Bananas for Mulch Production and Erosion Control
About a 5 to 6 minute read, lots of pictures
24th January, 2022
The possible uses for bananas--the fruit, the foliage, and the trunks--seem almost endless. In this article I share lots of images and ideas for using banana patches as mulch producers and for an erosion control project.
Years ago, Alain and I invited Permaculture consultant friends to visit where we were living at the time and advise us. One piece of advice they gave was this: "You don't have nearly enough banana patches."
Given that on that medium-sized property we had one huge banana patch and and another medium to large banana patch, we weren't sure what to make of this advice at the time. But since then the penny has slowly dropped.
Nearly enough banana patches
Fast forward about 8 years on after we received that advice, and now with 6 banana plantings scattered around our property including one quite big one, we're beginning to feel that we are on our way to having nearly enough banana patches. (For context, we live on 150 acres. If you live on a quarter of an acre, two patches might be enough but one might not be.)
The thing is, the more you learn about bananas and practice making use of every part of the plant, the more uses you find. Some of the reasons banana patches are super useful are:
- the fruit, foliage and trunks provide fodder for lots of different kinds of livestock
- the green fruit can be cooked and eaten as a carbohydrate (not super exciting, but certainly helpful as a stand-by if ever you can't or don't want to get rice and pasta at the supermarket)
- the ripe fruit can be eaten as is (obviously), or deep fried to make a very sweet desert that's amazing with cream or yogurt, or frozen in the skin and gotten out later to make a truly yummy frozen treat
- after the fruit has finished forming, the banana flower can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable
- the banana trunk yields fiber that can be made into cordage (more on that some other time when I have the inclination to experiment with it, or maybe you already know all about it and would like to share in the comments below?)
- banana patches are great for mopping up excess moisture and nutrients, for example in a run off area that might otherwise be too boggy to do much with
- banana trees, standing, hold water in their trunks -- growing bananas amongst your other fruit trees is kind of like "growing water" that you can make use of in the dry season by using them for mulch, which leads of course to:
- banana patches produce lots and lots of mulch material, and finally,
- their trunks can be laid across contour to make a bank that will slow running water down, soak it up, and hold onto it.
It's the last two uses that I want to illustrate in this post.
Old banana foliage makes great mulch
This is, yes, a banana patch. A messy one. See all that mulch material hanging down for the taking? For a gardener, the mulch material is almost more exciting than the fruit 🙂
Same banana patch (above) now with all that hanging mulch material cut down and ready to use, like this (below) in a garden bed...
...or like this, along a row of fruit trees...
...or like this (below), around a little shed and in between some young bamboo plants, to control the grass. (Eventually those currently frail little bamboos will shade the back of the shed and out-compete the grass and be self-mulching, but it's going to take a while.)
Banana trunks hold moisture at the soil surface
Besides the foliage, banana patches also yield lots of another kind of mulch material when you start chopping down excess trunks from patches that need thinning out, or to use up a spent trunk after harvesting the fruit.
Here is a pile of trunks, harvested when we thinned out the little banana patch you see in the background...
In the image below, the top piece of banana trunk which had been laid cut side down has been rolled over to reveal how much moisture it was protecting in the soil surface below it.
Here (below) is how one might use such sections of banana trunk to mulch around tree seedlings.
Banana trunks can be used to help control erosion
In the image below, you see a laneway down which our house cows and horses walk on their way to their different grazing paddocks in our rotational grazing system.
This laneway has a big disadvantage: it runs downhill. Which means that as the horses and cattle walk up and down it, compacting the soil and leaving it naked, they're essentially making a waterway for rainwater to flow down, carrying away precious silt and topsoil.
So, Alain made some low banks using banana trunks that had been split in half, laid cut side down, to slow down the flow of water and direct if off the track.
Below is a closer pic, showing the trench Alain dug off to the right to direct the overflow of water in heavy rainfall.
We hope and expect that:
- the bank of banana trunks will stop the water from running downhill and hold it there to soak into the ground, and
- that the water, pausing before the bank, will drop its precious load of silt, debris, and topsoil against the uphill side of the bank so that as the banana trunks decompose, a bank of soil will build itself in their place, and
- that when there's too much water and it can't soak in fast enough, it will go down the ditch to the right and spread out harmlessly into the grass, and
- that after the rain stops and the sun comes out, the banana trunks will hold a lot of moisture for a long time, which would encourage grass runners to creep along across the bank.
