
Reputation: 4901
By the way as late as 1995 there was a pineapple farm by US-1 and the C100 canal. Pineapples were also grown in the Sunset area near what became the palmetto expressway. A friend of mine's mom lived on what eventually became Dadeland, and they had plant nurseries, mango groves and pineapples there too. There was a railroad depot nearby to ship produce. The railroad seemed to be a constant for growing areas.
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Old 03-26-2015, 10:13 PM
1,448 posts, read 2,154,149 times
Reputation: 2358
Originally Posted by tallrick View Post
I had pictures of the pineapple plantations in Key largo.
If you still have them, please post! Or at least give copies to a Keys historical society. That history is being lost, and such photos are hard to come by now of specific Keys areas. The Keys have changed on a level that took other areas hundreds of years, in only 100 years. It must have been incredibly rough on nearly every wild thing living on the land here. My house was here since the 1980s, and had a different house on the land since at least the 1970s, but it is really sad to see the empty lots in my neighborhood of virgin land all starting to be built on this year! The animals are all flocking to my yard for shelter. I liked being surrounded by green, not so much by construction and houses and completely cleared empty lots of pea rock. It did take people years to get the permitting to break ground, but they are still giving out those permits. I really wish they would just stick to rebuilding the thousands upon thousands of lots with cheaply built unsafe trailers, rather than breaking into new land that has never been used before. Besides, it's easier and cheaper since the hookups are already there.

This all gives me hope though that my pineapples and other fruit will be successful! One side of my yard doesn't need amending because it gets tons of pine needles and leaf debris but is covered in heavy shade, and the other side has incredibly poor soil but gets all the sunlight! So it will take some work to get to the point of fruiting for most of my plants. I did get to harvest one pineapple while it was still in the pot, and it was the best one I have ever eaten, with a really complex fruity flavor. Eating them fresh-picked really makes a difference!
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