Friday, December 14, 2012

Survival Plant Profile: Bananas

One of the most beautiful plants. Grow it.
In South Florida, bananas will produce year-round. Since they're non-seasonal, your goal should be to plant a big patch of them so you're getting new fruit for cooking and fresh eating on a regular basis. In the northern half of the state, frosts and cold will take a big chunk out of your yields. That's not to say it isn't worth planting bananas there - it's just going to be less reliable than some other plants. Like collards or even a weed like Bidens alba. Of course - bananas taste better than both of those, so heck with it. We're gonna grow them anyway - because that's what we mad horticulturalists do.

Most of us know that modern bananas are seedless. They weren't that way originally, but over time we bred the seeds out of them. (Interestingly, there is also an alternate theory on where the fruit came from.)

Now we can only propagate most banana plants by dividing off the pups. That's not good for genetic diversity, but it is good for getting consistent results.

I know. You've seen this before. This, incidentally, is the south wall of my house. ZONE 10!

Let's assume you've got a little baby banana plant that someone really nice gave you. When you plant that in your yard, it will start to grow into a big banana plant. Quickly if you water and feed it... slowly if you don't. Beneath the ground, a bulb is growing. As the first "tree" gets bigger and bigger, little pups will generally start growing alongside it. Leave at least one there - you're gonna need it.

When your original banana has successfully created a certain number of leaves, it will then flower and create a lovely stalk of bananas. Watching the bud unfurl and young bananas peek out is like magic. The first rows are all female, meaning they'll be your fruit... and then after those have all appeared, the bud will continue to descend and reveal male flowers. The bananas take a long time to ripen, in my experience. At least four months or more. (This is bad if the tree decides to bloom in the fall... and you get frost in your area. I have one in my side yard doing that right now. It being December, those poor bananas are going to freeze right off unless I can find a way to protect them.) When the fruit turn yellow - or start to - you can cut the entire cluster off the tree and bring it inside to ripen completely. Plantains are a higher-starch variety of banana that are used for cooking - I usually wait until those are mostly black before cooking them. If you'd rather them not be sweet, you can cut and cook them earlier. Unfortunately, plantains do NOT like the cold (though I'm attempting to grow them here anyhow). If you're up north, I'd recommend begging pups off friends, neighbors or strangers in your local area... that way you know the plants are likely to survive some freezes.

These were fried and consumed. They were really good.
Once you harvest your bananas, that "tree" is done. Kaput. Played out. Yesterday's news. Old hat. Dead and gone. Expired. It's not going to make more bananas for you. So cut that stem down WITH A MACHETE! Or it will die on its own. Then the next largest pup beside it (you did leave a pup, right?) will take its place. Remember - the "tree" is basically a big bulbous plant with multiple tops above ground - not a real tree at all. 

As for growing bananas, they like a lot of water so pick a moist area. They can take sun or shade and like it warm. Think: south wall right next to the house. They'll also eat every bit of nutrients you can shovel their way. Most of the trees in my yard were originally growing on a foreclosure next to a broken septic tank that was seeping sewage. They looked so amazing there it was hard to move them. Now they're being fed by a greywater line coming from my kitchen sink... but it's just not the same... hmm... wait... that gives me an idea...


2.5 Spuds!

Name: Banana
Latin Name: Musa spp. (It's complicated, actually.)
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun/shade
Part Used: Fruit
Propagation: Division
Taste: Excellent
Method of preparation: Green bananas cooked, fresh bananas raw 
Storability: When pulled green, they keep for a week or two. May be dried or frozen.
Ease of growing: Moderate
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: High
Availability: Moderate, depending on location in state

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At December 21, 2012 at 7:56 AM , Blogger Ten at Eat Your Sands said...

my rabbits enjoy fresh leaves and peels...
you have amazing success on your south wall! its inspiring.

At December 21, 2012 at 9:34 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

Thanks. Sounds like I won't have any trouble feeding rabbits when I get them.

Discovering microclimates has been exciting. Yesterday, I picked three ripe papaya... and it's December! We've already had two frosts.

Of course, a worse one is coming tonight, so we'll see what happens.

At December 30, 2012 at 12:48 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to hear more about what rabbits can eat. Thanks for the post.

At December 30, 2012 at 9:20 AM , Blogger pablo0069 said...

Fantastic, thank you soo much

At December 30, 2012 at 9:27 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

Chrissy has a great post here:

At December 30, 2012 at 9:28 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

Pablo? What are you talking about? Stop licking your brushes!

