Yesterday, it was time to harvest bananas. One of the things that attracted us most to the house we’re living in on Kauai was the setting in the Wainiha Valley. Jungle plants are dense on the property – the view is green and wild from the windows. There are all kinds of things growing here that not only look great and provide privacy, but yield tasty fruit that is shared by the various households that share the site. Avocados, papaya and mango all grow wild, plus there are vegetable gardens that Pete is especially excited about. But, to Minnesotans still in post-transplant shock, the most delightful thing was all the banana trees.
This kind of banana tree yields a different banana than the Chiquita-type bananas found in mainland stores. They are a banana variety prevalent on Kauai called “apple bananas,” and they do have a delicious, almost apple-y taste. They are smaller and softer than the bananas we were used to buying, and they have higher levels of Vitamins C and A than regular bananas.
Our landlords, Gio and Kay, had already told us that you take the whole banana tree down to harvest its bananas. These trees are enormous, but the prize is pretty impressive too. There are at least half a dozen trees on the property currently in production – all apple bananas, one of which has grown precariously over a wire in the road. Getting that banana tree down is going to be a challenge. However, it’s not ready yet. Instead, yesterday’s tree was behind our house about halfway up to the other two houses on the property. When Gio and Kay called us, we were ready to hustle up there.
The property our house is situated on reminds me of a shoebox propped on its end at about a 50 degree angle, nestling back into the mountainside. It’s a hike comprised of several switchbacks starting from behind our house up to the other houses. There are apple bananas on every level of the path. The view is spectacular up there – all the way across the Wainiha Valley from above all but the tallest acacias. It’s an on-foot experience to get up there that, if I had to do daily, would either kill me or turn me into one of those buff middle-aged Amazons. Needless to say, we’re not rolling those dice. I’m glad we live where we do.
When apple bananas start to form and grow on the stalk they are quite angular in shape. The vertical edges of each young fruit (called a “finger”) resemble pointed folds. As the apple bananas begin to mature, the fingers will start to round out and change color. You’re looking for the slightest tinge of yellow anywhere in the green cluster, known as a “hand.” Another indication: the enormous leaves of the banana tree will begin to yellow and then brown. The tree sends all its energy to the fruit in the days before ripening.
Pete was interested to see how to cut a banana tree with a machete. No gas-powered chainsaws of the like we were used to in Minnesota here. This was basic and simple work, and done quite quickly. There was a little bit of concern about the wires in front of the tree, but the men quickly determined that the tree could be dropped to the right clear of any contact.
The banana tree isn’t so much a tree, but a stalk of giant proportions. They’re considered herbaceous, rather than arboreal. There’s a fair amount of sap in the center of the stalk; when you take the banana tree down, things can get messy. Essentially you just chop the stalk down, but you want a helper to catch the bananas for you.
The hands of fruit need to be removed from the stalk as well. Apple bananas will bleed out sap overnight. You put them on a paper towel on the kitchen counter and that’s it.
It was fun to get better acquainted with the land our Kauai house is situated on. The gardens have a lot of potential, and Pete has already put in some plants after outlining a basic plan with Gio. Yard waste is being composted already, but more from everyone’s table scraps is going to be produced. We bought a compost bucket suitable for the countertop yesterday. The major difference, I think, is the adjustment from being used to a limited Minnesota growing season where all the year’s work was compressed into a 120-day window, and having a 365 day growing season on Kauai. Project planning and spacing takes on an entire new dimension!
Me? I took a closer look at the pathway toward our door and our covered entry lanai. The plans I have for that experience are to add more color, and hopefully, fragrance. The exposure ranges from sun to shade, so that’s exciting. Stay tuned.