A banana for the desert

I’ve chatted about this in a few threads, but I haven’t put it all into one place before. So I’ll do so here.

One of my major projects is to breed some cold hardy bananas that can do well in my zone. Here are my goals, in order of priority:

Essential Goals:
#1: Work as an annual: Grows from seed to mature fruit before frost. I have about 180 frost-free days.
#2: Delicious flavor. Sweeter is better.
#3: Works as a perennial: Survives without any protection through my zone 7b winter.
#4: Germination: Seeds are easy to germinate when direct sown.

Bonuses that I’d like:
#5: Seeds that are not annoying. This can take a lot of different forms, and I’ll go in whatever directions the plants offer me. Possibilities include: the same number of seeds, except smaller, so they can be swallowed easily; the same number of seeds, except easy to chew with a nonbothersome flavor; far fewer seeds; and, most intriguing of all (a few cultivars like this exist) a parthenocarpic variety that is seedless when not pollenated, and seeded when pollenated. I would love the last one. That seems like the ideal.
#6: More fruit flesh.
#7: No more than eight feet tall. Shorter is better.
#8: Drought tolerance. I live in a desert with sandy soil, so lower water needs are best. Drought tolerance is usually an extremely high priority for me, but I’m making it a lower priority here because I don’t know how possible it is. Bananas tend to have very shallow roots.
#9: Fruits more than once per year.
#10: Fruits don’t split open at maturity.

Other considerations:

  • Species: Anything short and at least somewhat cold tolerant from the Musa genus. Nothing from the Ensete genus, which isn’t known for producing good fruit.

  • Frequency of pupping: (A banana sucker is a pup.) More pups would mean I can clone the best ones easily; fewer pups might may the plant can concentrate on maturing fruit more quickly. I may decide I have a strong preference on this one way or the other later.

  • Appearance: I prefer pretty, but I want good fruit more than prettiness. If I have some that are significantly prettier than others, I may keep them in the main landrace and also start seeds of the pretty ones in a semi-separate landrace of ornamental delicious bananas in my front yard.

  • Color: I’d like a rainbow of different colors. I’ll probably heavily favor having as much of every different color as possible.

  • Type of flavor: I’d like some of them to taste like Cavendish bananas, or close. I’d love for some of them to taste different in equally good ways, especially if I can get a bunch of different flavors. I’ll probably heavily favor having as wide a range of different flavors as possible.

  • Ability to grow with low fertilizer: Sorry, but these are bananas, which are among the most fertilizer hungry crops possible. Not only that, they don’t fruit based on what season it is – they fruit based on how much fertilizer they’re given! If I want fruit at all before frost, I will need to give them ridiculous quantities of high nitrogen fertilizer, so I intend to do that. Human urine is pretty much the perfect fertilizer for bananas, and it’s free and nontoxic and always available, so guess what I intend to pour on them every day. :smiley:

Okay, now that I’ve gone over my goals, you’re probably wondering how I intend to do this.

Step 1: Gathering germplasm.

RIght now, I have the following:

Seedless banana plants:
Dwarf Namwah (Musa acuminata x Musa balbisiana cross)
Hardy to zone 7b. 6-8 feet tall. Tasty, sweet, high-quality fruit. The most drought resistant seedless banana. The third most cold hardy seedless banana.

Seeds of wild banana species:
Musa basjoo
Hardy to zone 5. 14-24 feet tall. The most cold hardy banana species. Mainly I have this as a failsafe. I don’t actually want to work with it, because it’s much taller than I want and the flavor of the fruit is sometimes good and often bad, but I’m willing to if it’s the only option that seems to work.

Musa velutina
Hardy to zone 8a. 5-7 feet tall. Very pretty pink flowers. Also known as the Pink Banana. The most popular seeded banana species, usually grown as an ornamental, so I figure it’s probably a bit domesticated by this point already. That may make the germination rate good. It grows like a weed in some tropical climates, so that speaks well for its ability to take care of itself. The flavor is supposed to be very sweet and tasty. The fruits split open when ripe, which I’m not wild about, because that’s basically shouting to all the birds in the neighborhood, “Eat me!” I’ll select against that if I can; I’ll live with it if I can’t.

Musa cheesmanii
Hardy to zone 7b. 4-8 feet tall. Very sweet flavor. People say the seeds are easy to germinate.

Helen’s Hybrid
Hardy to zone 7b. 4-12 feet tall. Very sweet taste. Hybrid of Musa sikkimensis and Musa chini champa.

Musa ochracea
Hardy to zone 9. 8-10 feet tall. Very pretty purple flowers.

Musa aurantiaca
Hardy to zone 9. 3-4 feet tall. Very pretty red flowers. Supposed to be able to germinate within three weeks. The main reason I want to grow this is because it’s so short; even if I can’t overwinter it, it may work be able to grow to maturity as an annual only, and I can live with that.

