The fruits of your labor!

The banana plant harvest is one of patience, but the return is worth the wait.

I am trying to type on the computer right now because I promised to write about pruning and harvesting bananas, but I had the strangest accident in my garden yesterday, which is making typing difficult.

One of my raised beds sprang a leak just as I was about to plant some Romanesco cauliflower yesterday morning. The connectors between the poly tubing and the spaghetti lines pulled apart on two lines. So I dug the soil out of the bed to get down to the tubing and look for the holes, clean them out, then put in goof plugs and create new connector holes to replace the spaghetti lines and drips.

As I leaned over the raised bed edge to push in the connectors, the force I used placed enough pressure on my chest that was resting on the bed’s edge that it dislocated a rib. I knew I was in trouble as I felt the pop then the pain. Who would have known that such a simple act would cause such a problem?

However, I am determined to get this blog out as promised.

FRUIT GROWTH

Banana flower and bananas
The banana flower dips as it produces fruit. The banana flower is very large and has tiny flower fingers around its base that are edible.

Banana plants can provide fruit any time from 10 to 18 months after transplant or appearing as a pup (sucker) alongside the parent plant, depending upon the type, whether it is a dwarf or full-sized plant, and time of the year it sets the flower. Once the flower dips, the bananas will take 75-80 days to mature. Your banana plant will set anywhere from 6 to 10 hands. Hands refer to each circle of bananas around the stem.

Once the hands set, cut off the flower below them so that the juices and nutrients go only into the banana production. To plump out the fruit, cut off the bottom hand of banana fingers except one. This sends energy up the stem into other bananas. Do it just prior to when bananas start to straighten out. The straightening usually happens about three weeks after the final hand of the fruit forms.

HARVEST TIME!
When the bananas are plump throughout the hands and one hand begins to turn greenish-yellow, you can harvest the whole group of hands or simply the yellowing hand. Growers harvest all of the hands at once because they need the time to get them to market. However, the home-grower can either harvest the whole stem and hang them in a cool, dry, shady place or cut off each hand as they ripen. It makes no difference on the flavor. If the fruit matures during the summer, definitely remove the whole stem of bananas at once.

When you harvest, wear pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and gloves because the stem will release sap that is hard to get off your skin.

The average stem of bananas can weigh from 40 to 60 pounds, so you don’t want to simply cut the stem, especially if you are working alone. You can do this if you have another person under the stem to ease it to the ground, but there is more of a danger of damaging the bananas or your companion than if you use a technique developed by growers of large banana plants.

Harvest by partially cutting the trunk.
Partially cut the trunk of the banana plant to gently lower the fruit to the ground. Make the cut on the opposite side of the fruit.

Simply cut the main trunk of the plant a couple of feet below the stem the bananas are on. Cut about halfway into the main trunk on the side opposite the stem so that the trunk slowly bends toward the ground. This way, your bunch of bananas will gradually drop and you can catch them at ground level without damaging the fruit. Don’t be concerned about cutting into the main trunk because you will cut it down completely after harvest since a trunk will die gradually after providing a single harvest.

The trunk can be cut with a sharp blade on a pole, one of the manual tree trimmers that has a saw at the end, or make your own version with a machete securely tied to the end of a long pole. It will still help to have assistance because the bunch of bananas will be even heavier with the stems and part of the trunk bending down. View this video to see the cutting process.

Once the bananas have reached the ground, trim the banana stem off the trunk to release it from the plant but be careful so the trunk doesn’t fall on you. I can’t stress enough how heavy everything is. I have watched them being harvested locally and it is the one thing that makes me nervous about growing banana plants, so be careful. Definitely don’t harvest alone from a ladder unless you have an ambulance waiting at your curb!

Hang the stem with the banana hands still attached in a cool, dry and shady place. Some people attach a large hook at the end of a rope and others simply tie the rope very securely to the stem to hang the bunch. Harvest the hands from the stem as they ripen or as needed. Don’t cover the hands if you can. Never use plastic. It will destroy the bananas because of the gasses the bananas release. If you must protect them from birds, cover them in a breathable cloth, like cheesecloth or tulle.

If you decide to harvest over time, then simply cut a couple of hands as they get close to ripeness. Don’t let them stay on the stem until they are fully yellow or they will split.

Once the trunk of the plant has produced bananas, its growth cycle has ended and it will begin to die. Cut the trunk off a few inches above the ground so that pathogens from the soil don’t enter the new wound. If your banana plant is tall, cut the trunk down in short sections. The trunk is full of sap and fluid, so it is very heavy.

Cut the pup from the mother plant.
Cut the pup from the mother plant with a clean straight downward slice to separate it from the mother’s corm or rhizome.

PRUNING AFTER HARVEST
As your plant grows, you will see suckers growing alongside the main stalk. A banana plant naturally restores itself and provides for future harvest. The main trunk is considered the “grandmother.” It will produce the current set of bananas. Next harvest will come from the “mother,” the sucker called a pup that grew from the base of the grandmother. A third pup will grow that is called the “daughter” and could grow from the mother or the grandmother. It will produce fruit for the harvest following the mother’s. Most growers only keep three stalks growing at one time to produce the best tasting and largest harvest of bananas.

New suckers or pups will grow all of the time. They can be carefully cut away from the main plant and transplanted. You can do this at any time as long as the main plant hasn’t set a flower or fruit. If so, wait until you harvest.

As mentioned above, you want to keep the main plant and two strong stalks for the three-year cycle. The best pups to keep have sword-like leaves growing from them. New pups that grow wide leaves (called water pups) will still produce fruit. The harvest is usually not as large and the pup won’t grow as aggressively, however.

To harvest a pup, get a sharp shovel, clean it with a bleach solution so that you don’t transfer bacteria to the stalks, and slice straight down between the pup and the mother plant deeply to cleanly remove the pup from the corm, the mother’s rhizome. Gently work the pup away from the mother. This video will show you how to cut the pup cleanly from the mother plant.

START A BANANA PLANTATION
The beauty of this process is that once you buy your first banana plant, you will never have to buy another as long as it remains healthy, even if you want a whole backyard of plants. You can simply transplant your excess pups or give them to friends so they can also enjoy home-grown bananas.

Thursday’s blog will be about another type of transplant: annual vegetables for our cool season. Just don’t pop a rib while you are doing it!

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Jknapp

I am a certified agriscape designer and Maricopa County Master Gardener. I have been gardening since I was six years old and worked in my grandfather's garden. I believe that the only way to be a responsible gardener is to garden organically. It improves our soil, is safer for us to eat, sustainable and it protects our pollinators and soil from chemical poisoning.

2 thoughts on “The fruits of your labor!

  1. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I will be looking forward to growing bananas soon!!’ Question: do you have suggestions for soil amendments and watering?

    Thank you and speedy recovery to you!

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