Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Harvesting Bananas

The first time I harvested a clump of bananas, I carefully avoided damaging the tree. I was totally ignorant about banana production and assumed that the tree would recover and bloom again. I was surprised to see the tree die instead. And puzzled. Eventually I asked a neighbor about it, but so as not to reveal my ignorance (I was fairly new to Hawaii and still hung up on the idea retaining a good public image), I offered to help him harvest his bananas. Geez, yikes, oh my god......I was aghast to see him whip out a machete, give the trunk a couple of strong good whacks, dropping the entire trunk to the ground. I thought, egads man, you killed the tree! 

I've since learned a lot more about bananas. Things like -- each stem (trunk) produces just one bunch of bananas, then dies back. The stem, before fruiting and dying, grows a daughter shoot from its base, thus growing its own replacement. It's not uncommon for multiple daughter shoots to grow. Another tidbit -- a bunch of bananas is heavy. Heavier yet is the banana trunk. The trunk is engorged with water, thus seems far heavier than you'd guess. I give you this knowledge based upon personal experience! One more bit of knowledge -- banana sap flows readily from cut off leaves and cut off banana bunch. The sap looks like clear water but don't be fooled. It can be quite sticky, and can stain some fabrics a dark charcoal brown .... primary your best pair of shorts and the new t-shirt that you forgot to change out of. Of course it won't stain your work clothes. Zip. Nada. Not a mark on the work clothes. 

Harvesting the bunch of bananas takes some finesse, otherwise the heavy tree comes crashing down, breaking and crushing most of the ripe bananas. The first bunch I tried to harvest, I cut the tree down with a chainsaw, like it was a normal tree. Crash! Smash. I quickly learned that this wasn't the way to do it. Over time I tried other approaches, once having the trunk land in my shoulder and smash me to the ground. BUT the bananas were saved! Finally a friend showed me how to cut the trunk and slowly lower the tree to the ground. 

My preferred method nowadays is to make two diagonal cuts on the trunk about shoulder height. I use a box cutter with a new three inch blade. For the sake of the photo, I made notches instead of simple slices. That's just so the cuts could be seen in a photo. But in real life, I just make a simple very deep slice, one on the right of the trunk and the other on the left. 

Above, cut number one. 

Above, cut number two. That orange stick is the handle of the box cutter I'm using. I left the blade partially imbedded in the trunk so you could see what's going on. 

I then walk down to the drooping banana leaves, grab one and use it to gently pull the tree down. I can control the fall by pulling or pushing in the leaf stem. 

The tree will slowly come down so that the bananas don't get destroyed.  Pretty nifty way to harvest them intact. 

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