Musa acuminata
Hardy to zone 10. 5-10 feet tall. I bought seeds from a dwarf variety that is supposed to fruit at 6 feet tall. Ancestor of all seedless bananas, because this is the species that has parthenocarpy in its gene pool. Breeding this to be able to overwinter in zone 7b is a huge stretch, but I may be able to make some interesting crosses with it.

Musa rubinea
I don’t know the zone, but it comes from the cold mountains of Yunnan in China, which sounds promising. 2-4 feet tall. Supposed to grow to maturity in 4-6 months. This species was discovered only a few years ago, so not much is known about it yet.

Step 2: Germinate the seeds.

Now it gets hard!

Banana seeds are notoriously hard to germinate. Right now, I have at least one seed of every species sitting in a cup on my desk, in moist soil, and I’m hoping they will sprout soon. None have yet. It’s been months. This is normal for banana seeds. Sigh.

I recently read David the Good’s book Free Plants for Everyone, and he suggested using nail clippers to cut off a bit of the seed coat, and then soaking the banana seeds in water for 24 hours. He said that helps them germinate in weeks, rather than months. So I started a new batch on December 21 that have been soaked and scarified. I have never tried scarification before because it sounded too hard, but when he mentioned nail clippers, I thought, “Oh! I’m willing to try that!

He said you’d know you had reached the seed when you got to the white part, so I nail clipped some of the hard-as-rock brown coating off each seed until I saw a hint of white. Then I stopped.

I really hope they’ll be nice and sprout for me.

This is where I’m at currently. The rest is in the future, and I have nothing to report yet.

Step 3: Grow the first generation. Hopefully collect a whole lot of seeds.
Step 4: Grow the second generation. Plant the seeds from anything that survived. If I have abundant seeds, I will try direct sowing them, because I want them to be direct sowable eventually. (Banana plants don’t mind being transplanted, which is great and all, but I mind the bother!)
Step 5: Grow the third generation. By this point, I certainly hope I’ll have abundant seeds. By this point, I would like to be sharing my extras of the best with fellow freelance plant breeders.
Step 6: Somewhere around this point, or maybe beforehand or afterwards, I’ll start trying to make deliberate crosses. I’ll try to cross all the different species, and I’ll also try to cross the seedless varieties into the landrace.
Step 7: Eventually, if I have something great, I’ll probably OSSI pledge it and see if any seed companies are interested in it. I bet lots of people would be very interested in a brand new seedless, delicious, cold hardy banana cultivar. I suspect fewer people, but still many, would be interested in a brand new seeded, delicious, cold hardy banana variety.

The final thing worth noting, at this point, is that I’m still very interested in gathering more germplasm. I’ll give anything in the Musa genus a try, even if it looks like a long shot (such as a tall seedless variety that is only hardy to zone 10, or something :stuck_out_tongue:).

I’m particularly interested in any of the following:

California Gold (the most cold hardy; a sport of Dwarf Orinoco)
Viente Cohol (zone 9, but fruits very quickly)
Raja Puri (zone 8, and very tasty)
Misi Luki (zone 8, and very tasty)
Thousand Fingers (zone 8, and the fruit is said to be only okay, but it’s weird, and that tickles my fancy)
Dwarf Orinoco (the second most cold hardy, hardy to zone 7a)

Musa ornata
Musa johnsii
Musa violacea
Musa cheesmanii (I have a few seeds, but I’m almost out)
Helen’s Hybrid (same)

This is probably a tricky project, but I want to do it, so I’m gonna. (Grin.) I find it especially intriguing that a lot of mountain banana species are hardy to zone 8; since I live at a similar elevation in zone 7b, I think there’s a good match for landracing them to be a bit more cold hardy.

The biggest challenge is likely to be that they’re used to high humidity, and . . . . desert . . . but I was delighted to learn recently that bananas do great in Arizona because they strongly prefer sandy soil, and they’re ecstatic about deep organic mulches. I live in Utah, which is part of the same desert. So I’m mostly concerned about how much water they’ll need. I’m hoping highly targeted drip irrigation from my stored rainwater will be sufficient for their needs.

I’m open to any advice, ideas, and inspiration. And seeds. :smiley:


I love this project already. Looking forward to following your journey.

I would really consider trying to source pollen also. Some of the useful species might really struggle to flower in your region, I’m guessing. But if you can source pollen and then use that on ones that have flowered on your land, you can still get crosses. And if it were me, I would consider that in the very first year rather than wait for 3 years to start making crosses. Because if you wait for year 3 to start making crosses then that means waiting for year 5 to even get much variation at all, for the F2 generation, which seems a long time to wait to start adapting bananas to such a different environment than they’re used to - I’d want to start the adaptation as soon as possible!

