Published Friday, January 8, 2021
The humble banana
By Victoria Torley
The humble banana, a curvy yellow fruit with a delicate and delicious flavor. Someone asked me about growing Cavendish bananas – the most commonly eaten yellow banana – and its relative to the plantain banana. So here are some answers.
First, planting your banana. We are all used to using the seeds of a fruit or vegetable for planting and sprouting, the avocado and papaya are great examples. In fact, we have a papaya plant in the front yard that I had nothing to do with – honest. It just appeared and is now setting fruit. Not so the commercial Cavendish banana. Oh, you can buy banana seeds, but not for the popular Cavendish. For that, you need to harvest pups, little baby banana plants that appear at the base of your first plant and will grow into a grove if you’re not careful.
You see, that first banana plant will produce one and only one bunch of bananas. Only one, then you can cut it down and use it for something else, confident that the pups will produce in the future. Someone is asking, “What use is a dead banana plant?” Lay it on the ground, cut circular holes in the trunk about a foot apart, put it in a little dirt, and plant a seed or two. Since banana stems are full of water, they are perfect for plant starts. But I digress.
The other most common question I hear is, “When do I harvest my yellow bananas?” Okay, that can be tricky.
How about the banana flower or inflorescence? You may not see it at first as it emerges from the heart of the plant at the very tip, which can be a dozen feet off the ground. You will see it later as the bananas are produced and start to weigh the inflorescence down. The flowers are covered with a dark brown cap, and the flowers appear under it.
Your banana stem will lean with the weight of the ‘hand’ – a bunch of bananas – as they ripen and may need to be propped up. When are you going to harvest the hand? Well, look at the bananas at the top of the hand. They should be filled out, a bit plump and less angular, and moving from green to light yellow. Wait too long, and the birds and bugs will get into them. Cut the hand from the stem, leaving part of the stem at the top for easy handling, and hang them on the deck. Bananas are one of the few fruits that truly ripen after being harvested.
Caveat: do NOT cover your banana with a plastic bag as it will cause them to ripen much faster and then go bad. An old pillowcase can be used if you must or a tiny mesh but just to keep the bugs away.
And bananas are good for you! More next week.
Plant of the Week
Want more butterflies in your garden? Here is the Cuphea llavea or Bat-Face Cuphea, a lovely flowering plant that originated in Mexico. The plant takes sun and moderate water. It should grow to about 24x24 inches (60x60 centimeters) and can be cut back if it gets too large for its space. Thanks to our friends at Bustani Plant Farm for the use of the picture.
For more information on this article, Ms. Victoria Torley, gardener columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org