Welcome to harvesting. This first photo shows some fine harvested bananas and two of the tools used. A hammer and an old axe head are used to cut the roots of the banana plant so that it is easy to pull the plant over (and completely out).
Fat apple bananas ready for harvest.
Whacky tool options…. The hachet can be used alone, or with a tool made from an old lawnmower blade. The right end has been sharpened with a grinder, and a handle (old bed frame piece) has been added to protect hand from getting pounded. There is a loop to pry out if stuck. (Mmmm – medium useful tool, better ones coming up.)
Cutting the roots ……... A small pick will cut roots pretty easily. A big pick is fine if there is room. Another tool (shown later) is a type of "o'o" (pry bar) with a flat blade about 3" wide. ….. Anyway, whatever your tool, the goal is cut all around the plant, about 6" deep, either straight down or in at about 45 degrees.
The corm, or base, of a banana plant once you are done, split open. At the top sides are the leaves that make up the stalk. The bottom sides is where the roots were cut off (this is the only zone where roots grow). The bottom middle is the potato-like insides that were snapped off.
Danger zone. A ladder is used to reach up and pull the bunch over. With the roots cut and the leverage you get like this, the whole plant comes over fairly easily. (A rope would work, too, and be safer.)
My mentor Joseph. The ladder is then moved out to support the bunch at an easy level for harvesting. Joseph cuts the hands off separately, or you can cut the whole bunch and hang it upside down. A good tool for cutting hands is a Sierra Pocket Saw.
A safer way to pull a bunch over is a hook on a stick. This one was made from an old paint roller. This setup works with standard tall type bananas, and you can adjust the stick to support the bunch at harvest level. (This guy soon proved too flimsy to manage a big plant. Back to the drawing board....)
Support the trunk at chopping level with something like an old piece of plywood.
An old crosscut saw is the easiest way to chop up the trunk. The first cut is about a foot below the leaves if you want to make an easy bundle for your trash guys.
The bundle ready for trash pickup. The leaves are folded back and tied. Another trick is to have gathered some old produce boxes to put small pieces in. Ask your trash men how they prefer banana trash.
The best tool may be an O’o.(Also called a post hole digger, or tamping bar, or pry bar.) The good type has a blade about 3” wide, and is straight. This gives you a good angle to chop the roots before pulling the tree over. (The picture shows what the two ends look like. These cost $30-$40, are about 6’ long and weigh about 20#.) Home Depot has a good one for $28. Another tool option: Lately I have been playing with a "tree planting spade", a shovel with a long straight blade. It is working well. I just dig straight down (or a little "in") all around the trunk, maybe 6" deep, then push it over. So far the shovel only got stuck one time, and I got it loose again without too much trouble.
Here is the tree planting spade that has become my favorite banana tool. Two minor changes: The tip and tip sides have been sharpened with a grinder. And the handle has been clamped on tight with a hose clamp. (This shovel is not designed for the hard prying you can do with the o'o.)
When harvesting, a sharp shovel can first be used to "chop" up high. Jab the trunk from below the bunch, and the bunch will (ideally) ease right down to where you can chop it with a machete. (Trick from Wayne, Jamie and I doing the harvest.)
Another shovel harvest, of a tall bunch, by myself. You can barely see the shovel hanging where the tree is bent. Note how handy the bunch is hanging, ready to whack with the machete.
Just for fun here is the way we used to harvest bananas. Try to chop on the back side ever so carefully (as Ben is doing), so that the bunch did not come crashing down too fast on the catchers (Arnie and Susie). I did it this way for 10 years, and never once dreamed there could be a better way. One day Mark asked, "Why not chop on the front side to slow things down?" How dare a guy from Iowa question the banana expert .... duh, well, he was right, and front chopping was my method of choice for a long time. A couple of V cuts up high work quite well.