In fact I might even consider gathering pollen from whatever flowers you get on your land, then carrying the pollen off to colleagues (or sending it to them) who have managed to get flowers of desirable species on their land which aren’t flowering on yours, to make the crosses there.

I was considering this regarding my own climate, especially in relation to the taller bananas that need more than 1 growing season to produce fruit, which would be too big to grow indoors and not hardy enough to survive outside over winter, so would not make flowers or fruit here but might be really valuable by the F2 cross stage. If I were only to rely on growing them and crossing them on my own land, I would never make it to the F2 stage. I even thought, perhaps a holiday to a region with the target species in flower season, could be fun. Either go with pollen of the other species, or find a place near enough to acquire some (even maybe ask for help from local botanic gardens in-country), with a portable cooler setup to protect the pollen, then go to that area either with a contact with the target bananas on their land, or stay near wild ones, make the crosses, then wait for them to make fruit and harvest the seeds! (Or if in a rush, get someone local to send you them once they’re ready).

For me that kind of holiday would be infinitely more fun than going around to tourist sites and restaurants! (Which I do not do) :laughing:

I also think about that when I see things like Musa basjoo or Musa sikkimensis seeds for sale. Like, how well suited is a random sample of M. sikkimensis to my breeding program relative to seeds I could go to select from Sikkim itself? Or some of the other seedy bananas - the seeds on the market have probably not been selected for taste at all since most people would never imagine eating seedy bananas, but there might be great variation within the species, so going to a country where they grow might be really fun, hunting for those of that species, which have the best tasting fruit and smallest seeds one could find, that would still be useless for normal commercial purposes but could give a HUGE boast to the kind of breeding project us strange folk are interested in!

Of course travelling is also super-expensive. But anyway these are the ideas that come to my mind.


Asking around for pollen is a good idea. The reason I’ve been thinking that making deliberate crosses might have to wait is that I’ve been assuming it might be awhile before I have enough plants to get some flowering at the same time. From one I’ve read, that’s the trickiest thing about breeding bananas – they flower whenever they feel like it, so it’s tough to get things to line up properly unless you have a large population!

Yeah, for sure, gathering germplasm from banana plants out in the wild would be AWESOME! Then you could taste every fruit to see if you like it, and save seeds only from the ones you do. I strongly suspect there’s a high variation in fruit quality with all the seeded banana species, for exactly the reason you mentioned (most gardeners grow them as ornamentals only, and don’t ever taste the fruit), so having a high population available that you could select only the best flavors from would be incredibly helpful.

It would also be great to hunt for them in the coldest parts of the climates where they thrive, so you can get the most cold hardy individuals available. And you could see how tall they are, so you could gather seeds from the shortest individuals that have fruited. Etc. etc. etc. Man, that would be great!

But yeah, travel’s expensive, and I’m 99.9% sure travel’s not in my future. (Wry grin.) Still, if you know of any plant geeks who are planning to travel to southeast Asia to look for interesting seeds in the jungles anyway . . . (grin) . . . let me know!

My parents live in Hong Kong, but that’s zone 11, so it’s unlikely to be helpful for finding cold hardy species. On top of that, I never saw any banana plants when I went hiking through the jungle as a teenager. I did see a few banana plants around, but they were all seedless varieties grown to be sold in the markets.

India is likely to be the best place to look for bananas, especially the Himalayas. The Himalayan Mountains seem to be where most of the cold hardy wild banana species come from. I’ve bought most of my seeds from a person who lives in India.

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For anyone who wants to do something similar, and doesn’t mind the height of their banana plants, here are some ideas.

This is the best seed source I’ve found so far:

The price is very reasonable for the number of seeds, which is important, because germination can be tricky. Many sellers go with something like 10 banana seeds for $10, which is way too high when the germination rate can be as low as 10%.

There are some cold hardy species being sold on that site right now that I haven’t bought seeds for, because they’re taller than I want to deal with:

Musa balbisiana
Musa sikkimensis
Musa thomsonii

There are also some Ensete bananas, which is the genus I’m not interested in.

Two more species to strongly consider:

Musa chini champa (hardy to zone 8, 10-16 feet tall, one of the most delicious bananas species; also very intriguing is that it contains parthenocarpy in its gene pool, so fruit tends to be seedless unless pollinated)

Musa basjoo (hardy to zone 5, 14-24 feet in height, fruit is usually said to be not very tasty, but it’s the most cold hardy species)

These are all likely to be excellent options for breeding a taller cold hardy bananas, and they may very well be an easier path to success. Most breeding work by professionals to create more cold hardy bananas has focused around those species (Helen’s Hybrid is one example), which implies two things to me:

  1. Working with those species is probably a very promising path to success.
  2. Somebody else is already doing it, so I’d rather try something new.

