There are many types of bananas grown in the world. Originally from South East Asia, bananas are cultivated in tropical regions, including Australia, where they once grew wild in the rainforests of North Queensland.
Related to gingers and heliconias, most bananas (genus Musa) are grown for their fruit, which is universally popular, but also for their fibre, used in paper making and textiles. Bananas are neither trees nor palms but herbs!
The banana growing industry in North Queensland is one of its most important crops. Unfortunately, many banana plantations were 'wiped out' by severe cyclones in 2011, wreaking havoc for farmers and resulting in steep price rises for consumers. The industry slowly re-built itself and bananas are now plentiful.
Most people will be familiar with the yellow Cavendish banana. Of medium size its taste is delicious but it has the disadvantage or ripening quickly so doesn’t keep for more than a few days.
For years I have eaten a banana with my breakfast on most days and buy them at the weekend markets. Because I know that they won’t last a week I usually try to buy some ‘sugars’, red bananas, lady fingers or dwarf monkey bananas as well as Cavendish, as they keep better and can also be stored in the fridge, wrapped in a towel. I am also fond of the cooking plantain banana – it’s especially delicious cooked in coconut oil with fish and a squeeze of lime!
Trivia: Did you know that Queenslanders are called ‘banana benders’ by people from other states? Wonder why?
Does the idea of growing bananas interest you? If you live in a warm, humid climate and have rich soil, good rainfall and a few spare corners in your backyard, it should be relatively easy.
In Australia the industry is heavily regulated and permits are required to grow bananas, even a couple in your back-yard. This is because most types of bananas are prone to devastating diseases, such as black sigotoka and the whole industry could be wiped out if that or similar diseases took hold in a banana plantation.
So purchase plants from a certified nursery and you’re off to a good start! Once you have a banana plant established you can use suckers that grow from the corm to propagate new ones.
Bananas have no seeds (except the remnant tiny black specks down the centre of the fruit) and are propagated by shoots or suckers sprouting from the rhizome base or corm of the mother plant.
It seems rather strange but a banana plant has no trunk, as such, but leaves wrapped concentrically around each other, which emerge spirally from the centre as the plant grows and matures. One of the best types of bananas to grow in backyards is the Ducasse or sugar banana because of its delicious eating and slow ripening qualities and resistance to disease.
They are also good to dehydrate or to serve in fruit salads as they do not discolour when exposed to the air. Sugar bananas need to ripen fully before being eaten.
All types of bananas love fertile, well drained soil and a warm, humid climate. They don't like wind so farmers grow wind-breaks and plant them fairly close together to protect the banana plant and fruit from damage.
If you have decided that growing bananas is for you then plant them in a clump so that they can support each other. They like lots of compost and mulch so use the old banana plants for that once the fruit has been harvested.
Water your banana plant regularly, aiming to keep it moist but not wet and feed it periodically with nitrogen and potassium rich fertilizers.
It will take about nine months for your banana plant to produce distinctive purple flowers, followed by tiny fingers of fruit. The upward pointing fingers grow in ‘hands’ on bunches that are quite heavy, all ripening at once.
Some people harvest hands before they are ripe and speed up the process by placing in a paper bag in a cupboard.
Red dukka bananas have a sweet taste and soft texture - my new favourite!
Rich in fibre, potassium, vitamins A, B6 and C, the health benefits of bananas are many.
They are the perfect snack food, low in fat but high in nutrients – and beautifully packaged!
Available all year round, bananas are delicious fresh, frozen or dried, wrapped in a cheese slice or dipped in chocolate. For something different try dipping them in our special, sweet dukkah sprinkle. Then there's the old classic - who can resist freshly baked banana cake served with a cup of your favourite tea?
Their high percentage of potassium assists with normal heart health, regulating the contractions of the heart’s muscles and keeping blood pressure within a normal range.
Containing a substance called tryptophan, as well as serotonin, magnesium, and melatonin, bananas act as a mood enhancer and mild sedative. If you have trouble sleeping, a banana and a cup of warm milk will do the trick and soon have you in slumberland.
The potassium in bananas helps to keep bones strong and ward off osteoporosis as it inhibits the excretion of calcium in urine.
The Vitamin B6 in bananas assists with maintaining a strong immune system, helps the body to manufacture haemoglobin and regulate normal blood sugar levels.
The high fibre content of bananas helps with normal bowel function and lowers coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes risks.
So, whatever types of bananas you decide to grow (or not to grow!) I hope that you enjoy good health and happiness from your relationship with this 'fruit of the gods'.