Timing-wise bananas are totally ready once they get plump looking. They look sorta rounded vs angular. (If you try to wait until one turns yellow be careful. Even if you are on red alert and watching every single day, you can lose half the bunch if when it goes off you are in a hurry or don't have on the right clothes. Flavor-wise, etc. you can't tell the difference.) It is much more fun to choose a Saturday morning and harvest with a friend.
Wear an old shirt. Banana sap is clear, but once you wash it the color turns gross brown.
Banana sap drips from all the cuts you make.
Banana masters Ray and Jamie. There are two banana strings to hang bunches from - one outside where they stay until one turns yellow, the other inside.
If you want to give away a few hands, it is easy to cut them off with a Sierra Pocket saw.
Shovel harvesting, at the base of the plant. Here is a typical snapped off plant, after a little digging with the shovel.
This next series is a crack of dawn removal of an old stump, which is similar to harvesting. In this case the stump was left from a machete harvest, which is the way most people harvest bananas.
Here you can see the angle the shovel goes in. No need to go too deep, and fairly easy to just pull back out. Go all the way around the stump. You can wiggle the shovel a little bit, but too much would probably break or bend the shovel. Mostly it is just in and out. (Later you will see that I now go in more "level".)
The stump plops right over once you cut around it. (Then I just roll it off to the side to rot in place. In this banana patch I just chop and drop. Sometimes keiki will grow from the stump, and these will be removed later.)
While I was there with the shovel I thinned out a keiki. That is another good use for this shovel.
Cleaning the shovel and other tools - I use a diluted soap (or Simple Green) in a shampoo bottle that fits in my back pocket. (Or a spritzer bottle.) First I wash with a hose, then rub on the Simple Green. (I'm not sure this kills all the virus possibilities. It seems like it would get most, and is so much easier to deal with than bleach. Usually I also let the shovel get a little sunlight before next use.)
The final step is to fill the hole with some prime dirt. (Joseph uses compost.) Here these buckets are about 3 gal good dirt, plus maybe a quart of peat moss, plus about a half cup of fertilizer (10-20-20).
Here is how it looked 5 months later (7-1-09). Next I started an experiment to remove extra keiki with the shovel. I'm using a Simple Green spritz to disinfect the shovel. The little keiki in front of the bottle will be left because it will be easiest to harvest.
A closeup of removing a keiki with the shovel. Pretty easy, just dig it in between the trunk and the keiki.
I got 4 pretty big keiki and 4 tiny little ones.
Then more good rich dirt. The only keiki left is on the right, the one that was between the shovel tip and the Simple Green in the first pic. Also stuck a few impatiens cuttings into the dirt.
Impatiens are great plants for around the base of banana plants. They help hide all the junk that invariably builds up.
6 months after removing keiki things are looking pretty good.
One of the 2 big plants has a decent bunch ready. This is pretty good for a shady spot with marginal dirt (mostly hard rocky fill with a few inches of good stuff on top).
Then came "fall downs" (these in a different patch but I had them in both). Digging out too much of the corm / mat / roots was at least part of the problem. In the one above I had just dug out 2 big stumps in front of the ones that fell. (I also overwatered, then got hit with a big rain and winds, otherwise it may have been OK. Also just read about "toppling" and nematodes as possible cause. UH has a pub.)
Fall downs are such a waste. Most of the time it is just after a bunch has popped, but before the bunch is mature enough to ripen. (Here it almost clobbered a car, too.)
Tie ups for some of the banana stalks might help prevent fall downs. The first test is with bungie and a loosely tight rope. I have also started digging out less of the corms when I harvest or remove old stumps. (See other album for more support pix. This worked well.)
Before harvesting cut the bracts off. I ususally do this as soon as it flowers, but sometimes wait until just before harvest as in this case.
Close up of freshly cut off stem and bracts below the bunch of bananas. I leave a few inches of stem to use as a handle to carry bunch, and to hang it from on a string. A pocket knife works fine to do this little trim. The sap drips like mad of course. In a few days it will be dry enough to finish the harvest.
