Cool Bananas

Posted by Erdem Gorgun at

We harvested our first home-grown bananas this year. I don’t know why it took me so long to plant some, but I’m glad I finally did. They thrive in our subtropical climate, with minimal effort. We didn’t have to wait long for our first crop. In less than 18 months, we were harvesting more bananas than we knew what to do with. Some went to friends – my neighbour laced them with lime juice and chilli before dehydrating them and, thankfully, bringing some back – and many were frozen for smoothies. There’s more fruit forming already. I don’t think we’ll ever need to buy bananas again!getting startedBananas are large, fleshy, suckering herbaceous plants, with multiple trunks, or pseudostems, growing from a sizeable corm underground. Mature pseudostems produce a long flower stalk on which fruit form. The bunches can be huge, carrying up to 12 hands, each with 10–20 fingers. The stems die after fruiting and should be promptly cut out to keep the clump tidy and healthy. Removing excess suckers restricts crowding and optimises fruit size and quality. Sword suckers, which are the ones with narrow, sword-like leaves, can be dug up and planted elsewhere in the garden to increase your stock. Don’t bother planting the broad-leafed suckers, as they produce smaller bunches. While anyone can grow bananas in their backyard, the carefree days of starting a crop from a sucker shared by a friend are long gone. Bananas are susceptible to diseases that are readily transferable. Let loose, they could have devastating effects on our banana industry. The plants you grow should always be sourced from an accredited banana nursery that produces disease-free, tissue-cultured plants. For years, backyard gardeners in commercial production areas needed a permit to grow bananas. Permits are no longer required in Queensland, but are still mandatory in parts of northern New South Wales. Don’t let that put you off, though. It takes little time the lodge the farm and plant supliers are normally willing to help. Biosecurity is important and regulations change all the time, so check with your local Department of Primary Industries o. growing & harvestingBananas thrive in warm, humid, coastal, frost-free areas of Australia. The further south you go, the more protection these tropical plants need. In cooler temperate areas south of Sydney, choose a nice toasty spot in front of a north-facing wall, to keep your plants happy in winter.They like plenty of sun with protection from wind, and do best in close company of other plants, which increases humidity. The soil should be fertile, rich in compost and well-drained, with a pH of about 6.5. Bananas like water but hate wet feet, so mound the soil if drainage is poor.Spring to summer is the best time to plant. Space plants 3–4m apart and bury the stem a little deeper than it was in the pot – this helps with initial stability and discourages early suckering. Keep moist but don’t overwater. A cool way to grow them is in a circle (see overpage).Once plants are up and growing, apply a complete organic fertiliser every 6–8 weeks from spring to autumn. Add a little potash when fruiting stems appear. Water deeply in dry times and keep well mulched.

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