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Growing bananas in four months?!

 
Jason Padvorac
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There is a tantalizing article someone just shared with me about a process developed to enable bananas to be grown in Japan:

http://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Trends/How-re-creating-the-ice-age-could-solve-food-shortages?page=1

Here's a small excerpt:


"It usually takes two years for bananas to grow large enough, but here, it takes around four months until they're ready," said Setsuzo Tanaka, D&T Farm's officer in charge of technical research.

The method artificially re-creates the earth's climate of 20,000 years ago by freezing banana saplings to minus 60 degrees. Once thawed, the saplings are planted.

At the time, plants would wake from a long winter hibernation as temperatures rose gradually following the end of the ice age. In the aftermath, maximum daytime temperatures were only 12 to 13 C and during the night, the mercury dropped below zero. Under such cold temperatures, banana plants came out of hibernation and flourished, meaning the originally had the ability to grow at a daytime temperature of 12 C. Now, they only grow in tropical areas.


The article is sadly short on details - I imagine the process is proprietary and secret. And there's another tantalizing bit near the end:


Tanaka's dream is to develop new varieties of wheat, soy beans, and corn with improved quality through freeze-thaw awakening and grow as well as harvest them in Siberia.


This all sounds incredible. I'm struggling to understand exactly how this might make it possible for a banana's growth to be accelerated from 2 years to 4 months, and I'm also struggling to understand how this might be used in breeding grains. Also, I'd like to be able to do something like this without needing to go as far down as minus 60 degrees (F or C, not sure). If I could understand it better, maybe I could adapt it. Does anybody have thoughts on what might be going on here, exactly, or how we could use it to temperate-ize other neat tropical crops?
 
D. Klaer
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No idea what they are doing. Very strange sounding!

I will comment that bananas certainly don't "usually take two years" though. Mine take much less than that (about 14 months) and I grow large varieties in the subtropics. I know some varieties in the tropics take as little as 6 months. The suckers after that first stalk are obviously well along by then and the bunches after that first one are much closer together, maybe that is what they mean?

Keen to understand what they are doing.
 
Jason Padvorac
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D. Klaer - yeah, I wonder now how much of that performance is from conventional breeding or selection of variety, versus the new breeding technology.

Here is some more information about their process: http://www.mopalab.com/study-results

Still pretty vague, but it sounds like this is pretty high-tech. A lot more involved than just freezing and thawing. From what I can tell, they deep freeze the seedlings, which kills them, then they break the cell walls, rescue the protoplasm and fuse it with other living cells. That way whatever epigenetic transformations were triggered by the unsurvivable levels of cold are passed on to the other, still living cells.

Which is fascinating if that's what is happening... but not as accessible to ordinary people like us. Hrm.

 
Ross Gardener
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Bannanas usually start fruiting in about a year more or less IME.

I've had pineapples start fruiting in just a few months as opposed to 2 years like I've heard people say.
 
Jason Padvorac
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Ross Gardener: Where are you located, and how were you growing them?
 
Ross Gardener
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At the time I was living on the big island of Hawaii, south puna about 700ft elevatyion. Off grid. I was totally broke and trying to live without money.

I relied heavily on micro-organisms & sugar for everything I was growing . I had no water I used to literally scrape the water I could find off of watever would hold it and with the pineapples I would water right on the top of the plant because it became appearent to me that they are designed to catch a lot of moisture that way.

Lots of mulch and foliar feeding. It was a drought year. Id give anything to be in that situation again.
 
Angelika Maier
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Hi Ross, I find it interesting what you say: Microorganism and sugar for fertilizing Well probably the soil in Hawaii is better than here but still can you explain what you did?
 
Jason Padvorac
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Ross - that sounds like good times. : )

A Facebook group I'm in was discussing this article also, and some people brought up some other points. Apparently most bananas are propagated by tissue culture (clones of tissue, not from seeds or cuttings). As part of this process, at some point it was discovered that the bananas would grow much more vigorously and quickly if they went through a freeze-thaw cycle at some point.