Selecting keiki. ………. Sword keiki on left, feed tube in middle, and flag keiki on right. The sword leaf keiki will have skinny leaves until it is about 5 feet tall, a hugely fat base, and eventually a prime bunch of bananas…. The flag keiki has big leaves and a skinny base. If left it will make a tiny bunch of bananas. …. (Flag keiki should be killed, like by a drop or two of straight RoundUp, or cut out.) … The towels (and a rock behind the sword keiki) are being tested to keep keiki growth down. Mmm, not much luck so far. … Ideally there would be only one "follower" keiki chosen for each stalk, instead of the half dozen the plant will try to produce.
More swords and flags. This is in a front yard patch at Jim's house. Nice El Toro grass. The left center keiki is a "sword" with skinny leaves and a fat phat base. The right center keiki is a leafy "flag".
“Clip and drip” bottles.
Here are two handy examples. The one on the left is my current favorite. It is a “cloth paint” bottle sold in crafts stores (normal use of the paint is writing on T-shirts). It has a long tip that is stiff enough to do injections like the syringes we will get to later. Any little dropper bottle will work – like eyedrops, eardrops, etc. Obviously scratch off the label and mark it as RoundUp.
Dripping RoundUp on the sword type keiki does not seem to work well. My hunch is that what makes these such good keiki is that they are tapped into the main root mass of the mother plant – and it would take a bigger dose to kill that… maybe that is all it is, but I haven’t tested enough to work. I am a little spooked about killing the mother plant.
Swords hard to kill.
Here you can see the same swords 7 weeks after dripping with straight RoundUp. The smaller one is maybe dying, and the larger one shows a dead leaf but other wise OK. (All the flag type keiki dripped at the same time were toast.)
If flag keiki are allowed to live here is what they look like later. The "barky" looking plant on the left is a mature flag. It has a tiny little bunch on it.
Flags do mature. Here is a small bunch. It will ripen and be fine to eat, even though the bananas will be tiny.
The trunk of a sword is the opposite of the "barky" flags. Here you can see the base splitting open from the growth of the center.
This ginger root shows how the first and best keiki usually comes out opposite where it was attached to the mother plant.
When you plant a new plant, ideally lean it towards "the old plant" so that the follower will be uphill and in a good place to grow. The banana bunch will go in the downhill direction and be out of the way. (The black ABS pipe is a feeding tube for water and fertilizer.)
The easiest tools are an old screwdriver and a squirt bottle of straight Roundup. The squirter can be a spritzer bottle, or eyedrop bottle, old mustard bottle, etc. You just stab the base of the plant about 5 times and fill the stab holes up with the Roundup.
Another option is a syringe, maybe more efficient if you are doing lots. …Either way you’ll be playing doctor and giving your plants a shot of RoundUp deep into the plant. The picture shows a “pasting” syringe, sold by wallpaper companies. (I filed my tip to make it a little duller; these things are wickedly sharp.) A safer all-plastic option is a resin syringe (sold by marine and surfboard supply companies). Another metal option is a Vet / horse feed store – they have lots of options. Barrel and needles sold separately mostly. Cheap – for $2.50 total get ~5 pack of each. Needles lengths ¾” to 1 ½”. Relatively small, needles too, and will probably clog more? Cheap enough to be disposable. Anyway, choose the biggest barrel and needle options. Two more syringe choices: resin syringe from Fiberglass Hawaii (safe plastic, about a buck), or a "Turkey Flavor Injector" at Long's ($3). It has a safer rounded point and the slits are on the sides which would probably clog less. (The screwdriver and squirter easier.)
