Saturday, February 21, 2009

Growin Bananas Here

When I retired from active duty my wife and I settled down to an old style Okinawan farmhouse in the countryside. It belonged to her grandparents and had set empty for a few years after grandpa passed away. While the house is structurally sound, it is an old house and having sat empty it needed some maintenance, upgrades and required a lot of cleaning up. After the immediate house needs were taken care of, the next thing on our agenda was to take care of the property immediately around it. This meant repairing the lawn and deciding what plants to grow and where.

Of course my wife was more interested in flowers and making the place look aesthetically pleasing. My number one concern was survival and making ends meet with my reduced retirement income. Complicating the situation further was that, by tradition, everything done in Okinawa must take into consideration the tenets of Feng Shui. Flowers and plants by nature of their colors dictate where they can be grown around the property.

Certain colors are planted to the east, others to the west and so on. If done properly, this is believed not only to bring good luck but ensures health and happiness. Grandpa lived to age 99 as did grandma who passed on just recently. Knowing that Okinawans have a real zest for living and more centenarians per square millimeter than any other place on the planet, I decided that just maybe there might actually be something to it and agreed, as if I really had a choice to begin with.

We had pretty much finished working our way around the property but, when we got to the wall along the west side of the property, we ran into a little dilemma. Her flowers had trumped my fruits and vegetables by about an eleven to one margin so I insisted that we must grow something edible at this spot. We also wanted something that would grow quickly to provide a little bit of shade from the afternoon summer sun. That left the lemon trees I had seen and wanted out of the equation. While the color was right, I wasn’t sure that I had another forty or so years left in me to wait for them to be tall enough to provide the shade we wanted. About the only thing left that fit the bill was banana plants.

The great thing about bananas is they grow like crazy. In just six months, our little two foot tall trees had grown into tall leafy trees. Exceeding my expectations, they not only provided the shade I had hoped for but they also helped by adding to our privacy along the street side of the property. We had only had them for about six months when the first banana laden fruit stalk appeared. Just about that time we also noticed new banana trees sprouting from the ground about the base of the original plants.

It took another six months for the bananas to fill out and be ready for harvesting. High in fiber and potassium, they are perhaps one of the world’s most perfect foods. Perhaps that is just one reason why runners will nibble them along the way during cross country races and marathons. To fully ripen them you just chop off the stalk and hang them out of the sun for a few days till they start to turn yellow.

The bad thing about bananas are that they are very fragile plants and highly susceptible to wind damage from typhoons. We lucked out the first year as there weren’t many typhoons that passed this way. The few that did were still small storms as they passed by our island paradise and the trees were not that tall yet so the brick wall along the road where they were planted provided some additional protection.

The next year our trees had quadrupled in number and had grown quite tall. We addressed the potential wind damage problem by tying ropes around the now elephant leg sized tree trunks and tying them to each other. That way if a typhoon came through, they would act like a splint and support each other. The three storms that came and went that season did strip all the branches and leaves off of them but, the trees stood through the storms and sprouted new branches and leaves very quickly.

The biggest dilemma of all is they multiply faster than rabbits. We started with just three little trees and got fruit from all of them. They were all tasty as can be but still, it’s pretty hard to eat a whole bunch of bananas by yourself. We improvised and blended some into drinks to include the adult variety, we gave some away to friends and neighbors and even froze some to use as treats for all the nieces and nephews. The real problem now is that in just three years, our three little trees have multiplied into a small forest and eight of the trees need to be harvested soon. Looks like its going to be a long, very fruity and fiber filled summer.

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