Since this is an area that experiences daily livestock traffic for weeks at a time, we're unlikely to end up with a grassed bank here: the horses will just keep nibbling it down. But based on what we learn from this experiment we may try something similar in other erosion prone areas that are not major laneways with daily traffic.
If those work out, we may be able to end up with grassed, stable banks in place of the big erosion problem we currently have in some of our creek crossing areas. Fingers crossed, and I'll keep you posted on the outcomes 🙂
Please leave a comment...
Do you have nearly enough banana patches at your place? What uses do you put them to?
Trunks can be used to raise seedlings. lay flat and drill wide holes along the trunk at the desired spacing and to the desired depth, pop in suitable potting medium and the seed or tiny seedling, tend as usual without as much reliance on nutrition or water, when ready to plant cut the trunk up and plant the seeding and trunk piece intact…….or cut the trunk into pieces at the start and drill the pieces from the outside as above or stand upright and drill into the core and proceed as above….less planting shock, greater water retention ability and volume and a nutrition package. The only downside I can see is that more space may be needed for certain tyres of seedlings.
Thank you Cris and Lee-Anne!
Hi Kate, thanks for that article, very useful. We have a community garden in Holsworthy (sth west Sydney) and these days we don’t get much frost. We have started two small patches and we are looking forward to the first fruiting. From stumps 3 months ago they are now over 2m! How soon before we can expect fruit, I presume it will be next summer?
Peter, I never pay attention to how long it takes from start to fruit, but I do recall our first ones taking longer than I had expected. I would say next summer is a safe bet, but ask someone more knowledgeable than me 😉 Thanks for commenting!
At what stage would you pick the banana flower for cooking? I have 3 bunches at the moment, with the little green bananas formed
Hi Sue, when all the green bananas have formed and a space is beginning to appear between the lowest bananas and the flower. The flower seems to move downward, and a widening gap appears between the fruit above and the flower below. cut your flower off then. Watch out for the sap that drips from the cut stem — it will permanently stain your clothing. Peel off the large reddish outer pieces to find the little florets inside — those are the bits you can cook and eat. I added them to stir fries which wasn’t super imaginative. I’m sure there would be recipes on line. Good luck!
Thanks Kate – that is very clear. At what stage would you pick the bunch to ripen off the tree or do you leave them till ripe?
Hi Sue, I don’t leave them on the tree to ripen as it ends up encouraging birds, bats, some climbing animals to help themselves. Look at your developing bananas and see that they are quite angular in shape, then as they continue to develop they start to look rounder and fuller, but still dark green. That’s the time to cut the bunch down and hang it somewhere safe, out of direct sunlight. It will still take a while for them to change color, then a few will start to ripen, then suddenly they all will! If you make a mistake and pick them too soon, they won’t fill out as much or get as plump as they might have, but they will usually still eventually ripen.
As a ‘vego’ cooking tip, you can cut the banana flower into 4 quarters, crumb/batter each piece and fry (or oven bake) them and they actually taste quite a bit like chicken or fish – depending on the flavouring you put into the batter (if you want a more fishy substitute, try adding dill, salt and seaweed sprinkles to your flour for batter and serving with a tartare sauce and lemon wedges – for a chicken substitute, try adding some paprika, salt, mustard powder and nutritional yeast to your flour for batter). And if you have any leftover the next day, try putting it on a sandwich with a little mayo and salt and I’ll bet you can’t tell the difference between that and a ‘real’ chicken sandwich! Banana flowers are actually an amazing food to experiment with and they are packed with a dense nutritional profile, too.
Wow! Thanks Clare! Very inspiring 🙂
Thanks Kate for your article. Could you use the banana foliage on the ground for your laneway, to cover the bare dirt? Or would it become a trip hazard for your animals?
Good luck 🙂
hi Brett, the foliage wouldn’t be a trip hazard, but would disintegrate and disappear too fast. There simply wouldn’t be enough of it, and if there were, it would turn to slimy mush in wet weather, because of being churned by hoofs. The best way to hold soil for hoofed animals is with grass, and grass requires careful timing of grazing — which you can’t do, obviously, with a laneway that gets frequent heavy traffic. Thanks for commenting! 🙂