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Going Bananas

Despite the popular song from 1957, Yellow Bird, bananas are not grown on a tree but on a tall rigid stalk consisting of the tightly wound leaf stems. A banana plant contains no wood. Bananas are closely related to the herb, and are started from a bulb or "root eye" much like the planting of potatoes. A perennial, the banana plant bears only one bunch of fruit per year.

The time from planting to harvest is from 9 to 12 months with the plant reaching heights of up to 30 feet. After the plant is chopped down, new sprouts will appear from the stumps in a matter of days in order to produce the next year's crop.Banana growing in Barbados and in most of the Caribbean is very labor intensive.

The ground must be kept free of undergrowth; the stalks must be irrigated during the dry season, and propped up in the mature stage to prevent them from bending under the weight of the bananas; and, as the bananas near harvest time, each bunch must be covered with plastic bags to ward off the insects and to hide the sweet fruit from the birds. Bananas for export are harvested green and hard, before they mature and ripen. The difference in taste between a banana that has been "forced ripened" and one that is "picked straight away" is one of life's simple pleasures that must be experienced.Two men are required to harvest bananas: a chopper and a catcher. The chopper uses a machete to slice the stalk in half about waist high and, as it falls, the catcher "catches" the bunch which can weigh from 50 to 70 pounds. These bunchs are then transported to a ripening shed for local consumption or to a packing shed for export.

A local inside joke is about the occasional tourist who, mistaking a plantain for a banana, takes a bite of the plantain and recoils from the slightly bitter, raw squash taste. Plantains are twice the size of our local bananas---known colloquially as figs---and are easily distinguishable from the sweet fruit. Plantains, it should be mentioned, must be cooked like a vegetable before eating.

.Billy O'Dell, with his wife Carolyn, is the owner of, an online concierge to Barbados.

The O'Dells are happy to provide visitors to Barbados with information on dining, villa rentals, and recreation.

By: Billy O'Dell


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