"..a bardy view!"

The Amazing Coconut

A recent article in National Geographic bestowed the virtues of coconut coir fibre as a growing aid, similar to compost. I discovered this use some time ago.

Wandering around the coconut groves around my home in the Philippines, it is common to see small hills of coconut shell just slowly smoking away. They are the residue after every harvest. Most of it becomes charcoal, and is a principle source of fuel for cooking.

However the coir fibres, from the hairy husks which are used in matting and brushes etc, can be used in horticulture.

Around every forty days there is a coconut harvest.  Not every nut on a tree will be ready for harvesting. The average tree in one harvest could yeald half a dozen. All pics from oct 2007 334 They will not fall to the ground unaided, contrary to what exotic advertising proclaims, unless they are very old, but must be taken at source.

This could involve someone agile climbing up the trunk, but more often than not, he will have a a very long bamboo pole with a scythe on the end, to slice the nut from its root.

The nut will be large and green. It will then have it’s outer shell removed using a most vicious looking spike, which sits on the ground and is supported by the harvesters knees for stability. These guys are very adept at removing the husk, and make it look extremely simple, even though it is quite dangerous.

In every batch of nuts harvested from one tree, perhaps two at most are extremely special. In the Philippines these are called Macapuno. They are a most prized nut, and used for delicacies and cosmetics. A Macapuno will be worth twice as much as an ordinary nut.

As all coconuts look the same after the external husk is removed, the only way to determine one from the other is by tapping or flicking a finger forcibly upon it. It took a great deal of practice for me to get this right. Tapping will indicate a certain density and sound, so a good sensitive reaction is essential. The harvesters will identify them instantly, and then separate them from the others.

Sometimes a nut will be harvested a little earlier. Young coconut or Buko, is nectar to drink, and the internal flesh is soft, smooth, and melts in the mouth.

The Coconut tree is regarded as the tree of life. It can live for 100 years. Unfortunately tropical storms can be the death knell of good healthy trees, so proper management is crucial through continuous planting to ensure ongoing supply.All pics from oct 2007 077

Because the trees grow so tall, it is very common to see banana trees around them, together with other fruit trees such as papaya, mango, and rambutan. Rambutan, a bit like a hairy kiwi fruit, has a wide branch spread, and care has to be taken when planting.

Often a tree is “castrated” in such a way that they will not bear any fruit, but the juices are extracted and fermented, creating a very potent alcholic drink, known as lambanog.

The next time you drink Malibu, you now know were the base spirit comes from!

But back to the coir. I was very interested at one stage to develop the coir for export, and after writing to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in West London, I was invited to see how they used it.

They had sackfulls of the stuff, the size of paladins which they imported from Sri Lanka, all of different grades, and the gardeners were full of praise for the commodity.

I spent a most enjoyable morning there, and whilst I was grateful for the time they spent with me, and the education I had received, I left knowing that the investment required to make this product was just too huge for me at the time. It is also a very labour intensive operation.

I still think about it today, indeed, I regard myself as an authority on the subject now; but for sure, it’s not something I will be pursuing in my retirement.

Maybe someone will come along one day and just buy the husks from me! Meanwhile, there are stacks of coconut charcoal which is bagged often and sold at market!

That’s something else which has to be done quickly. Due to the climate – soggy charcoal will not cook the spare ribs and kebabs!


February 14, 2009 - Posted by | Coconut Trees, Conservation, Culture, The Philippines, Travel

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