There hasn’t been much effort by professional breeders, however, because there isn’t much funding for seeded banana breeding. All the focus tends to be on creating new seedless cultivars, missing the obvious point that it may be possible to breed for seeds that aren’t bothersome instead. Or parthenocarpic varieties that can produce seeds, but can also be seedless.

So I think there’s a ton of untapped potential in those species, and it would be a great project for somebody who has more growing space than me, and doesn’t mind needing to pull out a ladder to harvest the fruit. (Grin.)

And of course, swapping seeds, pollen, pups, and whatever else from our favorite and most promising plants would always be welcome!

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Yeah. Though I guess my 2 concerns there are:

  1. Having them cross on your land is no particular advantage. Obtaining the F2 seeds is the real key to starting the adaptation, right?
  2. For those species that require more than 1 growing season to give fruit, depending on your conditions, you might never get them to even flower. I mean maybe be able to pull it off with heavy mulching of their lower parts, but even then, might not, they might survive but die back too much each Winter to give fruit? (Worth trying though!) I don’t know if those species are important to you but so far as I remember some of the cold hardier might come under that category so might be useful for your genetic pool, and bringing them to the F2 might mean you could get ones that die back above ground in Winter but survive nevertheless, and still even fruit maybe in the first year and next years…

But yeah even storing your own pollen to use on your own land could make things way easier if you do have different species flowering at different times.

Taste - yeah exactly. And cold hardiness, yeah, again my thoughts too - I was specifically thinking some of the cold hardiest species, I doubt the commercial seeds from those varieties are actually of the cold hardiest specimens of the species! Imagine going to the coldest country such a species is in, and asking around the universities and botanic gardens and amateur groups and especially the local tribal people (if in SE Asia/Yunnan etc.) and finding which highest/coldest village has bananas. Or where in the jungle is the coldest place that has them. Go trekking etc. Wow a banana hunting expedition, would be amazing!

Yeah I used to live in Asia but hadn’t gone back for about 9 years until last month. For a music lineage obligation. But I made sure to bring back dozens of varieties of seeds too :slight_smile: No bananas though.- I would have liked to bring back so much more, but my obligations took up almost all my time. I so would have wanted to go to SE Asia on my way back too but I had a teaching commitment in Europe… But sure, I will try to let you know if such opportunities for input to your project arise!

Ah Hong Kong, yeah pretty hot place! Might be some collectors there though…? And yeah maybe Indian Himalayas, like Sikkim or maybe Bhutan? I lived in the Himalayas for quite a while and didn’t see any bananas but I was further West than that. I did eat (well kind of) a seedy banana when staying with the Karen tribe up in the mountains of Northern Thailand, that was the first time I ever came to know about wild bananas. That’s what made me think of SE Asia for tasty seedy bananas to add to the project. Yunnan sounds promising too, Yunnan goes all the way up into Tibet to I’d guess chasing the bananas up to their highest territory would be fun - in Thailand you’ll run out of land before it gets cold enough!

But yeah, it might be worth inspiring someone else to do these tasks, someone with money and vigour :joy: Or someone who is local enough! A good excuse to try to spread the landrace course to Asia! :slight_smile:

Your project sounds so great. I think you will maybe have an easier time than here in the UK. Aside from the cold Winters, the hot Summers seem to be pretty essential to many of those species, and I think that’s what makes some of them not work here, they could survive our Winters if they actually got enough Sun the rest of the time! I look forward to seeing how your project develops!

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Growing bananas in my climate isn’t first on my mind (although I did have banana as house plant when I was a teenager), but I’m curious how fast they can fruit from germination, transplant and sprouting from root. Just to have an idea of possibilities in the future if I sometime have space to play around. Did see one facebook post of a guy who had grown some banana here in a greenhouse and it went from transplant size to 2 metres in 2 months. It still had 2 months to grow at that point, but dont know what happend to it. Overwintering them here even under snowcover might be still a bit optimistic, but if something could be overwintered in storage or grown from seed to transplant and would fruit in 4-5 months that would be great. Growing season is getting longer so maybe there is hope in the future.

I think I read somewhere that banana pollen doesn’t store very long, but when I went to look that up again, I didn’t find much except for advice to try putting it in the freezer and see if it still works months later, so – I’ll give that a try! I mean, I’ve got very little to lose by trying; mostly just a little time.

Yep, “never flowering at all” is my biggest concern. Which is precisely why I’m thinking the shortest species are likely to be my best path to success. I figure the shorter it needs to be in order to flower, the more likely it is to reach that height and be ready to start flowering 60 days before frost, which it needs to do in order to have bananas ready to pick before frost. That seems likely to help, right?

