Coconuts: Growing and Opening Them

Anna Maria Island is at the northern end of the zone in which coconut palms grow well. In fact, just across the bay, on the mainland, one does not see them because the temperatures can be just a little colder. Every once in awhile a very low temperature knocks back these stately palms on the island, or even kills them. But, considering the height that many of them reach, this does not happen very often.

The coconut palms in our yard are thriving. The only thing we do for them is fertilize two or three times a year with standard palm fertilizer sold at Home Depot and other similar stores. We marvel at all the different parts of the coconut tree, from the patterned trunk to the fabric-like webbing, to the squiggly branches of the seed pods, to the coconuts at all stages of development, to the gigantic fronds. Some people have their coconuts trimmed before they mature, but we enjoy allowing our trees to remain as natural as possible so we can look at this rich environment, all in one tree.

Anna Maria Island coconut As hurricane season develops, we sometimes feel uncomfortable about the warning that coconuts can become powerful missiles in strong winds. This is perhaps the biggest disadvantage to growing coconuts on the island, and letting the coconuts remain. However, in ten years, we have not had any problem with flying coconuts, despite some major storms.

In more gentle conditions, coconuts eventually fall to the ground, one at a time. It is amusing to realize that the sound of a coconut hitting the ground becomes familiar if one lives among these trees for awhile.

What does one do with all the coconuts that come from a yard full of these trees?

We tried sprouting a few, with no luck. Then we started simply piling them in parts of our garden bed, almost like mulch, to keep out the weeds. As we ignored them this way, a few eventually sprouted, and we have planted them in other parts of the yard. We found that the ones planted in full sun have grown much faster than the ones planted with partial shade.

It’s sad to admit how few of our coconuts we open and eat, but every time we do it, we marvel at how delicious they are. The first challenge is getting the husk off. Native people who are skilled in harvesting coconuts use an upward-pointing sharp blade stuck in the ground, and skillfully bring the coconut down on the blade to cut into the side of the husk repeatedly until chunks of it can be pulled away. A similar approach can be used with a machete, if you happen to have one and have good aim. Another method that is tedious, but works, is to grasp the coconut firmly in both hands and bring one end of it hard down onto a rock. Then it is reversed and the other end is brought down onto the rock. This is repeated perhaps as many as fifty times, but eventually the impact will start splitting the husk in fracture lines, and it is then possible to pull it off.

The battle is not over, as the hard coconut shell is still a challenge. There are several ways to simplify the cracking of the nut shell. It can be baked for awhile, which causes the shell to crack. Or the coconut can be wrapped securely in a towel, then hit repeatedly with a hammer. The towel prevents the pieces from flying. Another method is to carefully, but firmly, tap the coconut shell around the circumference, perpendicular to the grain. This can lead to a clean split, which results in a cup and a lid. The only problem after that is scraping out the flesh, which is easier to do if the pieces are smaller.

Sometimes I think I just need to open more coconuts, since it may get easier with practice. I’ll let you know if that happens.

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