This is one of the most popular and important tropical fruits. Long-keeping and easily shipped, it is tasty, very digestible and rich in several major minerals and some vitamins.
Banana plants are rapid-growing herbs 5 to 25 feet tall. Their stalks or trunks are succulent, being actually composed of compressed layers of leaf sheaths. After bearing once, the stalks die back to the plant’s true stem, which is an underground rhizome. New suckers on which further fruit is borne are constantly rising from a healthy, productive rhizome. On a plant that is growing well, a sucker bears within 12 to 18 months after its emergence from the soil, but the length of time required to develop fruit may vary with soil and climate.
A hole 30 by 36 inches and 18 inches deep should be prepared for planting either rhizomes or suckers. Dwarf Cavendish may be planted eight to ten feet apart; others should stand no closer than 12 to 15 feet. Plant the sucker or rhizome a foot deep, and fill the hole with a mixture of topsoil and compost or rotted manure.
While the plant is young, remove all but one sucker, which should be allowed to bear its fruit and be cut back before another sucker is permitted to grow. Older plants may be allowed to develop one new sucker every three months. A plant will grow and bear well for four to six years, after which it should be dugout, the soil enriched and new suckers or rhizome pieces planted. After its first fruit has ripened, the plant may be allowed to grow three to five suckers at a time, depending upon its vigor. All others should be cut out.
Bananas are gross feeders. Because of their heavy growth they need plenty of fertilizer and a large amount of moisture. They do best where the rainfall averages 60 to 100 inches per year. In areas where it is less than that, they will need frequent watering.
Heavy rich mulch should be maintained under the plants at all times. This may be rotted manure, compost or a mixture of manure and leaves or grass.
Because they contain no viable seeds, bananas must be propagated by separating the suckers from the parent plants or by making cuttings of the rhizomes. Suckers two to eight months old are used and are moved in March or April.
Seven- to ten-pound cuttings of the rhizomes are removed, each with two buds, by cutting with a spade or mattock. Rhizome cut-tings can be replanted immediately or held for a few days, exposed to the air, then planted.
Bananas require about 100 days maturing after the young flower buds appear. Bananas which are cut seven to 14 days before ripening may be hung in a cool shady place to develop their flavor and sugar. Their nutritional value will be the same as that of tree-ripened fruit.
After bunches are cut down from the plant, the ends of the stalk are trimmed and the bananas are held at room temper, until thoroughly ripe. Stalks of the plants are cut back and chopped into small pieces.