Yes, We Have No Bananas … Tomorrow?

Must be a poor news day. Because as I’m driving to work, local radio talk show is giving details of the “threat to the future of our bananas” and asking how will we ever manage without them. Most of this has been said before and it goes hand in hand with discussions about monoculture, food miles, monopolies and why we don’t import other varieties of banana.

But …yes we have no bananas tomorrow apparently.

First you should know that it has been unseasonably warm. We have had daily temperatures (middle England, January) of ten plus degrees Celsius. Ok, OK a couple of nights where the windscreen was frosted over in the morning (that Night Before De-Icer we bought and “put somewhere safe” four years ago just didn’t work … for some reason. But not enough to worry the slug population that is, even as I type dreaming of invading the allotment lot from its never-cold domains. Anyway it seems that slugs and snails can live for seven years without emerging (isn’t it the same rule for weed seeds?) whatever the weather.

The plots look good, the November sown broad beans may have grown too tall, some have been bent and battered by the winds, having grown exceptionally well in the warmth. Looks like we can save enough of the crop by thinning them out and supporting with lines around poles, the remainder. The autumn sown onions are just growing on and on, but the soil is very wet and the bulbs may rot eventually. All around them, incidentally the weeds are swarming and thriving: bitter cress, groundsel and rogue potatoes.

We had gone up to the plot to empty the kitchen compost caddy (posh word for school paint powder and chicken pellet buckets we just go on re-using and re-using: air tight lids make them marvellously ideal for this – and other – such tasks).

In other years we have ceased collecting kitchen scraps: it has been too cold to take trips up to the allotment; but not so this year.

The council operates a fine bin system: a grey bin for general household waste; a bright blue bin for recyclables and a green one for kitchen and garden waste. In this latter we normally get rid of the couch grass roots, thistles and other pernicious roughage from the allotment – oh and, handily, the sawn down Christmas tree. (Waste from the general rubbish bin goes, we understand to the incinerator managed jointly by Staffs County Council and French company Veolia. The site is at Four Ashes, not so far away and generates electricity – great idea!)

Image result for veolia four ashes

 

At home we moved the bird feeding station: few birds seemed to be able to find it, so now it is a bit further away, a bit more difficult to watch but at least the birds (greenfinch, blackbird, blue, great and coal tits, chaffinch, a robin and a wren are using it now. 

Back to bananas (oh well, if we must) and this is largely lifted from a BBC web-site item by Duncan Leatherdale and is the intriguing back story of the Cavendish banana (i.e the one we almost certainly get if we are buying our bananas in Europe:

Bananas have been grown at Chatsworth since 1830 when head gardener Joseph Paxton* got his hands on a specimen imported from Mauritius. It seems he was inspired by a pattern he noticed on some Chinese wallpaper in one of the home’s 175 rooms. Today’s head gardener Steve Porter is sceptical about the story.

Image result for chatsworth house  Image result for joseph paxton 

“Certainly the timings fit”, he said, “but I think it’s much more likely that Paxton was always on the lookout for new and exotic plants and was well connected enough to know when the banana plants arrived in England.”

Paxton filled a pit with “plenty of water, rich loam soil and well-rotted dung” with the temperature maintained between 18C and 30C (65F and 85F) to grow the fruit he called Musa Cavendishii after his employers (Cavendish being the family name of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire).

“At that time for a family in England to be able to grow their own bananas to feed their guests was very exciting,” said Mr Porter, adding: “It still is for us today.”

Indeed, in November 1835 Paxton’s plant finally flowered and by the following May it was loaded with more than 100 bananas, one of which duly won a medal at that year’s Horticultural Society show.

A few years later the duke supplied two cases of plants to a missionary named John Williams to take to Samoa.

Only one survived the journey but it launched the banana industry in Samoa and other South Sea islands (Williams himself was killed by natives).

Missionaries then took the word of God and the Cavendish banana to the Pacific and the Canary Islands. So the Cavendish spread, but it is only in relatively recent years that it has become the exporter’s banana of choice, its rise in popularity caused by the very thing that is now killing it off – Panama disease.

Image result for cavendish banana

There are, of course many other varieties of banana; with different characteristics and flavours (including one I have eaten in Peru named locally after the private parts of Amazon monkeys. It was very tasty and, in my defence, should it be necessary I only found out about its nickname after I had enjoyed it).

None of this news, however has tempted me to try and grow bananas on the allotment: I have enough trouble with potato blight and wireworm. But I may never look at Chatsworth, just up the road a ways in Derbyshire) in the same way again.

*The same Joseph Paxton who was also an M.P. and designing the original Crystal Palace.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] bananas in my recent post (https://mucktwineandthinker.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/yes-we-have-no-bananas-tomorrow/ ) I have no inclination to grow these spices, but finding out about their history during the […]

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