At December 30, 2012 at 9:31 AM , Blogger pablo0069 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At August 17, 2013 at 11:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHEN do papaya get ripe ? I have two trees on the S. side of my house;
Both now have VERY large fruit, but the fruit is green. Most of last year's fruit never ripened and is still on the trees, however new fruit
has appeared on the trees ABOVE last year's fruit. I am in zone 9
(zip 31522)

At August 17, 2013 at 4:14 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

That's strange - mine haven't done that, potentially because they freeze off if they hang too late.

Usually papaya take a long time to ripen - probably 6-7 months here. I'm sure it's not that long down south. The problem here is that when they get to ripening size, the cold comes in and the tree quits going.

If they're big and green and they're just not doing it, try picking one and letting it sit on your counter for a week or two. They'll often ripen that way.

At September 8, 2014 at 9:08 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

We live in Southwest Florida. We have a magnificent Mango tree but the last 3 years the squirrels have gotten every one of the mangos. I tried a tobasco rub but I couldn't keep up. I'm thinking about large plastic snakes. Any great suggestions?

At September 8, 2014 at 11:13 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Squirrels are the bane of peach and mango tree owners.

You need more predators. Snakes, hawks, owls. I'd build stick and rock piles and maybe plant more random stuff around the base of the tree to make the squirrels nervous.

I'd also give a teenage boy a pellet gun and a lawn chair. ;)

At September 26, 2014 at 12:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you sell banana pups? I have a greenhouse and am looking for a banana tree / bush. Thanks, Karen

At September 26, 2014 at 12:31 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Yes. I actually have a really good variety for sale right now: the Raja Puri banana. Fast, highly productive dessert type with good cold hardiness. Pups are $6.00 each. They're about 14-18" tall at the moment.

At September 28, 2014 at 9:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great... how do I order them?

At September 28, 2014 at 2:35 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

E-mail me off the "Contact David" link on the sidebar.

At September 29, 2014 at 3:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do I keep the squirrels away from my bananas as they ripen . I see their little teeth marks in them then pick the whole pup in . I finish ripening them & make all kinds of floats, puddings , cakes & dried slices . Is there a way of covering them with some type of strong closely knit screeing or a basket to keep the squirrels & raccoons away .?

At January 9, 2015 at 4:23 AM , Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At March 26, 2015 at 1:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

here's an interesting take on growing bananas at their northern fringe by the gardening editor of the mobile, al newspaper:
here are a couple tips i have found useful.
a) bananas which have "filled out" will ripen indoors if cut, taken in, and hung before frost.
b) if you are worried there is not enough time for yours to fill out, prune the harvest. as your nanners bloom, let them have five or six hands, then carefully cut off the rest as they appear, usually one hand per day. your nanner plant will then put all its resources into "filling out" those hands, rather than trying to mature ten or twenty hands. five hands of bananas that ripen is better than ten that don't. want more? plant more.
c) unripe nanners are good cooked! i like to fry them and (optional) sprinkle with sugar.

At April 19, 2015 at 4:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you get TOO many bananas, try canning them! I Puree them with a splash of lemon juice, boil it, then water bath can it. It makes great banana bread, and is a wonderful addition to yogurt or smoothies.....babies love it straight out of the jar, too...

At July 2, 2015 at 6:45 PM , Blogger Wendy said...

I recently purchased 1 dwarf cavendish banana pup and 3 dwarf puerto rican plantain pups. I want to plant them together since I read they like to be grown in groups. Is the banana fruit going to be negatively affected by the plantain, or vice versa? I'm in Florida... Zone 10a, and I have never grown bananas or plantains before!

Thank you for all the info you share in the blog and videos. I love watching your videos. I look forward to them :)

At July 2, 2015 at 8:26 PM , Anonymous David The Good said...

Hi Wendy - thank you.

They should do well together; just make sure they aren't so close that the more vigorous varieties shade the lesser. Also, make sure they get lots of water, lots of nitrogen and lots of mulch. You'll probably be picking bananas next year. Good luck!

At July 2, 2015 at 8:36 PM , Blogger Wendy said...

You're welcome! Glad to hear these plants can play nice together. Do you have a hunch as to which would be more vigorous? My limited research has their ultimate heights in the 8-11ft range.

At July 2, 2015 at 8:55 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Proooobably the plantain... but I can't say for sure. Plant them and see!

At July 2, 2015 at 8:57 PM , Blogger Wendy said...

Okie dokie. Thanks for your input!


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