I blow up fireworks all the time, and I love making milkshakes and banana splits. ~ Chris Isaak*
Before my mum and dad very rudely (kidding Mum! I’m fine now, honest!) sold their house right next door to mine to “downsize” 10 minutes away, Dad had a pretty good banana patch.
Thankfully the people who bought their house are just lovely, although not exactly keen green thumbs. So when they ripped out the banana patch to make way for a paved pergola, I was lucky enough to salvage nine banana plants.
I already had begun a banana patch of my own, with three dwarf, hardware store bought Cavendish bananas, nestled in a protected spot with the same aspect as Dad’s patch.
Hoping that by mimicking the same conditions as Dad’s mini-plantation, I too would enjoy the same results. Delicious, naturally ripened, home grown bananas.
Frankly, banana cultivation can be a bit tricky. They are pretty greedy, sensitive, thirsty, and demanding plants. But since I have successfully raised three humans past the terrible twos, I feel like I am more than qualified for that kind of challenge.
As I mentioned, the spot I selected is well protected from our coastal wind. Bananas’ leaves are easily shredded with a bit of a breeze and given their trunks are actually composed of tightly compacted leaves and a fairly small root system they tend to fall over when you look at them sideways. They need lots of humid love and calm protection.
If being the plant equivalent of a grumpy toddler wasn’t enough of a disadvantage, bananas are also genetically vulnerable. It is practically impossible to grow a banana from seed, so every banana plant you buy is a clone or “pup” of another. Which means any kind of pest or disease can spell disaster for banana-farmers.
Historically, fungus have wiped out certain cultivars and continually threaten to do the same again. Indeed, Queensland is so keen to protect their banana industry, you need to apply for a permit from Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to grow more than 10 of them. Plus, freeloading from your neighbour is a big no-no. You need to have ‘Inspector’s Approval to Move and Plant Bananas’ before that can happen. Failing that, you need to buy certified plants from a bone-fide banana-dealer, officially known as a QBAN (Quality Banana Approved Nursery) and I swear I am not making any of this up.
Given bananas are a naturally radioactive fruit, (thanks to their potassium content) I expected them to be a little more robust. With Super-Mutant-Plant-Powers!
Alas, not so.
So in order to give my rescued bananas a good chance at thriving in their new home, I have spaced them fairly close together. This is contradictory to the planting advice given in the tropics, which recommends more generous spacing to discourage rot.
But thanks to our more brutal dry summers, I am hoping that they will have greater safety in numbers. They are in the same bed as a robust frangipani, that should offer some cooling protection from the heat, while letting the sun through in the winter.
While the Queenslanders’ recommend piling up the soil around the trunk to assist with runoff and drainage, I’ve done the exact opposite. Each banana has been planted in a bit of a crater, to ensure any rain we do get, flows to where it is needed.
I have also underplanted with some water loving cardamon and lemongrass, with the aim of creating a humid microclimate that will suit the banana’s sultry needs. Our chickens’ poo should provide plenty of composted food for them and it will be one of the few areas I heavily mulch to keep the moisture in and keep evaporation to a minimum.
Since bananas are such heavy feeders, I am also planning a green crop of fenugreek to act as a green mulch and deliver more nitrogen to the soil.
Once I planted all my bananas, I was left with one spare, that didn’t fit in the space. I whipped out my trusty mulcher to shred it for my newly planted plantation. That’s when I discovered for myself why banana fibre is so useful as a textile, because it totally bunged up my mulcher, and strangled it to a halt.
The fibre wound itself round and around the blade and I had to pull the machine apart. It took a bit of wrangling to get it all clear. Now I know for next time.
Six weeks later and my transplanted bananas have seemed to have taken, with no transplant shock and new growth evident. So for now, I sit back, and wait for (free!) banana bounty.
* Admittedly, this quote has really nothing to do with the cultivation of bananas. But since the words were spoken by uber-crooner Chris Issak, who has solidly featured on my “freebie list” for the last 20 years, it gets in. Alas, a few years ago, on the one occasion I had to actually meet him, I was so heavily pregnant, I was all boobs, bump, bum and swollen ankles and not exactly at the zenith of my bonkability.
So, when are you coming back to Western Australia Chris? Shall I just tweet and let you know when the bananas are ripe?