In theory, a banana plant that dies back to the roots every year will still have a better chance of fruiting each year afterwards because the roots are bigger and stronger, so it can grow faster each successive year. But yeah, it seems very likely that I will sometimes (perhaps often?) need to wrap a wire cage around a plant that is ready to flower and fill it with mulch, in order to protect the top through the winter so that it can flower in spring. I’d rather not need to do that, but I’m guessing it’ll be necessary at least sometimes at first.

Which, by the way, is another reason I want dwarf plants. I am SO not going to wrap twelve feet of trunk in mulch and hope it all lives through the winter! I’m willing to cover two or three feet of trunk in mulch if I have to, however.

Another possibility is that I can chop off a pup in the fall before frost, pot it up, and grow it indoors under a grow light through the winter. If it’s two or three feet tall in spring, I can harden it off and plant it outdoors, and thereby give it a several-month head start. This is another reason for focusing on dwarf species – anything I may want to keep as a houseplant through the winter had better be short enough to fit in my house.

But yes, very good point, Justin! The sooner I can start making crosses, the sooner I’m likely to see significant genetic variability, and that significant genetic variability is likely to include cold tolerance variability (or time-to-maturity variability) that will improve likelihood to fruit for me.

Mind you, if I discover a REALLY short-cycle banana plant that can grow from seed to mature fruit within four to six months, and I can manage two generations a year, one of them indoors during the winter . . . well, that would be sweet. :smiley: Musa rubinea, are you listening to me?

Oh, yeah! You also mentioned hot summers!

Yep, I strongly suspect that hot summers will help. I watched a bunch of videos awhile back from a nursery in Arizona, and the guy running it had all kinds of useful tips for growing bananas in my climate (or, well, close to my climate – Arizona is hotter, but it’s just as dry).

One thing he suggested was that it’s helpful to put banana plants in a space where the roots and the bottom of the stem are in shade, in order to keep the soil more moist and less likely to dry out, and have all of the top in full sun. That’s interesting, because I would have expected all of it to be better in full sun. But after getting that tip, I’ve paid attention, and yes, my crops that have the bottom portion partially or fully shaded tend to be more drought tolerant. I’m thinking that deep mulch will accomplish the same thing when they’re small, while also giving them full sun to keep growing taller.

Yeah I think I read something along those lines also. Maybe in the old forum I might have posted something about gathering pollen from a banana breeding project in Africa? Hard to find anything on that old forum now though.

I was just watching this video by the way. It mentions the biggest germ plasm collection in Europe for bananas, and also the video is taken at the place with the biggest collection of actual banana plants (in terms of species) in the EU, especially for fruiting bananas. I wonder, it might not be impossible to get a connection with that place somehow, and that could be quite useful, potentially:

I have zero expertise but yes, that sounds good to me! Though also if I had any chance of getting hybrid seeds (especially F2s!) with one parent being even big ones, so long as they’re hardy, that would excite me, in the hope that maybe the short season or short height might come from one parent and the cold hardiness from the other! But for on-site landracing then sure short plants sound like an advantage. And even give potential for planting in pots and moving indoors in Winter, which could be desirable at least to F1 or F2 stage if it were the only way to survive them to enable crosses. Or even constructing double or triple walled polycarbonate housing for them for Winter, even if just small so just enough to house the individual plants temporarily! The smaller they are, the cheaper the materials!

Yeah. I was thinking like that maybe until F2 gen and that depending on conditions, maybe the more you could insulate, the higher the chances. Because it seems some people try like this for the ones that take more than one season to fruit, but still have no luck even though they survive. And that made me think well maybe there is a point at which you have saved enough that it might actually work. So I was thinking like the small insulated ‘house’ from polycarbonate I mentioned above, like even if it is just a metre square and 6 feet high or something? Like maybe even if just one or two leaves survive or enough of the pseudostem, maybe it could make enough difference? But yeah is a wire cage and leaves would be enough in your area then that would be way easier. I would try to find out anyone who has tried in your area of similar weather region for the target species and see what didn’t work, and if no-one has made it work yet, then just make sure to do more than what anyone else attempted! Oh and a greenhouse (best if double or triple walled I would guess!) with a compost pile inside (heat) could be a great help, I would assume! I really think pampering them until getting F2 seeds would be so helpful. I mean, when it comes to growing things that we are not meant to be able to grow because it’s too cold!

Ha ha ha, yeah makes sense. If it were me then I’d probably be willing to do it for the first couple of years trying for that F2 gen but yeah not for too long! And I totally appreciate that you wouldn’t want to do it at all. :slight_smile:

The indoor head start thing sounds great too for sure. I’ve been contemplating similar for rice and soy beans even! Just to help to the crossing or F2 stage.

