Saturday, August 15, 2015

Banana Plantation

There were a few days at La Selva when I was just too tired to set up a post, I'll make those up now though, so that there is a complete record of what we learned. Here is the first of the makeup posts.
 Did you know that the small black specks in your banana are rudimentary seeds and are not able to grow into a banana plant?  It's not a tree at all, but an herb.
Tuesday we traveled to a Dole plantation to learn more about how bananas are grown.  
 Bananas grow in blue bags to protect them from the bugs and to maintain temperature and humidity. Apparently the bananas grown without the blue bags aren't at all pretty.
 We practiced putting the blue bags on the bananas and marking them with the colored tags that are used to help with inventory and planning.
 First though, we got a talk about how the banana plant is propagated.  Everything in the story had to do with the number three, which was actually pretty funny after a while.  So here is the banana plant which was used to show us the process.  Bananas today are not only monoculture crops, but also clones.
 Traditionally a corm was divided and mature plant grown from the shoots that grew via asexual reproduction.
 Today though, the plant is split to reveal the meristematic tissues which are harvested and then multiplied in the lab via cell culture.  Though efficient at isolating the best traits, it does leave the plantation open the threats such as the T4 fungus which is wreaking havoc already in other banana growing regions.  There is much talk at banana conventions about finding new, fungus resistant strains.
 This is the banana flower which grows up and out of the middle of the shoot before falling under its own weight to point toward the ground.
Each banana grows from a fertilized flower.  After fertilization, each flower is removed by hand from the ripening banana.  The bunch is also trimmed to remove the bottom three hands of bananas, allowing the extra energy to concentrate in the top bananas.  Always wondered where that phrase came from?  The top bananas get the most nutrients and are least likely to be bruised are damaged by nearby bunches.  
To remove any chance of bruising, each round is separated and wrapped to isolate it from other bananas.  They are cut down and placed on a cable system where donkeys help pull them down to the packaging facility.  
There, the banana are washed and separated.  
Alum is brushed on the cut end to seal it and prevent latex oozing.  Stickers are added by hand wile inferior bananas are pulled to go to a baby food factory.  
Finally, the bananas are sorted onto trays, each weighing 42 pounds, before being placed by hand into boxes for shipping. 

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