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Coconuts reside in the palm (Arecaceae) family, which contains about 4,000 species. The origin of these palms is somewhat of a mystery but is widespread throughout the tropics, and primarily found on sandy beaches. If you live in a suitably tropical region (USDA zones 10-11), you may be lucky enough to have a coconut in your landscape. The questions then arise, when are coconuts ripe and how to pick coconuts from trees? Read on to find out all about harvesting coconuts.
The Harvesting of Coconut Trees
Coconut is the most economically important of the palm family, and is grown as both a food crop as well as an ornamental.
- Coconuts are cultivated for their meat, or copra, which is pressed to release oil. The residual cake is then used to feed livestock.
- Coconut oil was the leading vegetable oil in use until 1962 when it was bypassed in popularity by soybean oil.
- Coir, the fiber from the husk, will be familiar to gardeners and is used in potting mix, for plant liners and as packing material, mulch, rope, fuel and matting.
- The nut also provides coconut water, of which much has been made of late.
Most commercially grown coconuts are grown by small landowners, unlike other tropical fruits, which are grown on plantations. The harvesting of coconuts occurs on these commercial farms by either climbing the tree using a rope or with the assistance of power operated ladder. The fruit is then tapped with a knife to test for maturity. If the coconuts seem ready for harvest, the stalk is cut down and dropped to the ground or lowered using a rope.
So how about the harvesting of coconut trees for the home grower? It would be impractical to bring in a cherry picker and many of us lack the fortitude to shimmy up a tree with only a rope. Luckily, there are dwarf varieties of coconuts that grow to less dizzying heights. So how do you know when the coconuts are ripe? And do coconuts ripen after they are picked?
How to Pick Coconuts from Trees
A little about the maturation of the fruit is in order before even discussing harvesting your coconuts. Coconuts take around one year to ripen fully. Several coconuts grow together in a bunch and they ripen about the same time. If you want to harvest the fruit for the coconut water, the fruit is ready 6-7 months after emergence. If you want to wait for the delicious meat, you need to wait for another 5-6 months.
Along with the timing, color is also an indicator of ripeness. Mature coconuts are brown, while immature fruit is bright green. As the coconut matures, the amount of coconut water is replaced as the meat hardens. Of course, this brings us to the question of whether coconuts ripen after they are picked. No, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are unusable. If the fruit is green and has been maturing for six or seven months, you can always crack it open and drink the delicious coconut “milk.”
You can also assess fruit that has dropped to the ground for ripeness by shaking it. Not every fruit that drops to the ground is completely ripe. Again, fully ripened fruit is filled with meat, so you should hear no sloshing of the coconut water if it is completely ripe.
If you want to eat the coconut meat when it soft and can be eaten with a spoon, you will hear some sounds of liquid when you shake the nut, but the sound will be muted since a layer of meat has developed. Also, tap on the exterior of the shell. If the nut sounds hollow, you have a mature fruit.
So, back to harvesting your coconut. If the tree is tall, a pole pruner may be of assistance. If you aren’t scared of heights, a ladder is certainly a way to get to the coconuts. If the tree is small or has bent from the weight of the nuts, you may be able to reach them easily and clip them from the palm using sharp pruning shears.
Lastly, although we previously mentioned that all fallen coconuts are not ripe, they usually are. This is how the palm reproduces, by dropping nuts that will eventually become new trees. Dropped nuts are certainly the easiest way to get a coconut, but can also be hazardous; a tree that is dropping nuts could also drop one on you.
Harvesting and Post-harvest Management
Coconut palms are productive throughout the year. However, the yield may vary from season to season. Almost on a monthly basis, a normal bearing coconut palm usually produces one harvestable bunch. On an annual basis, the number of bunches harvested per palm reaches about 14 from Tall varieties and 16 from Dwarf trees.
However, due to practical economic reasons, harvesting for copra production usually takes place every 45-90 days. Instead of harvesting on a monthly basis, this allows them to collect a few bunches, ranging from 10-13 months old, all at one go.
Fequency and amount
A bunch of coconuts from each tree has five to 15 nuts. It can be harvested every month from a coconut palm. To economise, farmers usually yield two to three bunches from each tree. This occurs every harvest cycle, which ranges between 45-60, or 75-90 days. On average, 10-45 nuts can be collected from each coconut tree at various maturity stages every harvest cycle. In order to yield a good number of mature nuts with high copra and oil recovery, the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC) recommends that each harvest takes place in 45-day harvest cycles.
The methods of harvesting coconuts vary from country to country, sometimes even among provinces within the same country. Nevertheless, the two most common methods of harvesting coconuts are the pole and climbing methods. In others like Papua New Guinea, the coconuts are left to fall to the ground and collected thereafter.Harvesting with a pole
For the pole method, farmers use a harvesting scythe at the end of a long bamboo pole to cut the coconut bunch, which is left to drop from the palm. The advantage of this method is that it is generally faster, more efficient, less tedious and dangerous compared to the climbing method. This way, the harvester can harvest more nuts per unit time from a larger number of trees. In some coconut plantations, drains are dug out in between the rows of coconut palms, so the coconuts drop into the body of water which cushions the falling impact.
Using the climbing method (Figure 5.2 ), the farmer or worker is engaged to climb up the coconut tree, with or without a climbing device. For easy climbing, some coconut trees have grooves carved into their sides. Although this is dangerous, it is very commonly done to harvest coconuts. Palm climbing devices, like the ones adopted in India in Figures 5.3 and 5.4, lowers the danger imposed on the harvesters.Harvesting by climbing Palm climbing device
Photo courtesy of Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC)
Palm climbing device
Photo courtesy of Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC)
Photo courtesy of Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC)
Harvesting by climbing with Palm climbing device
Photo courtesy of Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC)
The advantage of climbing is that the harvester can clean and inspect the crown of the palm for pest and disease attacks. However, the grooves which are carved to construct steps in the coconut trunk make the coconut trees less suitable for timber purposes. These fractures could also be potential entry sites for pests.
What's Funny About The Business Of Monkeys Picking Coconuts?
A macaque picks coconuts from a treetop on Thailand's Samui Island. Captive monkeys are trained to help harvest coconuts on the island's plantations. Christophe Boisvieux/Corbis hide caption
If you've consumed coconut oil or coconut meat lately, there's a reasonable chance it was imported from Thailand. And if it was, there's an even better chance the farmer who grew that coconut had a monkey fetch it from a tall tree.
Thailand has been raising and training pigtailed macaques to pick coconuts for around 400 years. Coconut farmers in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, India and other countries in the region sometimes rely on monkeys, too.
Why monkeys? Turns out a male monkey can collect an average of 1,600 coconuts per day and a female can get 600, while a human can only collect around 80 per day. It's also safer for a scampering, height-savvy monkey to pluck and drop the fruit from the trees — up to 80 feet tall — than a human, according to the National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
We weren't aware that monkeys were key to the Asian coconut industry — until Animal Place, a farm sanctuary in Grass Valley, Calif., contacted us in early October claiming that monkeys are being "exploited" on coconut plantations there. "Animal-aware people are increasingly avoiding coconut products that come from monkey slavery," the group, which advocates a vegan diet, said.
While Animal Place says it has not actually visited any coconut plantations allegedly abusing monkeys, Marji Beach, the group's education director, tells The Salt that YouTube videos are evidence enough that the animals are cruelly shackled and forced to work.
"What I find most distressing is that they take them from wild, keep them tethered and keep them that way their whole life," says Beach. "Monkeys should stay in the wild."
After making the monkey-coconut discovery on YouTube, Beach asked several companies that sell coconut oil or other products containing coconut in the U.S. if their suppliers used monkeys. Beach says all of the companies she contacted replied that they do not.
Monkey trainers in Thailand tell The Salt they find that hard to believe.
"It would be difficult to find a coconut product made in Thailand that wasn't picked by a monkey," Arjen Schroevers tells The Salt by email. Monkeys pick 99 percent of the Thai coconuts sold for their oil and flesh, he says.
A male monkey can collect up to 1,600 coconuts per day and a female can get 600, while a human can collect only around 80 per day on average. iStockphoto hide caption
Schroevers runs the Monkey Training School in Surat Thani, Thailand, a Buddhist-inspired school founded 50 years ago to teach monkeys how to pick coconuts without the use of force or violence. He says Animal Place has it all wrong when it comes to how most monkeys that work on coconut farms are treated.
"It is always relaxed, no shouting, no punishing," he says. "Every few trees the monkey hugs his owner, who then checks the monkey for red ants (who live in the trees) and the monkey gets a massage. Outside working hours the monkeys are kept as a pet (only for the family owners, to strangers they are not friendly)."
And as for the tethering, Schroevers says it serves a variety of purposes including guiding the monkeys up the tree and preventing them from escaping.
What's more, says Schroevers, the alternative would be a human poking a long pole with a knife up into the tree to cut the coconuts. "Because the trees are so high, you must stand straight under the coconuts you want to collect," he says. "They drop 6-12 at a time. Very dangerous!" (He adds that coconuts kill around 600 people per year worldwide.)
Of course, the working monkeys of Thailand have many similarly industrious counterparts in the animal world. Think oxen plowing fields, sheepdogs herding livestock, rottweilers guarding houses or beagles sniffing for drugs in airports. (Archaeologists say baboons once picked tree nuts in ancient Egypt.)
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Others familiar with the coconut-picking monkeys of Thailand are also skeptical of the allegations of abuse. Leslie Sponsel is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Hawaii who, with his wife, Dr. Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel, studied monkey-human relationships in Thailand and published papers on the topic.
"During our time in southern Thailand, we never observed or heard of cruelty or abuse of the monkeys," Sponsel says. "Indeed, the monkeys are very similar to family pets, and for some households, even like family members to some degree. Young ones are trained, and they are kept on a chain tethered to the handler or to a shelter when not working. They are fed, watered, bathed, groomed and otherwise cared for. They often ride to the coconut palm plantation on the back of a motor bike or in a cart driven by the handler.
"That is not to say that there is never any cruelty or mistreatment," Sponsel adds. But overall, he says he respects "the poor farmers and others who are just trying to survive and prosper in support of their families."
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.
Start out by taking the lodestone to Catherby and running south-east to the tree patch. Harvest the coconuts and note them with the tool leprechaun. Do the same thing in Brimhaven by running to the Catherby docks, charting a ship to Brimhaven for 480 coins (240 if you've completed Cabin Fever), or with a brimhaven tablet. Then, teleport to Mobilising Armies using a ring of duelling, use the spirit tree to get to the Tree Gnome Stronghold, and harvest the coconuts on that tree. Use that same spirit tree to get to the Tree Gnome Village, exit the maze by following Elkoy, and harvest that patch. Then use the witchdoctor mask or juju teleport spiritbag to teleport to Herblore Habitat and take the coconuts from that tree. Teleport to Lletya with the crystal teleport seed, harvest that tree. Teleport to Prifddinas either with crystal teleport seed and selecting Meilyr or via lodestone and heading to Meilyr section, harvest the tree and bank your produce.
Maps of all of the fruit tree patches can be found here.
If possible, you should use a giant ent familiar, which has a 50% chance of doubling the yield of coconuts, giving you an average of 9 coconuts per patch instead of 6. That makes this method work well with other harvesting money makers, like picking cactus spines.
If you can access the bunch or if fruits fall to the ground, you can use the shaking method to judge ripeness. Fully ripened, copra coconuts make no sound when you hold them up to your ear and shake. Coconuts at six to seven months contain mostly coconut water, so you hear a lot of water sloshing inside the shell. If you want to eat the fresh coconut with a spoon, wait until you can hear water sloshing around but the sound is somewhat deadened as a result of the developing layer of nut meat. You can also tap on the outside of the coconut with your finger. If the tapping sounds hollow, the coconut is fully ripe.
Coconut Harvesting Tips: A Super Food for Sub-Tropical Gardens (with Video)
Coconut water is a popular thirst quencher on the health rise and rightfully so, given all the vitamins and antioxidants this fruit packs. But not all coconuts are the same! In fact, coconuts’ nutritional profile ranges based on their age.
Coconuts are all at different stages of life. Each moon cycle, the tree produces a new flower pod, which then continues to develop into a rack of coconuts. Each month, the pod develops and moves to a more mature stage of life. Therefore, the tree is fruiting year-round. When you look up at a coconut tree, you will notice pods towards the top of the palm, small coconuts, medium, then large/brown hanging at the bottom of the bunch.
If you have a small, about palm-sized nut in your hand, they will contain coconut water and they will also have the least amount of natural sugar. As the shell size grows bigger, it develops more water with more sugar. At a certain stage, the coconut reaches maturity. The water turns into what I like to call coconut “jelly”. A stage after that, coconut “meat”.
If you are located in a sub-tropical region, your residence may be littered with coconuts. In South Florida, loads of coconuts are trimmed from the trees by landscapers daily and left on the road for landfill to scoop up. Perhaps, there isn’t enough awareness on how easy it is to harvest coconuts. Or maybe there is a stigma around the act of harvesting the nut that intimidates people. Let’s move past those fears and dive right into harvesting coconuts!
The first step, of course, is having a batch of coconuts at hand. Your method may include rescuing them curbside before the landfill gets to them (my system), or you may use a pole pruner, or climbing tool — or maybe you have a dwarf tree you can walk right up to and twist off a few nuts (lucky you).
Step two. After you have your coconuts, you can begin harvesting. The only tool you will need is the “coconut opener” tool, or “Brazilian coconut key”. If you’re going super DIY, a simple screw driver will do the trick. The instructions using a screw driver are as follows:
• Pop off the “cap” of the coconut by sliding your tool under and pushing it upwards.
• Puncture the tool through the top of the coconut, tapping with your hand as needed until the screw driver is fully submerged.
• Make one or two more holes on the top, fully submerging to make sure the tool pierces through the nut and water will be able to flow out.
The third step, involves having a pitcher ready. When your coconut has been pierced, flip it over so the fruit can drain in the pitcher. Pro tip: Add a strainer to opt out of small chunks in your water.
Culinary Uses for Coconut
For older coconuts, you can chop them open with a machete or axe. As previously stated, more mature coconuts will provide you with that yummy white meat you usually see over priced at the super market. The meat can be used in cooking, soups, eaten raw, or even dried and processed to make coconut flour. I personally love blending the meat, especially when I have a large amount, to separate in containers and freeze in portions for a later date.
After you have done all the processing of the water or meat, we are left with just the shell. Just when you thought you couldn’t do anything else you can use the coconut shell as compost or mulch for your yard. Absolutely, no part of the coconut is useless!
Taylor Goggin is tropical gardener in Florida who gained her skills in cooperative agriculture while work-trading with a World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program on the Hawaiian Islands. She now grows papaya, banana, avocado, fig, tomatoes, and medicinal herbs to make into inventive plant-based recipes. Connect with Taylor on Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.