Thursday, December 04, 2008

Doctor Banana

We were giddy as if we'd each downed a pot of coffee, heart rates elevated, hands a little shaky, and grins plastered across our mugs. Prepared for the adventure, we were armed with extra 5 gallon nursery pots and Google Map directions.

Where were we going? Somewhere within a 50 mile radius of our house. Who would meet us there? Doctor Banana. What was our mission? To pick up our very own, generously gifted banana pups, specifically pups of the Blue Java variety, otherwise know as Ice Cream Banana.

Ice Cream Banana. Doesn't the very name send ecstatic shivers through your taste buds?

When ECG and I bought this property a few months ago, and I couldn't stop talking and dreaming about what food plants to grow where, ECG asked if we could plant bananas. Before his asking, I hadn't even thought about including them, a fact that is almost embarrassing to admit. Bananas grow in this climate if given a little extra attention, and if they grow for me, that means less consumption of an imported crop often associated with poor growing practices and conditions for plantation workers. If I grow them here, I have control over their growing conditions, and, I am the fairest of plantation employers: I only make myself work when I want to.

Knowing that banana plants shoot up quickly, growing to full fruiting maturity in 24-36 months, and that they propagate themselves by "pupping" off the fruiting stalk, I figured the best way to get healthy plants would be to find someone who grows them in their yards. That way, not only could I get plants from a place where the growing conditions would be similar to my own property (thereby suggesting a more successful transition to their new homes), but also where I could pick the brain of the grower, trying to get as much information as possible. I found such a source on the forums of GardenWeb.

Doctor Banana, a moniker I've given him to preserve anonymity, was generous in his plants (we walked away not only with a few Ice Cream bananas, but also a Goldfinger banana, white ginger, and purple-leaf canna) and with his knowledge. His banana growing advice was simple:
  • Rich soil.
  • Lots of water.
  • Here, if they get frostbitten, they'll grow back.
  • Leave only one pup to replace each fruiting stem. Cut the others off to share or to compost.
  • Did I mention, lots of water?

His yard was a beautiful jumble of edible landscaping. Apple trees tucked up against bananas, calamondins blooming and fruiting at the same time, avocados, peaches, apricots, guavas, feijoas, sapote, lemons, papayas, some fruit that neither ECG nor I remember the name of but that we've never seen anywhere else before, and when we tasted the one he cut open for us to sample, we were both not-so-subtly reminded of detergent. He didn't mind our dislike for the fruit. He didn't like it much himself.

But he sure likes his bananas. And now we get to grow them too.

I've been working on building the banana bed since we brought the pups home. They'll grow near the east wall of the master bedroom, where they'll provide cooling morning shade in the summer months and still be protected from the hottest afternoon sun, where in winter they'll have the residual heat of the building to protect them from the threat of frost, and where the drippy faucet will help keep them hydrated. They'll be happy there.

Since I've our visit to Doctor Banana, ECG and I have been dreaming of our future crops and what we'll do with them. We will delight in eating them fresh out of hand, but we have some other ideas too:
  • ECG likes to grill bananas, split them open, and add a smidge of butter and cinnamon. So good.
  • Homemade banana pudding. Oh my.
  • Ice cream made from Ice Cream bananas.
Care to dream with us? What makes your mouth water when you think of having your own bananas in your yard? What would you do with a bounty?

Our baby plants may be little, but they're inspiring big dreams.


Wendy said...

Tacky, but I like to split them and pop pieces of Mars Bar in the middle before wrapping them in foil and BBQ-ing them. Heaven!

The care you take over your garden is so wonderful, Christina. Sounds like that banana tree is in the perfect position.

Feel sightly ashamed of my own haphazard "methods".

Matron said...

I am trying to grow a Musa Basjoo (Japanese dwarf banana) here in London. Mine is very healthy and strong and has been put to bed for the Winter. Do I let the pups grow alongside the main stem or do I thin them out until I need them? Last year I had about 12 pups - I got rid of them and gave them away.

Anonymous said...

God, I'd love to be able to grow bananas. But I can't even grow a bloody melon in this wretched country. I'm looking out at a thick white blanket of frost as I write this.


Brent said...

Did you ever stop by the banana farm at La Conchita on the way up to Santa Barbara? I did once, and the varieties of flavors available in little known bananas really opened my mind up to the possibilities for the fruit. Too bad it's gone now - I'd be a regular patron if it were still there.

Wendy's comment about Mars Bars needs a note: In the United States an English Mars Bar is known as a Milky Way Bar and vice-versa.

GS said...

How lovely having your own piece of tropical paradise.

I like bananas but don't go wild for them. I like them in smoothies with a dash of pomegranate molasses or frozen and whipped up with mango, then refrozen as an "ice cream". Very yummy.

Christina said...

Wendy: Tacky perhaps, but delicious definitely. Don't feel ashamed of your methods! Everyone gardens in the way that works best with their space, climate, and personality.

Matron: I don't know much about bananas yet, but from what I've read (and heard from Doctor Banana), you should leave 1 or 2 pups attached to the plant until it blooms and dies, then choose the strongest one to replace it. It sounds like your basjoo is growing really well!

Soilman: Have you tried Collective Farm Woman melon? My parents, who live in a very short summered climate, get it to ripen for them before the frost comes. And it is mighty delicious. And, I may be able to grow bananas, but I can't grow cherries, most pears, most raspberries, and lots of other things. You've got that over me!

Brent: No, I never made it there. I wish I had gone when I had the chance. However, once my plants get started, you're welcome to a pup or two to start your own, if you like. It won't be as much variety as the banana farm offered, but at least it can provide you with something different than the regular grocery store Cavendish.

AOS: Your banana ideas sound great--what a great "ice cream" idea! My husband is anxiously awaiting banana smoothies, especially simple ones made of bananas and milk. That is one of the most perfect of foods for him.

Anonymous said...

Are they really called pups?

How gorgeous. An appropriate word - one to inspire the extra care needed to grow 'em up.

Added bonuses of having your own banana tree: the leaves (for wrapping parcels of fish and sweet, sticky rice) and the flowers which are, in parts of South East Asia eaten as a vegetable.

I make the same ice cream that AOF does - good with a spoonful of cocoa for choco-nana goodness. I'm very excited for you. Updates, please?

Brent said...

Thank you so much for the offer of a pup

Anonymous said...

I was make green banana chop for my daughter's birth day.its very testy & make it very easy.i was learn this recipe through online from my south Indian friend.he was sent me a details banana chop processing recipe with picture.i like very much & my family also.u try it.