Pineapple Notes

Cultivating Pineapple on Lanai

Between 1922 to 1992, pineapple plantation operations provided the people of Lanai with a way of life. The people worked and relaxed together, built a community, and contributed to the development of a sustainable way of life. James Doles’ Hawaiian Pineapple Company (H.P. Co.) evolved and many of the innovations in cultivation, equipment design, harvesting, irrigation and labor relations developed on the Lanai plantation, and came to be used around the world. There was a sense of community and purpose that has diminished with the passing of time, as our community moved from an agricultural based economy to one of focus focused on high end travel and real estate sales.

The photos below, come from the collection of Corazon Endrina Masicampo, who moved to Lanai as a child in the late 1920s. Her family came to help build the H.P. Co. plantation and community on Lanai. Of Filipino ancestry, and an active community member in the Filipino Federation of America (FFA), Mrs. Masicampo and fellow FFA members compiled scenes of the Lanai plantation operations in the early 1970s. Donated to the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center, the photos provide viewers with a snapshot into the work that made the name of Lanai synonymous with pineapple. Unfortunately, there are no longer any pineapple cultivated on Lanai, and a significant way of life has passed on.

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Pineapple crowns, slips and suckers were used as seed stock for planting. Fields on Lanai were plowed and prepared for planting.

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Machinery was developed to create furrows and lay out plastic mulch strips which helped to preserve water, protect the young root systems, and keep weeds down until the plants matured.

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Pineapple seed stock, collected from previous harvests, was then laid out in piles along the plastic lined rows.

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Using planting irons, pineapple planters then quickly created a hole, planting each crown, slip or sucker by hand along the edge of the plastic mulch liners.

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Planting was hard, back breaking work.

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The pineapple plants would grow, and in a few months completely cover the plastic mulch liners.

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As the pineapple grew, fertilizers and chemicals were sprayed from specially designed truck rigs, on the fields to provide nutrients and keep weeds down.

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Irrigation lines and pumps were also developed throughout the plantation to deliver water to the fields.

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Irrigation trucks with wing sprayer Irrigation trucks, with wing sprayer booms extending some 130 feet on each side of the trucks, enough to cover two blocs of pineapple were developed. These trucks would roll out and connect long hoses to the water lines. With the water turned on, spraying would begin, and the hoses rolled back up onto the truck as it advanced. Trucks would run up and down the rows of pineapple to ensure that the plants were adequately watered.

Because of limited water supplies on Lanai, furrow irrigation (periodic field flooding) was not an option, and the truck boom method of irrigation was developed to maximize the use and application of water and fertilizers. In the later years of the Lanai plantation (1980s-1992), drip irrigation methods were applied, in an effort to reduce water usage and labor expenses.

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The pineapple plant is a relative of the ornamental bromeliads of South America. It was introduced to Hawaii in the early 1800s, though it was not until 1903, that James Dole developed a means of making pineapple a viable commercial crop in Hawaii, by developing a system for canning and exporting the “exotic” fruit.

The pineapple fruit actually develops from the flower of the plant. The fruit then matures between18 to 24 months after planting.

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At one time, more than 16,000 acres of pineapple were cultivated on Lanai, and the plantation was the world’s largest single producer of pineapple (with estimates of nearly 75% of the world’s supply being grown here by Dole). The Palawai Basin fields were among the most productive on the island of Lanai.

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In the early days, harvesting and all work in the fields was done by hand and back. In the late 1940s, work on the H.P. Co. plantations led to the development of harvesting machines. These machines were carried on trucks, and included conveyor belt booms some 60 feet long. The pickers walked through the rows, following the boom with a conveyor belt, picking pineapple by hand.

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Placed on the boom, the conveyor belt carried the fruit to a conveyor lift, which dropped the fruit into a bin set on the truck. Each bin could carry some 5,000 pineapples. Pickers would wear heavy clothing, including canvas leggings, denim sleaving, protective goggles, gloves, and bandanas to protect themselves from the pineapple plants.

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Once a bin was filled, the harvesting machine (boom and all) would be lifted off of the truck by four hydraulic legs. The full truck would drive out from under the harvesting machine and across the fields to the transfer station. A new truck with an empty bin would pull under the machine, and the process would begin again.

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At the transfer station, situated along the Kaumalapau Harbor Road (half a mile above the cut off to the present-day airport), the full bins were removed from the field trucks, by specially designed Ross Carriers (modified lumber loaders). The bins were then placed on larger trailer trucks for the drive down the steep road to Kaumalapau Harbor.

Seasonally, planting stock (crowns, slips or suckers) would also be collected and separated out at the transfer station. The planting stock was allowed to dry for a few weeks, and was then be sent out to new fields to restart the planting process.

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In 1923 to 1926, Kaumalapau Bay, a natural, sheltered cove on the west side of Lanai, was developed into the main shipping harbor from which pineapple and all major supplies for Lanai were shipped and received.

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Bins filled with pineapple were unloaded from the trucks (steam cranes were still used through the 1960s), and placed on the barges for shipping to the cannery at Iwilei, Honolulu, Oahu. Tug boats were used to haul the barges—empty bins and supplies to Lanai, and filled pineapple bins to the cannery.

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Because of the demands of work at Kaumalapau, Lanai’s “second city” was developed, and known as “Harbor Camp.” The Harbor Camp included around 20 homes and support buildings, and sat perched on the cliffs above Kaumalapau Bay (Aerial photo Kaumalapau Harbor (May 1961), from collection of Jack Ross, Lanai H.P. Co. Plantation Engineer from 1957-1962).