When I was young and travelled throughout Brazil’s agricultural frontiers in places like the states of Paraná and even in the state of São Paulo back in the 60’s I remember seen amazing things regarding natural soil fertility.
At that time growers were cutting down tropical forest to plant mostly coffee fields and were getting bumper crops out of natural humus accumulated over thousands of years. Fertilizers were used to a minimum or nothing at all and pests were occasionally dealt with harsh chemicals like DDT or other classes of insecticides no longer used and permitted by pesticide legislation for being extremely toxic.
Sometimes you could see Papaya trees growing wildly and unattended between the coffee plants exhibiting phenomenal productions in terms of fruit setting and fruit size without any applications of either fertilizers or pesticides.
Some of those same soils are today totally destroyed and can only grow crops if tons of fertilizers are used along with an ample array of biocides like insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, nematicides, etc… Welcome to Agribusiness and Farming against Nature.
However, in the Amazon region, a brazilian state named Acre, located next to Peru at southwest and Bolivia at southeast, with a size close to Nepal and comprising only 2% of the total brazilian territory, was the last one to be colonized and therefore is the least populated region and still Brazil’s last agricultural frontier.
In Acre, one can still find what I have seen in my youth, virgin soils producing abundant crops with soils that can still hide unknown secrets for the mankind on how to produce and grow a sustainable crop. Even though soil geology of this region is totally diferent from the southern states, being much more sandy and poorer we can still see many unexplainable phenomena like the Giant Pineapples and the Giant Cucumber, which defies any scientificall explanation so far.
The giant pineapples came into my attention when I saw an article in a local Acre’s news agency, G1 – Acre, affiliated to the giant Globo Network. The journalist, Francisco Rocha, explained that the grower, João Ferreira da Silva otherwise known as João Cobra (Snake John) grows 3,000 pineapple plants in 2 hectares (4.4 acres) in his 100 acres property located in a town named Tarauacá, some 720 miles from the capital of Acre state, that is Rio Branco.
Besides pineapples, João Cobra grows also bananas, rice, beans, tomatoes and corn mostly intercropped what guarantees him year round income but the giant pineapples are his main crop that is 80% sold in the local Market.
“I was surprised when I first saw the giant pineapples but decided to invest in the crop increasing field size year after year”. “I first plant rice, then corn and then other crops and only after that I plant the pineapple” says João Cobra.
Figure 1. Giant Pineapple fruits weighing from 20 to 26 lb (9 to 12 kg). Eventually a 33 lb fruit was harvested. Pineapple plants are intercropped with banana trees and no fertilize or pesticides were said to be used. Field kept clean from excessive weeds with periodical mechanical weeding .
It is my personal understanding that this giant feature exhibited by his pineapples has to do with some sort of colonization or “infection” by some local and still unknown soil organism that could be secreting massive amounts of Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs). To strengthen my theory, João Cobra explains that “ these plants have been taken to other places in the state of Acre but none of them resulted in pineapple fruits as big as these”.
I have not measured his fruit Brix but I suspect it is not that high since he declares that “we still have some insect problems like pineapples weevils and the fruit is not so sweet as the common pineapple but still can be used to make juices or other dishes.” So we can exclude optimal plant nutrition as the main cause for his gigantic pineapples. Even though I would expect to see low phosphorus and low calcium in his soils, as it is quite common all around Brazil, his production is still amazing.
Like me, he strongly believes that the secret lies in the soil. “No one has ever come here to study this phenomena, but I think it is in the soil since we do not use any sort of fertilizer and only keep plants free from weeds”.
In the case of some rare and specific soil organism theory one question that arrises is : Why this organisms affect only pineapple and not other crops like bananas intercropped or even rice, corn and beans planted before ?
Like what is observed in certain plant diseases which have some high degree of specificity to a certain plant it could be that those beneficial soil organisms would have also the same degree of specificity to an specific plant.
Figure 2. João Cobra ( Snake John) proudly exhibits his gigantic pineapple that weighs from 20 to 26 lb. According to him, a common pineapple weighs only from 4.5 to 6.5 lb.
I have heard from many people that coincidences do not exist and then I became double excited when I came across another news also in the same G1 Acre News agency saying that in the same locality, i.e. Tarauacá, a giant cucumber have also been harvested.
A local fruit vendor, named Antonia Damacena, has received from a friend simply known as “Mana” ( portuguese short for Sister) who lives in the rural zone named Vitoria Regia Colony, community of Igarapé, Tarauacá county,
as a gift, a giant cucumber weighing 37.4 lb (17 kg) !. The fruit has attracted the attention of dozens of people after a local radio had broadcasted this unusual news. The picture below speaks for itself.
Picture 3. Antonia Damasceno shows the gift of her friend “Mana” that have attracted the attention of many locals who came to her fruit stand to see it, increasing sales quite a bit. She is now known as the “Cucumber Woman” in the neighborhood.
“Mana” said that this cucumber have only being fertilized with cow manure in her backyard garden and that in the first harvests the fruits came out normal sized. Only this fruit refused to mature and kept on growing indefinitely till she decided to harvest it. No other information is available such as taste , Brix, etc..
What surprises me the most is the fact that no Brazilian University or Research Center has ever demonstrated any interest to study those plant anomalies. Something is making those fruits to grow to those unusual large sizes.
Immagine how this sort of information could be beneficial to world’s sustainable agriculture as a whole. Big sizes means big crops and lower costs.
As soon as I have any spare time from my daily consulting and farming activities I will try to travel up there (some 4 hours time flight) in order to see if I can make any sort of a connection or even try to catch some unknown and unexpected soil microorganism.
Does anyone would like to try any sort of comment on those vegetable giants ?
Jose Luiz M Garcia
Agronomist., M.Sc. Horticulture
Instituto de Agricultura Biológica