Garden, Plant, Cook!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Yes, We Have No Bananas - Yet!

Dear Folks,

Pictured to the right here is the beginning flower bud of my "Blue Java" banana plant, aka "Ice Cream Banana" (it is the burgundy/reddish growth in the left of the picture). The fruit is supposed to have a blue/silver ting to the skin which is the basis for the name "Blue Java."

Did you know you can cook with both the flowers and the leaves, in addition to the edible fruit? During the heavy growing season, my banana put out a new leaf about every 8 days (and once the plant is a good size the leaves are about 3 and a half to 4 feet long -- not including the stem!) and I have used the leaves to steam fish or chicken in (gives the food a great fruity flavor). I found recipes a while back on the internet for cooking with the flowers.

This is the first time I've gotten a flower and we are so excited about the possibility of harvesting our own bananas I was just about jumping up and down when Deane pointed out the flower bud.

Some years ago I had read about the ice cream banana which is supposed to taste like vanilla ice cream and is a dwarf member of the edible Musa (there are some strictly ornamental types) growing to about 12-15 feet tall, and kept my eyes opened for a plant. As with my experience with my lovely variegated (Pink) lemon tree, I just happened across it one day at a Home Depot store, knew what it was and grabbed it up. For about 2 years I did not get it out of its pot, as I did not have the best location in mind for it. It grew baby plants, but no flowers/fruit.

Then last year when I downsized the gardens, we planted one plant in a spot left bare by the removal of an aged peach tree. From July to October 2007 the tree grew 5+ feet (that is the first picture in the collage below).

From October of last year (2007) to today, the tree went through a severe frost, re-growth, to a height of approximately 12 feet right now and then we spotted to flower bud - yippeeee!

So what is there about growing bananas in the desert? Bananas are a type of grass (Monocot plant families) and tropical in origin, and will not take killing frosts (where the ground freezes in addition to above-ground growth). It is considered 'cold tolerant' which translates into USDA Zone 8 and above (Sunset Zone 12+), so a little damage to the leaves during our winters does not kill the main plant, damaging the leaves. Wind also damages the leaves of bananas which will give it a disreputable appearance, but for my time, it is worth some appearance issues to have home-grown bananas.

When I learned about the ice cream banana, and with my sweetie Deane being an ice cream junkie (in addition to a chocoholic) I figured if I was going to try and grow bananas, it would have to be one that tasted like ice cream.

I also planted another smaller plant in a separate location in the garden, more sheltered from the wind. The plant in flower right now also has some baby offsets, which will continue to grow after the main plant dies back (following flower and fruit production).

So we will see what happens. I will keep you posted on how the plant and possible harvesting goes.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady