A few days ago, I wrote an article about coffee and corn. One other thing this land has plenty of is wonderful fresh fruit. We recently visited a banana plantation, so today’s post will be all about that fruit.
The banana tree starts out as an offshoot of the mother tree, after Mom has already produced its bananas. From the time the baby starts to grow, it is about 10 months until it is large enough to produce fruit. After the tree bears fruit, it is cut down to make room for the new plant to grow.
The fruit starts to form inside a cluster of purplish-colored leaves that look like an upside-down teardrop. As each leaf curls back, you see the tiny cluster of newly-formed bananas (a “hand”), curving upward. Initially there are flowers, which grow rapidly into fruits without pollination (parthenogenesis). The black crusty tip of the ripe banana is where the flower was originally.
When the bananas are fully grown and ready to be harvested, there are many bunches on a long stalk. The stalks are cut and hoisted onto an overhead conveyor system, and are then pulled by hand into the processing area. Each stalk can weigh 35 kilograms or more – that is, at least 77 pounds – a lot of weight for a man to lift.
Does anyone remember Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat song? If not, here is the song along with the lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGuYoRWbgt8 – and, while I am in Mexico, and he was singing about the dock workers in Jamaica, it is the same hard work, and the dock workers in Jamaica, I imagine, were doing all the heavy lifting without benefit of the conveyor…
Once they are in the processing area, a worker cuts the bunches off the stalk and drops them into a water bath. Women then cut them into bunches of approximately 2 lbs. or whatever is required by the buyer, and then drop them into another water bath, separating out the bananas that aren’t perfect for shipment. Those that are not considered fit for shipment will be ground up and used as compost/fertilizer on the plantation.
One of the things that is washed off the banana is a latex sap. Latex is not only in rubber trees, but also in other plants, such as the banana, so someone who is allergic to latex would not be able to eat this fruit. For people with a high allergy to latex, avocados, chestnuts and kiwi are also on this list, with apples, carrots, celery, papayas, potatoes, tomatoes and melons associated with moderate reactions, and many other food sources having a low or undetermined reactive possibility (www.latexallergyresources.org ).
The bananas are then washed off one more time and dried with large fans. Then they are labeled with tape and packed into boxes, then to be shipped via truck to their destination. They are shipped while still green, in an atmosphere of gas which keeps them from ripening any further until they reach their destination.
The bananas I saw were being shipped to Chiquita. While these bananas are grown organically, they are not shipped to just one company, and one company might obtain their fruit from many plantations. The buyer finds sources for their produce, then places the orders, and the bananas are then labeled according to the company that is purchasing them.
There are many factors affecting the quantity and quality of the harvest. There is climate and pests which need to be accounted for in the maintenance of the trees. There was a man there mixing a solution of sulfur and calcium over a wood fire, and he would then fill dozens of jugs with the solution. This solution would then be painted on the trunks of the trees to deter pests.
Many of the bunches of ripening bananas looked like they were wearing white dresses. It turned out that not only were these coverings protecting the fruit from pests, but also to control the temperature. It has been unseasonably cold here in Mexico, and the banana trees need to grow and thrive in tropical heat, so the coverings were put on to maintain an acceptable temperature. I have similarly seen bushes in New York wrapped in burlap for the winter months to protect them from the cold.
I know this is probably much more than you ever wanted to know about bananas, but I hope you have enjoyed reading at least part of it, enjoy the photos, and also enjoyed listening to the Banana Boat song. For those of you with latex allergies, or those who have a friend or family member with that condition, I have provided a little life-saving information as an extra bonus.
So when you next purchase our bananas at the supermarket, you will know the effort it took to bring them to your neighborhood. Buen provecha!!!