Bananas [Musa species]

Bananas? In south Texas? You must be bananas! 

I love growing bananas because they are easy to grow if you understand their needs. They love water and are suitable for planting near an a/c overflow, a gutter downspout, or even a soggy patch in the yard. Since banana plants are heavy feeders, they are suitable for treating greywater. Many people plant them to clean up the effluent (aka runoff) from outdoor showers. 

Although they do alright in pots they do better in the ground. I’ve never had a potted plant blossom. Wherever you plant them, make sure they have plenty of room as they will expand outward in a circular fashion rather rapidly if they’re happy. Think along the lines of happy mint plants.

Bananas like nothing more than to be in a grove with other bananas! It modifies the microclimate to be humid and limits wind damage to the large leaves. This clustering growth habit also protects the other bananas from sunburn and often holds enough heat to keep the central plants from too much damage in a light frost.

Where bananas grow on HHH

Bananas at HHH

Banana groves are great near a patio because they tend to be much cooler in the heat of the day thanks to evapotranspiration. I hang out under them on hot days, and so do the chickens and turkeys!

We have a bunch I planted next to the back porch to cool the kitchen wall and the back door during the summer. They grow around a small recovered kiddie pool sunk into the ground and filled by the clearwater of the ac dripline. 

When we had Chia the mini-pig, she generously watered them for me when she plunged into the pond to cool down. The turkeys have now taken over that job in her absence. The chickens and turkeys fertilize and eat many pests that may take up residence in the bananas (like waterbugs). Occasionally, the sheep strip the lower leaves to munch on when they have access. 

The bananas give both our animals and us shelter from the hot sun and fruit for us to eat. Aside from the bananas themselves, we can also eat the tender inner stalk known as the banana heart and banana blossom. The leaves make excellent steaming packets or plates. I often use banana leaves tied shut with lemongrass leaves as a packet to steam salmon in our solar oven. It holds the juices in and imparts a subtle flavor. Clean-up is easy and eco-friendly, you just compost the used leaves!

Banana components

Uses

Banana “trees” are giant herbs that grow from a root system called corms and only fruit once. Bananas must be replaced by a pup (sprout/sucker) to continue production. Typically, one pup grows alongside the maturing plant to take its place after it has fruited.

The number of hands (bunch of bananas on the stem) a plant produces is determined by the variety. We remove hands when they are ripe or in the process of ripening, but commercial harvests take the entire fruit stalk once the top hands begin to ripen. Underripe bananas are rather astringent and not a pleasant experience to taste. 

Because the banana grove gets cleared out annually it gives us plenty of material for potassium-rich compost, paper and cloth making, and leaves for polishing the wood when we remove the banana that has fruited. 

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