Turns out there are also well-developed techniques for cryopreservation of plants. Who knew. Anyway...

As a few people here have mentioned, there are also breeds of bananas that fruit much more quickly than two years. It'll take two years to fruit if we're talking about a 35 foot tall banana tree, but if a smaller or dwarf variety is used they can fruit much more quickly. And the bananas from the article are being grown in greenhouses... so the temperature can't be *that* cold.

So it isn't really clear from the article exactly what is the unique aspect that they're bringing to this. Having a banana variety that is well-adapted to greenhouse growing in Japan is wonderful, and I hope to get my hands on it at some point because it would probably grow in a greenhouse in the Pacific Northwest also. But... as far as it goes, and after a decades long project, it actually sounds a lot like conventional breeding. Hrm.
 
Ross Gardener
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The big Island of Hawaii has no soil to speak of except in one small area on the north east shore. The land there is too young, I believe the big island is 300,000 years old (above sea level) where as Kauai which has good soil is about 4,000,000 years old (above sea level).

The earth is covered in vegetation that grows on and inbetween lava rocks and lava flows. When I got up to that place to live it took me 2 months just to figure out how to plant anything because a shovel wont break the ground there. I ended up using the back end of a hammer to pop rocks out of the ground. Once a hole was dug, it was empty and there was no soil to fill it back in.

Since then I've adopted a no-till method so I wouldn't likely have the same problems over there had I known then what I know now.

I did not mean to imply that I used sugar and micro-organisms as "ferilizer", so sorry if I got the wrong idea out there.

What I did was go into the woods, and find lush places where there might be an inch or two of organic matter on top of the lava, or on the lava flow where the pigs rooted up the ground covers where I would move the top layer of leaves or whatever aside with my hands and then with my fingers Id scrape out the decomposed organic matter. Id also find rotting wood that was nice and punky, then pulverize it with my hands  and put through a 1/4 inch mesh, I'd mix the stuff in a bucket and put it around the plants.

Both the pineapples and bananas I found did not require digging for planting, just set them in the cracked rocks and use sticks and mulch. The mulch was scraped off the ground, just whatever organic matter I could find.

Micro-organism themselves are natures fertilizers. The bio-mass itself contains NPK so when it dies it becomes reduced to that, but in order for that to work you have to use unamended and unfertilized soil, because fertilized soil wont support the natural order or way.

There are many bacteria that acquire airborne nitrogen but dont fix it to roots, they use it to replicate and form more bio-mass. These organisms wont survive or thrive in typical farms or gardens where the soil structures are altered, amended and fertilized. They live in forest types soils, or in any really  lush natural setting.

When these bacteria die and are eaten by soil bugs etc and come out in the excrement of soil bugs the N is absorbed by the roots of plants.

I was experimenting using all types of sugars. Coconut sugar, regular brown sugar, xylose, fructose, and glucose/dextrose. Id dissolve it in the water and water the plants with it knowing that sugar is natures currency. Plants can absorb the sugar through the stomata on their leaves and through there roots. Being a mushroom cultivator, and a culturer of bacterias and yeast I also knew that the sugar promotes  the growth and expansion of all micro-organisms.

I hope that is helpful and not confusing.

 
Jason Padvorac
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I found a few resources that might give a start for growing bananas further north and in colder areas:

There are some instructions here: http://www.logees.com/growingandfruitingbananas
I suspect it's a lot harder than that makes it sound, but hey, if we could just dig up the rootball and stuff it in a root cellar over the winter, maybe that would work?

Holy moly there's a lot of information at http://www.bananas.org/ . Gotta spend some time trawling through the threads over there...
 
Jason Padvorac
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That's fascinating, Ross! What an experience to build soil from scratch, on the rocks...
 
