There are a few foods that I can’t live without and one of those is Bananas. I love their taste, the easy way of just peeling and enjoying them and also the many ways to use bananas. They are nature’s little energy snack, packed full of vitamins and minerals so should be eaten daily instead of other so called ‘healthy’ sports snacks.

Another thing I really love about bananas is the way they grow. They are a stunning, multi stemmed plant that produces beautiful large bell flowers and then very cute little flowers, that grow into the fruit that we eat.

Bananas are one of the easiest plants to grow and are best suited to a sub-tropical to tropical climate.
They’re not trees or palms, they are perennial (many life cycles), herbaceous (soft moist flesh) flowering plants and they grow from a rhizome or corm in the ground. A stem is produced from the corm and the stem then produces flowers and fruit.

How do they grow?

Each clump of bananas produces many stems and each stem produces a large flower, the bell, which contains small male and female flowers. The female flower produces the bananas.

Once the stem finishes fruiting it’s cut down to allow for more suckers to grow. To start a new clump of bananas build a banana circle or group 2 or 3 suckers together on a mound of compost or good humus. The best suckers to use should be about 1m high and have long, thin leaves. Always use suckers from a strong, healthy and disease free plant.

You can also use a part of the rhizome that carries a mature bud or eye. To find this choose a healthy plant that is at least 6 months old and has not produced a bunch. Remove the plant roots from the rhizome, split the rhizome and plant stem in sections so that each piece has a prominent centrally placed eye.

What do they like/ dislike?

Bananas are best suited to a sub-tropical or tropical environment. They can handle higher temperatures, but won’t grow as well and require plenty of water. They can tolerate cooler temperatures for a short period of time, but if the temp is too low (below about 14 deg) they will die. Bananas are suited to temperatures of 25 – 30 deg and require temperatures closer to 30 deg for fruit to ripen.

The best time for planting Bananas is from Spring until mid December. As bananas prefer a warm climate with high humidity it’s best to plant them during warm months to encourage good new growth.
The stem takes about 9 months to grow from a sucker to produce a flower and then a bunch of bananas.

Bananas grow well in rich, well fed soil with plenty of organic matter and mulch. They prefer a moist growing situation with a pH level of about 5.5 – 6.5. Banana circles are ideal for this as they can be built in line with water flow and assist with damp areas of a garden. Consider the size of your space as they require plenty of room to grow, although dwarf varieties are available and will grow to about 2.5 – 3m in height. Bananas also like to have shelter of other trees, similar to a rainforest situation, but with plenty of sunshine and they prefer to be grown together, so plant a few suckers close to each other.

To produce a quality crop of bananas it’s recommended to keep up a good feeding program and water well or better still allow your grey water to run into circle, then your bananas will grow into happy, healthy plants loaded with delicious, sweet fruit. Feed your bananas around the clump as they don’t have large root systems and use old stems and leaves as mulch around the clumps or grow support species close by to use.

Planting and caring for them

Planting bananas can be either in a circle or a mound grouped together. Banana circles ( a horseshoe shaped mound) are suited to larger blocks of land and acreage as they require about 1500mm diameter and 300 – 400mm depth for the circle. If you’re growing bananas in a suburban setting then starting with a mound with 2 suckers is suitable for this space.

When growing bananas in a suburban backyard it’s suggested to keep 3 stems on each clump. The smallest being the ‘daughter’, next size the ‘mother’ and the tallest and ready to flower is the ‘grandmother’. After grandmother flowers and fruits cut down the stem (sorry granny!!) and allow for mother to grow into grandmother, then daughter to mother and the next sucker is new daughter, and so on. Any new suckers that appear can be cut off at ground level to allow for the three ‘girls’ to grow.

Bananas will die from lack of water and will not produce good fruit if nutrient deficient. So keep up the moisture – not too much when first planted – and keep adding lots of good organic matter and mulch well. Remove brown, dead leaves and any suckers not wanted. This will encourage better fruit.

Bagging is necessary to keep animals away from the ripening fruit and also to increase the temperature around the bunch to assist with ripening and a more abundant crop.

The blue bags are used to increase the temperature within the bag, whereas the silver bags are used to repel the heat away from the bunch during times of higher temperatures. Bunches should be bagged after all the smaller flowers have finished and all the hands of bananas have developed. I remove the bell before bagging, but many people prefer to keep this intact while the bananas ripen.

When and how to harvest
Bananas are ready to be harvested when they are more rounded in shape. The bunch can be left on the banana stem to ripen each hand at a time or each hand can be individually removed to ripen inside. The whole bunch can be removed and hung in a shed or other protected area. This is useful during winter or if small animals are a problem. When removing the whole bunch all at once all of the bananas will ripen at the same time.

You can view a video on harvesting bananas here - Organic Food Growing - Harvesting Bananas

Banana suckers can be purchased from Blue Sky Backyard Bananas, Tully, Qld. 

They have a good variety of bananas and will provide information on a permit through the DPI in your state. The DPI regulations on backyard bananas are that you must have a permit to move or plant bananas in Queensland. This is to reduce the risk of transferring Bunchy Top virus through crops.

How to freeze or store

Ripened bananas store well in the freezer. Just peel them and place in an airtight container and freeze. They can also be dehydrated and eaten as dried fruit or used in cooking.

Here’s my favourite frozen banana recipe (and the kids love it !!)

Banana coconut ice-cream recipe.

Roughly chop about 8 – 10 frozen bananas. Place in a kitchen food processor and blend until bananas are fine and grain-like pieces, but not too long so bananas stay semi frozen. Add approx 150 – 200 ml coconut cream and blend for 30 seconds or until smooth. Serve straight away with fresh fruit or refreeze for another time.

© cath manuel 4 october 2012

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