Killing Bunchy Top... BBTD is a bad disease. See other sites about it. (It is also called BBTV, banana bunchy top virus.) In the photo is a dying plant injected with straight 41% glyphosate (RoundUp). This is two weeks later. To the left of the dying plant note the keiki from it is still healthy. The main thing to be careful of when injecting - ease up on the pressure as you back the syringe out. If you do splurt poison on your good plants, just wash off with a hose. ..... I think this injection technique could be used to kill excess keiki (see earlier pix) but first consider the harvesting method above. Removing the corm at harvest should safely and easily keep the flag keiki to a minimum. Once the whole plant is pulled out, that removes many extra keiki. And at that time it is easy to use the same tools to hack out any other keiki that are crowding, etc. But if you are going to try injecting - ideally use a clean needle, or dip in bleach - you don't want to be injecting virus into healthy plants.
2 months after injection. The original sick plant is almost gone (on left, in front of the healthy keiki). Eventually it just colapses and fades away.
It took two years but finally fruit. The original injection was April 2007, and the keiki that remained shot a flower bud 6-27-09. So timing wise, this is about like planting a new keiki, which makes sense because that was all that was left. When I killed the mother plant all or most of the root mat went with it. (A healthy keiki from a healthy set of roots will produce fruit in about a year.) This injection trick mainly saved the neighboring plants from the disease (none got it), and saved replanting, but it did not save the root mat.
BBTV strikes again. The pros will tell you that all parts of a mat have the virus if one plant has it. Maybe that is what happened (or it could be a re-infection). Few interesting little sympton tidbits: The young plant in the middle has classic leaf signs - the light edges and dark center along the midrib. The bunch of fruit to left seem fine. The bunch on the right is weird looking. The fruits are pointy, and the male flowers below have "persistent bracts". This is mid January 2010. I did injections round 2.
Close up of the weird fruit shape and bracts hanging on from BBTV that must have hit just as fruit were ripening.
5 weeks after injection the diseased plant on the right is slowly fading away. Two "healthy" ones to left are in the same mat. So let's watch another few years. I think it may be better to just kill the whole mat. I'll be planting up some truly healthy keiki in pots (UH seed lab has disease-free keiki they raise using tissue culture). In pots they can get pretty big, and be ready to replace any mats I have to kill.
Banana man Julien spotted a ripening bunch. This was early March 2010, and I think the 2nd bunch harvested since ist injection.
Bleach method did not work well for very long. The bleach causes lots of rust. The bottle does not work after the bleach eats up something, the spring I think. These are the knives I use to trim the dead leaves. The one on top is used to pull, cutting living leaves. If I get behind and the leaves die and hang down, they are easier to cut with an up thrust, so the knife on the bottom is my push knife. Both are made of a serated knife, taped on to a piece of bamboo. The push knife has a little Bondo + fiber to re-inforce it where they tend to twist and break. Bleach is strong stuff - if it gets on your clothes it will eat a hole in them, and it will rust your knives quicker than they would normally. (But you need this strength to kill virus, and even this is not 100% safe. I've been testing Simple Green, which doesn't eat up the metal, but is probably not as good an instant killer as the bleach. Also using sunlight.) The best thing is probably to just quit trimming the leaves off.
Cleaning tools with Simple Green or dish soap is easy enough once you get used to it. An early method was to make a soapy solution in an old shampoo bottle, scrub with a brush, then leave in the sun. I would do this in between each plant, since I assume a plant could have the virus before I recognized it.
The easiest method to clean is a spray bottle of Simple Green in one hand and your tool in the other. This tool is an ultra light weight leaf trimmer (I am trying to quit ....) made from a golf club handle and a blade that broke off one of my favorite little tools, the Sierra POCKET Saw. This two handed way lets you wander thru the banana plants, doing what you do, then just a quick spritz with the other hand as you move from one tree to the next. I do the same thing with machetes, shovel, etc. This is when I think the chances of any of the trees being infected is very very low, like no symptoms for months. (Another option for cleaning is iodine, which my homebrew buddy James uses in a similar way.) I've also helped my neighbors kill their diseased plants, and that probably cuts down on my re-infection odds.