That would be awesome. And I guess if it is short enough then the limitation of your winters becomes irrelevant, right? I mean it would never even have to experience them! (Though selfishly I hope you do breed a cold hardy one because I want to be able to grow it too and our Summers here suck! :slight_smile: )

Ok so I might have suggested something similar to this on the old forum but since you bring this up, I will give you the vision I just had - a trench dug, say 1~3m deep (depending on the target species or hybrids), you can walk along the bottom of the trench. The banana plants grow upwards and have most of the leaves above the trench. The sides can be painted white to reflect light down for when they are younger. The trench shades the bases like you just said is good. This also puts them in contact with the warmer earth underground for winter. And you can put a polycarb. flat roof over the top for overwintering to save the pseudostem, or, add e.g. 1~2m of height with temporary walls and a roof for Winter and save the entire or much of the plant!

Digging down like that could save you a lot in terms of not having to build high, and in terms of not having to pay for heat, as well as shading for water protection, maybe even integrating water harvesting if clever about it, and also, enabling you to grow tall banana plants and harvesting them up on ground level while the stem is below ground level, so no ladders needed! Here’s a very crude representation of what I mean, hope my rough picture makes some sense!

Anyway you might not want to be digging trenches but this method might open up more possibilities so just mentioning it since it occurred to me. I’ve never heard of anyone employing such a method but it seems rather logical to me. And could potentially be quite low cost!

David the Good recommended the trench methods for growing trees out of their growing zone, actually! He suggested it in his book Push the Zone. He recommended a trench, and then putting a greenhouse on top. I think it’s a brilliant plan, especially since the trench would also be awesome for holding water during my very hot summers. However . . .

See, my back yard used to be part of a prehistoric lake. It’s pure sand until I dig down more than about a foot, and then it’s almost pure rocks. As far as I know, it’s rocks all the way down. I’m willing to dig a hole that deep in sand, but when it comes to giant boulders, I’m a bit intimidated.

In other words, I love the idea, and I’d love to try it, but on a practical level, I probably won’t ever have time to do it. The best time to dig would be summer, which is when I’m busiest with my garden. I certainly don’t want to dig during the cold mud and ice sheets of winter.

There is a very real chance that I could do it on a much smaller scale, though, with a trench only two feet deep, with water barrels snugged in next to the plants, and then put two layers of hoop houses on top. That may be a good idea for the dwarf species I want to grow that are only hardy to zone 9. That’s still a super intimidating prospect, but it might be feasible.

What I’m far more likely to do is dig up anything that’s only hardy to zone 9, stick it in a pot, and put it in my shed, which is where I keep all my water storage. I’ve noticed that the water bottles in the middle of the shed never turn into ice, so all that water probably keeps the temperature in there above 32 degrees.

Oh, and yes, a banana that can be grown from seed to mature fruit in only four months is definitely one of my goals! I want something that can turn into a perennial for me, and can be grown like an annual for people in colder climates. Or grown indoors at a manageable size through the winter for people in really cold climates.

I want them to be cold hardy enough to perennialize because that greatly raises my chances of more fruit in the future! A banana plant that is ten years old can easily have multiple stems that all fruit in one year, with a new stem fruiting every month or so through the summer. Can we say “score”?

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Oh nice, glad to see my logic isn’t crazy then! :slight_smile: Was starting to wonder why no-one else seemed to have thought of it so that’s reassuring!

But ah, yeah rocks, fair enough! So does that make water retention hard too? A foot of sand on rock, I imagine that dries up pretty fast in the heat!

If so then I would consider insulating the sides. Like with the kind of foam insulative material they insulate houses with or even salvaged expanded polystyrene, if you don’t mind artificial materials, or with a makeshift wall or channel filled with discarded wool or fluffy plant material like gorse or whatever your local equivalent might be. Just to give some insulation from the cold ground outside, I think it could make a nice difference.

But yeah digging them up also sounds like a reasonable plan.

Your project sounds awesome. Also by the way that video I posted above, that guy ‘all the fruits’, his channel is nice, if you search ‘banana’ you’ll see him tasting many. Some of the wild bananas he tastes sounds really tasty, seeds but much more tasty than commercial bananas, the ‘apple’ tasting ones he seemed particularly happy about. Would be great to get some of those really tasty genetics into your landrace!

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I should definitely watch that guy’s channel! Does he recommend any places to buy seeds for those? :smiley:

Yeah, insulation for the sides for sure. Probably lots of autumn leaves. I’d rather have something organic that won’t have any chance of leaching something unfavorable into my soil, and it’s all the better if some of it breaks down into compost and the rest sticks around as deep mulch for the summer. Besides, my neighbors (silly neighbors :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: ) always have lots of autumn leaves they want to get rid of. More mulch for me!

