Thursday, January 13, 2011

Banana Plant (Musa spp.)

Ripe and ready to eat.

Although often thought of as a palm, it is more appropriately referred to as a plant.  Banana plants grow thick, tall stalks with large lush green leaves that make it look like a palm.  There are several varieties, but I prefer the most common variety that are sold in most stores.  I had great success growing bananas at my prior home; they were yielding about five or six bushels per year, with each bushel bringing somewhere between 80 and 100 bananas.  As such, I have planted new banana plants at my new home as well.  I find that it takes a year or two for the banana plants to really root and thrive.  They grow more slowly at first; mine have been in the ground for more than a year and the largest stalk is only three feet tall.  However, once the plant becomes fully rooted, stalks can easily grow to 10 feet (with leaves reaching much higher) within six months. Once mature, they produce a large pod that ultimately develops into the bananas. From the first appearance of the pod, it takes 3 or 4 months for the banana to be ready for harvest.  It took some time, but I became an expert in cultivating bananas.  The first thing the novice banana farmer needs to know is that the fruit do not fully ripen on the stalk; once fully developed, you need to cut the bushel from the stalk and let them ripen off the stalk.  I used to hang them by a chain in my shed; sometimes I would hang the complete bushel, while other times I would cut off the hands and place in plastic grocery bags and hang individually from the chain. Both do fine, but dividing them before hanging makes them easier to separate when ripe.  The bananas turn reddish/brownish when ripe rather than bright yellow like you buy in the store (no chemicals, I guess)… but they are sweeter than anything you will find in the grocery. The first few batches seem to yield smaller fruit, but they gradually get bigger and rival the size of those you find at market. Be prepared to distribute to friends and family, as there is no way a single household could consume all of the bananas in the week or more when they are ripe for eating.  The plants themselves are very attractive if maintained; they require a lot of maintenance to keep the stalks clean.  I usually allow 4 or 5 stalks to grow at a time, usually at different stages so as to stagger their yields.  Once a stalk has yielded fruit, it will die; I usually cut it off at the base soon after I harvest the fruit in order to make room for the next stalks (and let the plant put its energy in new growth rather than dying stalks).  The plant will spread to consume increasingly large swaths of your garden if you do not maintain and control growth, so make sure you keep up on it… but the growing bananas is very rewarding and yields great results much sooner than most other types of fruits.

A double batch - just about ready to be cut down and hung to ripen.

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In the beginning...
Beautiful plants when maintained.

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