Aphids are the natural way that BBTV spreads. (But us farmer guys are by far the worst way. The #1 way to spread is by taking diseased keiki into an area that does not have the disease yet. Then the #2 way is to use a machete on the diseased plant then go on around hacking and spreading the virus on all the other plants.) If you kill all your diseased plants as you see them, and keep your tools clean so you don't spread it, then all you need for 100% control is to keep the aphids away.
The easiest time to see the aphids is when a new leaf is unfurling. I think the aphids like to move to the newest most tender leaves. If a plant has an aphid colony you will usually see them along the midrib of the new leaf, as in the picture above.
This is also the best time to spray, as the new leaf makes a great funnel, and the flowing spray totally discomboobulates the moving aphids.
Spraying in a new funnel. Of course all of your plants will not be in this ideal stage, and for the rest of them just do the best you can. The other main place to spray is where the leaf stems attach. Aphids are generally hidden. I have only seen aphids on about 10% of my plants, and now that I am spraying none of those have caught the virus. On many tall plants you will not be able to look well enough to see the aphids. (I may start looking for them at harvest time, when I am chopping up the trunks anyway.)
Getting the spray up to high plants is a little tricky. At City Mill they carry an extension wand that will add about 3 feet to a Chapin sprayer. It is a little ungainly to use or store, but does deliver the spray up high. (The dwarf ones are easy enough with either a regular sprayer or a little spritzer bottle. I like to leave the little spritzer bottle out beside the plant so I can do it anytime I happen by.) For a spray mix I started with just a little dish soap in water, and that seemed fine. Lately I do what other sites say, which is to make a stock solution of about 90% cooking oil and 10% dish soap. Then, when time to spray, shake and add a good splurt of that to the sprayer full of water. Keep shaking the sprayer every few minutes. All these sprays just kill the current aphids, and have no effect on ones that arrive tomorrow. So far a weekly spray seems to be 100% effective for me.
The extension (on left), the sprayer, and the bottle of stock solution. The oil floats on the soap, but it mixes up again with a good shake. For the same reason you shake the sprayer every once in a while as you are spraying.
I've started checking for aphids when I harvest. (It easy enough, just use your machete to split and remove the leaf stems.) So far I haven't found a single one. The aphids seem to be clever enough to move to the fast growing younger plants.
If you plant bananas on a hill, and don't do any keiki selection and control, the banana clump will creep down hill. Here we have 2 clumps (the bigger one is uphill from Mary, the other is barely visible, about 10' to the right). This is back in 1983, she is carrying our now-grown son Abe.
The problem for down hill creeping is the bananas kinda go out horizontally, and eventually end up above the soil, where they tend to topple over just as the bunch gets going. (And if you remove any trunks or keiki it gets worse.) The base of these trunks are about 3' off the ground. I have built up a rock wall and dirt trying to help. These are about where Mary was walking - in 25 years they have crept all the way down that hill.
The solution that worked best was pulling the whole plants out. (This was May 2006, about a year before Joseph taught me the tricks of removing trunks with the shovel.) The rope here tended to cut the trunks off, but putting a board or 2 in against the trunk stops that.
Cooter and the beginning of the downed bananas. After we pulled all these guys out, we dug a deep hole and replanted a big keiki.
Three years later (7-09) there are 5 honking trunks. I think I have harvested some here before, but it took about 2 years. These are deeply rooted and no way will they fall over.
Two of the trunks have nice looking bunches just starting.
Hi Lucy, Abe, Jonah, Pua. A big harvest of bananas can lead to the problem of too much fruit. These are the old variety "Dwarf Chinese", which I can't grow anymore because they get the virus too much. They are the absolute best for daiquiris. Regular store-bought bananas, if over ripe, are fine. You can freeze them and they'll keep a few months.
World record banana bunch (according to Taro and Ti guys). I hate to make my mambo bunches look small .... and you would have to have a lot of friends to drink this many daiquiris!
Apple bananas usually come in smaller bunches, and ripen gradually, but occasionally they will all go off at once and cause excesses.
Unfortunately, apple bananas suck as daiquiri material (too starchy), but are excellent cooked. These two will go into the microwave.