Ha ha ha, an apple-flavored banana would be a blast! I also really want to find some scions for the My Jewel apple tree (which unfortunately is rare), which apparently tastes like a banana. The whimsy of switched flavors tickles my fancy.

About the rocks hurting water retention . . . yessssssss. This is why I’m not going to do no-till until I have dug through my whole garden. I am gradually going through my garden beds, digging a two-foot deep hole, removing loads and loads of rocks, and refilling the empty space with kitchen scraps and diaper fluff. Then the top six inches get all the sandy soil that came out of that hole. (So many rocks!)

People say, “Don’t dig! That’s bad for the soil bacteria!” Yeah, probably, but they’ll grow back, and the rocks won’t, and those rocks need to come out so that my plants can grow the deep roots they need in order to thrive.

By the way, diaper fluff from wet diapers is a great soil amendment. The outside is plastic, so you have to remove that and throw it in a landfill, but the inside is paper, water crystals, and urine. Paper and urine make great compost (urine is sterile – you don’t have to worry about bacterial nasties), and water crystals are a permanent soil amendment that absorbs extra water and then releases it gradually when the soil dries out. Miracle Grow sells water crystals in bags for that very purpose. I get them for free by reusing an excellent resource instead of chucking it in a landfill.

So yeah, one of my long-term plans is to keep on improving my soil with diapers for as long as my children are using them. (Grin.)

He seems to be mainly about going to various places and eating all kinds of fruit, straight from the trees/plants. Also sometimes even the species identification is not certain. But it’s a pretty cool channel and probably can be good inspiration and good reports for taste of some specific species also. Some of the most tasty were in Borneo but some from elsewhere too. Also once you watch a few of his videos, maybe especially of fruits you already know, then his taste explanation is easier to understand, like I mean, kind of get a calibration of his kind of explanation - that’s how I feel anyway :slight_smile: I don’t know what his profession is but he seems to know a lot about botany!

Yeah Autumn leaves sounds great! And lucky to have neighbours like that :slight_smile:

Ah ha ha that would be so funny, apples that taste of banana and bananas that taste of apples :joy:

Wow lots of rocks! You know one thing could be fun… to build a stone North wall for a greenhouse - no need for glass on North walls since the Sun shines from the South. But if the South side has glass (or double/triple wall polycarbonate if you fancy more insulation) and that shines through to your plants and a thick stone North wall, that’s an amazing thermal battery! Or even without a greenhouse stone can be used as thermal battery right? Think I saw a guy up in the mountains in… Italy maybe?.. making tiny microclimates on his hillside with stone-backed steps/terraces kind of thing. Stones in the ground sound like a real pain to remove, but must be such a nice resource to have also :slight_smile: Once they’re out anyway!

Diapers - I don’t have kids so I don’t know about that but if they’re natural, sounds great! Free organic material sounds perfect for helping such sandy soil!

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From what I understand, in New England, all those traditional stone walls are from farmers plowing big old rocks out of their fields. Yeah, I can relate!

I’m thinking about using all those rocks for walkways in my xeriscaped front yard, actually. The places for growing will be covered in wood chips, and the places for walking will be covered in rocks. That way, it will clearly communicate which parts of the yard are meant to be walked on, and which aren’t.

If I make the pathways twisty and curved, that will make it easy to meander along them to reach all my edible ornamentals in order to harvest them, while also being decorative in their own right. There’s someone with a xeriscaped front yard like that a few streets away from us, and I think it looks great, as well as super easy to maintain.

Yes, exactly! Apples that taste like bananas and bananas that taste like apples would be hilarious! Especially if I have both to share at once! Of course, I mostly want apples that taste like apples and bananas that taste like bananas, but it would be so much fun to have a few that are switched.

I really enjoy the Weird Fruit Explorer YouTube channel. He travels all over the world and finds some really fun things. I appreciate how precise he is in describing the textures and flavors; it gives me a strong idea of whether I want to try growing that particular weird thing.

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Yeah yeah exactly, Weird Explorer’s great! That’s why it took me a few videos to ‘calibrate’ to how this other nice fellow ‘all the fruits’ was describing his :slight_smile:

Here’s one he really liked. Species unclear though:

Paths sound nice!

Oh and, he names the species of this one in Borneo that he likes:

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Musa campestris is gorgeous! And it’s only four feet tall! Its common name of “swamp banana” and its habitat in a super wet rainforest gives me pause, though. That seems likely to be really non-drought-tolerant, which may mean I couldn’t keep it alive.

Which wouldn’t stop me from trying it, but man, those seem to be hard-to-find seeds!

Okay! I have a major update!

