Friday, April 20, 2018

Growing Bananas Organically

Ok, one more post about bananas, then I want to give it a least for a few days. But you can still send me questions, which I'll eventually get to. 

Many oriole asked, can bananas be grown organically? Simple answer, yes. But to expand on that answer, can they be commercially grown organically? That's a different story because according to what I've read, it can be real difficult if not impossible in some areas. Yes, some farms can do it. Others cannot. The reason basically is fungal diseases and certain insects. Plus the higher cost and more difficult availability of organic fertilizers. To make it more confusing and difficult, some fruit wholesalers and shippers require fungicide treatments or apply and/or fumigate during transit. 

Commercial farms use quite frequent fungicide applications. Some farms also spray insecticides. Without these treatments, getting enough marketable bananas harvested in order to afford to keep the farm financially afloat might be difficult or close to impossible. The few commercial growers in Hawaii that I've talked to say that they can't go organic with their crop. 

Home production is a different story. Around here, just about all homegrown bananas are either fully organic, or are sprayless but using commercial fertilizer. I haven't heard of anyone in my area bothering to use sprays. I guess we are lucky and don't have bad banana insect problems in my particular region. I see leaf fungal problems but they don't seem to severely impact the production for the home grower. The home grower isn't worried about getting the highest production impossible. Another thing, home growers aren't trying to get blemish free, pretty bananas. They don't care about marks on the banana peel. But commercial growers have to stay very aware of the cosmetic condition of their bananas. Disease and insects can cause visual damage, making the bananas not suitable for supermarket sale. Face it, we consumers are snobs about our fresh veggies and fruits. We want them looking perfect. As a result, farmers often turn to chemical treatments to assure a sellable crop at a good price. 

Using commercial fertilizers is another thing that can keep bananas from being sold as organic. On this farm, I don't use commercial fertilizer on bananas. Instead I use two different approaches. A couple clumps of trees grow atop a hugelpit. The pit is filled very deeply with a wide variety of organic debris that slowly decomposes over the years, providing nutrients to the trees. My second method is used on non-hugelpit clumps. I top dress around the base of the trees with a shredded manure compost (about 3 inches), then cover that with grass clippings just enough to cover. This mulching is reapplied as needed to keep the soil covered and weeds controlled. This seems to do ok. Perhaps not as good as closely monitored commercial fertilizer mixes, but my trees produce a good supply of bananas for me. 

Since producing bananas is relatively easy using my methods, I don't opt to use organically approved sprays and fertilizers. So I guess that means that my bananas are "better than organic". 

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