The 2 bananas got 3 min nuke time. They will split and goosh, and are so delicious you will eat up all of your excess bananas.
Isa's shot of fruit on the table, with a lilikoi on top. (Morgan - Carter - Oka hybrid.) Lilikoi juice makes a killer daiquiri. (You can be lazy and leave the seeds in, just adds a little crunch.) Our daiquiri days began when Tom & Christy called to say they had a terrible problem: too many bananas and too many limes. T started making daiquiris. None of us knew how. It took quite a few pitchers, each better than the one before, to come up with a pretty decent one. Part of the fun was adding more of one ingredient and seeing what that did to the taste. The big surprise was lime juice. The more we added the more we liked it. Probably 10 times more lime juice than you would think right. Talk drifted to terms like "sweet-sour balance", "bite", etc. As long as you had plenty of banana or sugar for balance, you almost could not get too much lime. (The other balance things are fruit vs ice/water, rum vs frozeness. )
In Iowa you can still put together a good daiquiri. Here the problem was an overripe pawpaw. That plus lots of lime juice, ice, and rum made a pretty dang good drink. (Rose water is good if you need a dash of liquid, frozen orange juice, straight, is good if you need a general rescue.) If you can freeze any of these things ahead of time, you can work and sample at a relaxed pace. Otherwise things melt fast, you have to add more ice, and it waters the drink down. You probably won't have the pawpaw, but that could just as well have been some very ripe bananas, perhaps acquired at a discount. If you are planting lime trees, the very best is "Kusaie" lime, both in flavor and in ease to get the juice out. The pawpaw proportions: 1.5 over ripe pawpaw .25 cup lime juice (the plastic squeeze bottle) 2 handfuls ice .25 cup rum squirt honey (Still mild pawpaw flavor, next time I will freeze it ahead to get more pp, less ice.)
One of the best fruits for daiquiris and smoothies is a soursop (aka guanabana). Let them get overripe, almost grossly so, and freeze little ice cube of the pulp / juice. A couple of these cubes will improve any daiquiri. (You can also make "sop pops" - add a cube to soda like Seven-Up, and as it melts there is a fun transition in flavors.)
Mangoes are another fruit we sometime have lots of. Here Lucy is pulling them out of Jim's ears. Mangoes are also best over ripe if blended.
The very best mangoes for daiquiris are the strong-flavored "Pirie" type. They have a funny fruit shape, and not a great appearance, but what a flavor.
Chinatown markets are an excellent place to look for daiquiri fruit.
“Overripe” soursops can be dirt cheap (here a buck vs $2.50 for normal ones). These ripe ones are tastiest anyway, and are ready to use vs waiting. (And some overripe bananas also cheap. To process bananas I just peel and lay on a paper plate, then to freezer. If you use in next few days that is fine, otherwise put in a plastic bag to extend the life, still just a few weeks.)
Processing the overripe soursops: Peel by hand. The potato masher is pretty good and easy. The blue thing is a piece of nylon netting (good and strong), which is good to separate juice from seeds. Then freeze the juice ahead of time.
The other trick was when Dave S brings over 5 gal of delish sour oranges. Him and Ernest and Julien make a bucket full of juice, pronto. I think they slice the limes in half, then quick squeeze as is, then scoop floating seeds out with tea strainer. With this good supply of lime juice, and everything else frozen ahead of time, we have succeeded in making daiquiris for lots of people. Normally it is impossible to keep up with demand for more than about 5. The blender was smoking (maybe a better one would help) and Ayami had a pitcher, tray, and stack of plastic cups out making the rounds.
To freeze more volume of soursop or lime juice, this set up was stable. (5 cups in the yellow thing. I think I later popped the frozen clumps out and kept in a bag.) This size clump is about as big as my blender can handle.
If all this daiquiri stuff has got you in a party mood you might enjoy the "Bamboo imu" pictures next: http://picasaweb.google.com/raygrogan1/BambooImu#