I decided to start ALL of my banana seeds today. Since they often take a few months to germinate, I’m hoping to have a bunch of sprouts I can put out in May. If some of them germinate well before then, I suppose I’ll have to live with the terrible fate of having plants that are further along in their growing cycle and more likely to fruit before fall frost. :stuck_out_tongue:

Here are my impressions so far, based on the seeds.

Musa aurantiaca: The largest seeds. They’re quite big – maybe a centimeter wide, and they’re hard as a rock. You would not want to chew these things. Very thick, hard, rough, angular brown seed coat. They were the hardest to scarify with nail clippers, and took quite a few clips per seed. It remains to be seen whether the large size will be an advantage in germination.
Total number of seeds: 50.
Source: Seeds and Smiles.

Musa cheesmanii: The second largest seeds. Nearly as big. Also as hard as a rock, but more brittle, and one of them broke in half when I nail clipped it. This may have been due to age, as I think this seller sent me really old seeds.
Total number of seeds: 5.
Source: Ouriques Farm.

Helen’s Hybrid: Seeds were slightly smaller. Also hard as a rock and hard to nail clip, but less brittle. I suspect these are also really old seeds.
Total number of seeds: 5.
Source: Ouriques Farm.

Musa velutina: Noticeably smaller, and the brown seed coat was quite thin and smooth. Very easy to scarify. These could maybe be swallowed.
Total number of seeds: 50.
Source: Seeds and Smiles.

Musa rubinea: Ever so slightly smaller, and even easier to scarify. Seed coat a touch thinner. These could maybe be swallowed.
Total number of seeds: 25.
Source: Seeds and Smiles.

Musa ochracea: Noticeably smaller seeds, maybe three millimeters. Very thin seed coat, easy to scarify. A pleasure to work with. These could easily be swallowed.
Total number of seeds: 50.
Source: Seeds and Smiles.

Musa acuminata: The tiniest seeds. Very soft seed coat. So soft that I could actually scrape it off with my fingernail; it was downright mushy. These could be easily swallowed without being a bother. I think these may have been fresh seeds!
Total number of seeds: 200.
Source: This Amazon listing. The quality of these seeds came as a huge surprise to me. I was expecting the seed quality to be sketchy, but I think these may be my freshest seeds, and they were also the cheapest per seed. It remains to be seen how cold hardy these will be, but I suspect I’ll get a great germination rate. I also ordered white strawberry seeds from the same seller, and got a 100% germination rate, which is unusual for strawberry seeds. I can’t speak for everything this person sells, but I wouldn’t hesitate to try more species.

I only scarified half the Musa acuminata seeds. The seed coat seemed so thin and soft that I decided to test whether they even needed it, and left half unscarified and put them in a separate cup to soak. I’ll see whether there’s any difference in germination speed.

As a note, I’m only 99% sure they’re Musa acuminata seeds. The seller just called them “Dwarf Banana.” They look like Musa acuminata, the picture on the listing was of a Cavendish banana (the standard supermarket banana, a seedless Musa acuminata), and that species is the most common one. Still, the seller didn’t outright say the species.

Oh, one final note. I listed Musa basjoo as one of my types of seeds. I don’t actually have seeds of it; I have a plant that I bought on Walmart.com that was probably grown from a seed. It’s outside right now, uncovered and unprotected in full shade. I didn’t put it in a great place (the great places are reserved for the banana plants I care most about), but it is a reasonable place for a banana plant, particularly as regards its close proximity to my compost pile, which it will probably raid.

If it gets tall enough, it’ll outgrow the full shade cast by my shed and be in full sun, which is part of the reason I gave it that space. Another reason it’s there is because its close proximity to a wall will give it wind protection, which it may need because of its height. (Banana plants have shallow roots. They can be easily dislodged by strong winds.) And since I don’t plan to protect it at all, proximity to walls in the winter will help keep wind chill off it. Proximity to walls will also mean a tall plant won’t be casting much shade on the rest of my garden that wouldn’t be there anyway.

As I mentioned, I suspect the Musa basjoo’s height means it won’t flower or fruit for me, but its cold hardiness is amazing, so I figured I’d get one anyway, just in case. If I can get it to successfully cross with one of those dwarf species . . . I mean, the possibilties.

Of course, now that I think about it, I could always ask around for Musa basjoo pollen, if I don’t have any . . . I should really look into that when my dwarf bananas are looking ready to start flowering. (Grin.)

I’m pretty nervous about scarifying and soaking ALL of my banana seeds, but . . . I decided that:

a) I can always buy more,
b) the best way to know which species are worth buying more seeds from is to have a large enough sample size to see what does well for me, and
c) the seeds aren’t getting any younger.

Holding back some probably won’t accomplish anything except to delay my ability to breed things effectively.

I sure hope they sprout for me.


Love this thread

I’m glad! :smiley: