Cheap imported fruit often hides a hidden cost. In the case of the bargain bananas that crowd our supermarket shelves this cost is an environmentally damaging use of chemicals and poorly paid work force in their country of origin. Large companies scoop the profits of a growing process that is unsustainable. Fair trade sees growers being paid properly and encouraged to use organic growing techniques. So if you go for the right label you know you are contributing to good growing principles. Bananas can be grown in New Zealand and in areas with the right conditions they do well. If you have a frost-free sunny spot that is sheltered from strong winds then you can anticipate a sustainable harvest of your very own.
Companions Comfrey, basil.
Quantity 1- 2 plants per household
Bananas are a ‘super-food’ – look at all those athletes that are constantly munching on them when they get the chance. Banana bread is a good way of varying the way in which you eat them
Mons Mari a fast growing dwarf variety reaching about standard ceiling height when mature. Fruit are still quite large though – about standard size and taste is sweet.
Misi Luki samoan variety that is highly productive. Produces creamy textured fruits in large bunches of up to 200. These bunches can weigh more than 20 kg when ready for harvest. Grows to about 4m.
Goldfinger from Honduras, specially bred for cooler climates, Goldfinger produces small, thin-skinned finger-like bananas in bunches of between 100 to 140 individual fruits. Very sweet flavour with a mild acidic tang. Grows to just over standard ceiling height.
Hua Moa a plantain banana whose fat, tubular, round-ended green fruits are starchy and often cooked before eating. This is an unusual variety in that the bananas can be ripened into a sweet dessert banana with a firm texture. Grows to about 4m.
Plant container grown bananas in spring and summer when the soil is warm.
Bananas grow in areas with hot summers and mild winter temperatures, They need a frost free area although established plants can withstand a light frost - any damaged stems can be removed and new ones are produced from the base. Bananas like plenty of sunshine and they can handle some dappled shade as long as they are in a warm spot. Choose a site that has shelter from strong winds that can blow young plants over and shred the foliage of mature plants. Bananas are slender plants that can grow to between standard ceiling height and the height of an average villa. They are more vertical than spreading and can only take up a square metre at ground level where they form a clump of thick, fibrous stems. Bananas grow well in the corner of a garden with the protection of fences and they love the reflected heat from walls and nearby concrete surfaces. Urban gardens are a perfect location for them. Roots will hungrily take up available nutrients in the soil – you won’t find much will grow close by them.
Dwarf varieties are available and these can be grown in large containers. This means that, as long as you have a long hot summer and you can protect them from cold winter temperatures, you can have a go at growing bananas in cooler parts of the country. Put them where they will get the most sun through summer and move them somewhere warm for winter. Grow them in a conservatory if you have one.
Bananas grow fast and they need plenty of nutrients to do this. Soil should be loose, deep and full or well-rotted animal manure and organic material. Soil should drain well, but if yours holds onto a little moisture it should be okay. If in doubt you can make a mound of compost and plant into that.
When you have selected the best planting area and are ready for planting, soak your plant in a bucket of water.
Pile up your planting spot with rotted animal manure and compost – about a wheelbarrow full - and dig this into garden soil. You should end up with a gentle mound of rich, well-mixed growing medium that is about a stride from one side to the other. Make a hole not much larger than the plant bag or pot in the middle, remove banana plant from its bag or pot and place in the hole. Back-fill the hole without pressing down too firmly, and water well to ensure good contact between potting mix and surrounding soil/compost. Bananas don’t normally need staking but it does help if you trim any large leaves on young plants – just leave the central shoot untouched. Mulch around the base of the plant.
If growing a dwarf variety in a container choose something large like a half-barrel but work out how you’ll move it in winter if you have to. Soak your dwarf banana in a bucket of water before planting. Fill the container with equal amounts of planting compost and well-rotted animal manure. Add a slow release granular feed or sheep pellets and mix well. Carefully remove your dwarf banana from its bag or pot and stand on the compost mix – ensuring the soil level of your banana is just below the top of the container. Back fill with more compost/manure mix and water well. Keep compost moist and mulch around the base of the plant.
Mulch around the base of banana plants to retain moisture and warmth – lawn clipping can be piled up along with compost, rotted manure and old straw. Replenish this mulching layer when necessary. Water regularly during hot dry weather, making sure that soil is well soaked. Container grown plants need to be attended to regularly to ensure they don’t dry out.
Feed: Feed bananas during late spring and summer when they are growing fast. A couple of handfulls of blood and bone meal or half a bucket of sheep pellets per plant every month as well as a watering can of diluted worm juice or liquid seaweed every couple of weeks should keep them happy. Container grown plants need the same feeding schedule but just use half the amounts. A sprinkling of untreated wood ash from the fire in early spring around all plants improves fruit size and quality.
Flowering: Banana flowers don’t need to be pollinated to produce fruit. Plants will usually flower within a year and a half of planting. As the flower opens, small bananas are revealed along the stem and slowly a bunch emerges. Bunches are formed through winter and the small fruits then start to fatten in the following spring before becoming ripe in summer. Bunches can be protected during winter with blue plastic bags that are tied around the stem above the bunch and left open at the bottom. These help to keep fruit warm and protect them from rats and birds.
Care: When a fruiting stem starts to lean out of the plant propping it up can help to stop it from collapsing or being blown over with the extra weight of fruit. If you are growing bananas in a marginal area and a cold snap is anticipated, wrap the stems in old blankets to keep them warm until weather is milder.
Bunches can take almost a year to reach maturity from when the flower first formed. Stalks are cut when bananas have fattened and look plump. They are still green at this stage but will start to turn yellow when the bunch is hung up somewhere cool and dry like a shed or garage. You can leave bananas to ripen on the tree, picking hands as they turn yellow – from the top of the bunch downwards. You may end up feeding the birds too as they will hunt out the ripening fruits that are turning starch into sugar!
Storage: Bananas don’t store for long once they have turned yellow. They can be kept in the fridge but this causes the skin to go black. Fruit inside is still okay though. You can freeze whole bananas with the skin on and use at a later date for puddings and baking.
Once a stem has flowered and produced fruit it should be cut out at ground level. The old stem can be chopped up and added to compost as well as used as mulch around the remaining banana plant. New shoots or suckers will form at the base and usually two of these are selected to grow into new fruiting stems with the others being cut away.
There are no major problems with bananas as long as they get the right growing conditions and nutrition.