Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Notes on a Banana

Some people have a Thanksgiving wreath hanging on the front door. Hanging on our door, ripening in the steadier indoor temperature, we've got a bunch of bananas from the little banana grove in the backyard. 

Banana trees aren't trees at all, but instead herbaceous plants that fruit only once per stalk before dying. The stalk I cut this bunch off of is now sad and leafless, clearly on its way out. This week, I will machete it to the ground and chop it up to mulch around the the root mass that already has "pups" of various ages, including one very mature one that will likely flower as soon as the weather warms in spring. Growing bananas is an exercise in cyclicality: the pup emerges from the root mass, flowers, fruits, dies, and rots into the ground; immediately next to that pup is another in another stage. While one flowers, another emerges, while yet another feeds the roots as its body decomposes in the thick mulch.

The stalk that this bunch came from began blooming at the end of May and reached its gorgeous peak in June. (I posted pictures of it here.) While I watched and waited, the fruit slowly fattened but never seemed to be ripening. Last year, one of my plants had flowered later in the year, setting a few fruit that never ripened as the winter wore on and frost and wind turned the plants last few leaves to sad ribbons. Even though my bananas grow in a relatively protected place right next to the heat sink of the house, the subtropical winters are tough on the tropical, heat-hungry plant. This year, as the weather cooled in the beginning of November, I began to worry, so I followed the model of an elderly Filipino man whose house I drive by every morning on my way to work.

His garden is a narrow strip of green on a busy corner. Along the sidewalk, he has a long line of paint buckets planted with lemongrass. On an old tree stump, he's built a large tree-shaped trellis, upon which he's grown the mightiest specimen of dragonfruit I've ever seen. This fall, it was covered with fruit. He has papayas and a patch of corn, peppers and herbs I can't identify. He also has two perfectly manicured clumps of bananas. The stalks of his plants are short, maybe stretching to 10 feet, and in each clump, two stalks are fruiting. Loaded with hands and hands of fruit, the fruiting stems are huge, at least double in length and fruit quantity of my plant's. Each morning, when I drive by his house, I check for signs of ripeness. When October turned to November, I noticed that he had placed large transparent plastic bags over his fruit clusters, clearly to hasten ripening in the last of the warmth. I, guided by the evidence of his yard, trust this man to know what he's doing. I followed his model and placed a plastic bag over my fruit. And now I have bananas.

The variety that fruited for me this year is called Blue Java; it is also known as Ice Cream. In my limited experience, the fruit from this variety are short and fat, very thin-skinned, and intensely fruity in flavor. The fruit is much more aromatic than a large store-bought Cavendish banana. 

I've got so many things to be thankful for. The bananas are just a bunch of them.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gifts of The Road

My friend and I escaped the fall with a road trip into autumn.

Books and I have been lovers since I was an infant, but we've been on a break lately, simply because my the rest of my loves and responsibilities usurped the place they had held in my life. Prior to our trip, I had not had a chance to read for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and that perhaps only once a week. But, on our trip, I woke early one morning and read for hours in the library of our temporary home, giving my stresses over to the giant hand and my mind entirely to the book.

For much of the rest of the long weekend, we toed sand and trails and accidental turns that led to unexpected space.

Here, we stopped. Here, I took pictures with my phone, sending them immediately to my husband. Here, I wrote. This is us.

On our trip, my friend and I encountered a manta ray, wild turkeys, pelicans, cormorants, lots and lots of crabs, sea anenomes, starfish, and parakeets. We also found parts of ourselves.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Progress Report: The Front Meadow

These bottle bugs that E and I brought from Rosario hang in the crepe myrtle that grows at the edge of the meadow.

Last year, my friend Russ of LA Farm Hands helped me install a puddle of meadow in my front yard, replacing what I had left of a lawn. (If you're curious, you can read about that installation here.) I've enjoyed the meadow for a year now, and today, I spent a few minutes looking at pictures of it just post-installation, comparing those photos to the way it looks now. Let's take a look at it this morning:

The clumps of Carex praegracilis are widening, but still haven't tangled into each other.

I didn't know to expect the pretty golden curls on the aging leaves. C. praegracilis is providing more textural interest than I anticipated.

I like the way the light plays on it.

The ipheion I tucked in a couple places to provide winter color is sending up its foliage; midwinter it will put on a show of starry blue-lavender flowers. Last winter's performance lasted well over a month.

The rainlily (Zephyranthes candida) foliage disappears into the sedge's leaves, but its surprise, crystalline flowers feel like treasures when they appear.

Overall, I love how this meadow is shaping up, even though it has not yet fully grown in. It's so much more interesting than a lawn, it takes less water to look good, and each season gives it new pleasures to enjoy.