Monday, September 17, 2012

Gone bananas

Bananas ripen when stored in a cool room

Simply Living
September 17, 2012

It had been such a long time since we’d harvested bananas I’d forgotten how heavy a hand of homegrown fruit could be.  That’s why I felt confident when I told my husband, “Go ahead and cut it.  I’ll catch it when it falls.”

Reaching high overhead, my husband trustingly chopped through the thick stalk supporting a cluster of plump yellow and green fruit.  Harvest is best when at least one banana is beginning to show hints of yellow but we had waited a tad too long.  About a third of the fruit were already ripe and ready to eat.

A hand of plump bananas about ready to pick

One final snip of the loppers and the hand of bananas fell into - and through - my waiting arms landing with a peel-splitting thump on the hard ground.

“Whoops!”  I said bending down to retrieve my now less-than-perfect cache.  “Guess that was a bad idea.”

Although the fall bruised several of the ripest bananas, most survived intact and undamaged.  Determined to redeem myself, I grabbed the bunch by the stalk in an attempt to heft it nonchalantly over my shoulder. 

Nope.  That wasn’t going to work either. 

Instead, I picked up our weighty bounty to lug home in my arms.  The hand of bananas must have weighed 25 pounds and contained close to 60 3- to 4-inch long plump fruits called fingers. 

Bananas are native to Southeast Asia where they have been cultivated for thousands of years.  Although introduced to Florida in the 16th century, the state’s semitropical climate makes commercial banana growing less viable here than in more consistently hot parts of the world.

On our property, we have four stands of bananas scattered about in the hope that at least one location provides the right environment for fruit production.

The most productive one of four stands of bananas on our property 
For optimal fruiting, bananas need hot weather, a rich, well-drained soil and regular rainfall or irrigation.  These fast-growing herbaceous plants develop from underground rhizomes or corms that look similar to (although are much larger than) gingerroots.  Gingers and bananas are related.  Both are of the botanical order Zingiberales.

It is out of these multi-eyed rhizomes that aboveground trunks sprout.  It takes between 10 and 15 months for a flower stalk to develop from a newly planted rhizome.  By the time the purple-red flower head develops, the trunk sports two to three dozen long, broad, green leaves, which lend a tropical look to the landscape. 

For the past four years, I resigned myself to expecting little more from our banana plants than a scenic impression.  Winter temperatures below freezing kick the gusto right out of tropical plants, turning green leaves brown and causing burgeoning bunches of potassium-rich fruit to wither on the stalk.

But this winter was different.  Mild temperatures and the lack of a hard frost enabled many of our more cold-sensitive plants to avoid winterkill.  After years of waiting, we could realistically anticipate enjoying multiple clusters of tasty fruit. 

After severing the fruit-bearing stalk from the mother plant, bananas ripen when placed in a cool, dark location.  We chose our pantry and it seems to be working out fine.  Each day when I check, more fingers have ripened.  There are more than enough bananas on that one hand to satisfy our needs and still have extras to share with family and friends.

At least four more clusters of fruit are developing on the same stand as the one we picked.  A few of the others locations show promise too.  It takes about five months for harvestable hands to develop from a flower stalk and since it is September now, that means I have two to three months left to improve upon my catch-a-bunch-of-falling -bananas technique. 

The next time I tell my trusting husband to “Go ahead and cut it,” I’d like to be able to hold up my end of the bargain. 


  1. Hey, Sherry. What do you do to keep pests off them?

  2. Hi Paul - Our bananas don't receive much care. We don't spray them and still they produce. The only problem we've ever had is when animals gets to the fruit before we do. But that's our own fault for being negligent in monitoring their development.

  3. I love finger bananas..mine are growing .....I think I need to meove them as they have their feet wetr....

  4. hi sharon - do you have any blue ginger (not a real ginger) growing in your garden? i'm looking for some for myself and my daughter. perhaps a plant-for-plant trade?