Ross Gardener
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Hi Jason. Looks like we posted simultaneously. Bananas are usually propagated by and from the corms. Corms are a ball like growth that grow off the root zone of an existing plant. Some of the corms will already have a plant starting from them when planted, but even just the corm ball can be planted. In Hawaii they call these keiki, which means baby, but the proper Hawaiian name for plant starts is pula pula, or something like that.

I figured that it was likely that they were starting from seed, but there are not really any good bananas that also produce seed which is why farmers and gardeners always propagate by live tissue such as the corm.

Whether its a cavandesh, williams, ice cream, or the popular apple banana, the fruit can be split down the middle and tiny brown dots can be seen. These are the seeds. If you have a store bought banana from the super market you should be able to make the same observation. I was always told when I was young that that little nub that no one likes to eat on the bottom end of the banana was the seed but this is incorrect. There's hundreds of unviable seeds from the top to the bottom in the core of the fruit.

Pineapples also produce seed but are not usually propagated that way. I have some pineapple seed that I collected from fruits but never propagated. They are uncommon. When the pineapple fruit  is young, its outer skin (the part that looks pine conish) will have small flowers poking out all over the skin. When the fruit is ripe the seeds can some times be found if you eat the fruit right up to where it starts to become fruit. The seeds are often times undeveloped and not likely viable.

 
Jason Padvorac
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I think you're right. : )

Lack of viable seeds would make breeding tricky. Do you know of any edible varieties that do produce viable seed?

Edit: some googling and I answered my own question: https://www.seedman.com/banana.htm
 
Ross Gardener
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Im in california now and have often thought of trying to grow bananas. They are everywhere in so-cal but their fruits come out like large french fries, they dont fill out.

Using techniques, (natural farming methods) that I have learned I've often thought it would be worth trying to fruit papaya and bananas in california.

Oddly there was one place in Ventura county on the coast that had the perfect micro climate to grow the best bananas I ever had had until moving to Hawaii. There was a farm right off hwy 101 that grew apple bananas (my fav) and Philippine  pine apples. Theyve bulldozed it since then and planted Avos and more houses because there was not much of a market for Cali bananas at the time...shame...
 
Ross Gardener
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thanks for the link.
 
Jason Padvorac
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You are very welcome for the link! Gee, that is a shame about the banana farm. : (

I'll probably buy some seeds and update here with how they do. Let us know if you plant any and how they turn out!
 
Mike Jay
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Jason, I'd also like to thank you for the links.  I've done a fair bit of searching around for tropical fruit sellers and hadn't stumbled across Logees before.  They have ton of info and when I get ready to buy I'm guessing they will have some decent advice for a northern greenhouse situation.
 
Jason Padvorac
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You are quite welcome, Mike! I've done a fair amount of searching before, too, and somehow didn't stumble on them until just today. It is incredibly exciting! A friend who knows a fair bit about bananas said that there are inaccuracies on that page (like, common names not matching up with species names, for example he said that the "Japanese Fiber Banana" from the Ryukus is Musa textilis, not M. balbisiana). I'll still be buying the seeds, just wanted to note that.

I'll probably get seeds for "Helen's Hybrid Edible Banana" and "Thomson's Edible Banana", as those sound like the best shot at both cold tolerance and edibility.
 
Maureen Atsali
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We grow bananas here.  I have no idea what varieties they are, because we just continued propagating what had been left here by my husband's grandparents.  We have both sweet varieties and plantain varieties.  Most of them seem to take about a year to fruit, and another few months after that for the fruit to fully ripen.  Our pineapples, when planted by the tops of the fruit, have taken two years to fruit.  I haven't had time to look closely at all the links that have been posted... but doesn't this seem a bit like genetic engineering?
 
Jason Padvorac
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Whereabouts are you located?

Yeah, it might be crossing over the line into GE. There is a claim it isn't, but without more details it's hard to know for sure.
 
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