Banana Harvest

banana plants
Today we harvested our first banana spear (the one I noticed on 19 Nov). Being our first, we were kind of working blind and not sure when or how to do it. Everyone seems to agree that you harvest bananas when they’re still green, but beyond that it’s unclear.

Harvested banana spearI’ve read you can harvest when the bell at the bottom of the spear is dead and falls off easily (I’ve also read it’s good to remove the bell 15 cm below the last hand as soon as the spear gets that long to encourage larger bananas – maybe next time).

Another tip is to harvest when you get a blush of yellow. Light green, yellow or a figment of my imagination – hard to decide.

And finally, you can harvest when the flowers at the end of each banana (the bracts) are dead and fall off easily (I think ours qualify).

Next step, ripening the banana hands. Here the universal advice is to harvest one hand at a time or you’ll have more bananas than you can possibly eat before they rot.
Banana ripening test
We harvested the whole spear at once and are conducting a test to see which method of ripening works best. We’ve got 5 hands and are trying 5 approaches.

Approach 1 is to put a hand in the fridge and see if it keeps (hopefully at least this one won’t be ready at the same time as all the others).

For the other four, each hand goes in a plastic bag where the naturally produced ethylene gas will ripen the fruit. Three of the bags are being primed by either a ripe banana an apple or both. The last is just on its own. Within 2 days we should be able to remove the fruit from the bags with apples or bananas and let the banana hands continue on their own.

If they all ripen together, I’ll try to store some. The two options appear to be:

  1. Peel and freeze for future baking (banana muffins and banana bread are favourites around this house).
  2. Peel, slice and dry. I’m not a big dried banana fan but Frank is, so if we get heaps, I’ll try this.

The plastic bags are now sitting on the bottom shelf of the bookcase in my dining room – it’s dark and cool there. I’ll keep track of their progress and probably update this post with results of the experiment. I’m hoping the bags using a banana as a primer don’t turn out to be the best because it seems daft to buy bananas just before you’re about to be inundated with them.

We still have one spear on the plant so what I learn with these 5 bunches will come in handy soon (but hopefully not too soon).

Now that the spear has been cut from the plant, we’re going to cut the plant to the ground. This allows the pups to grow and next year they’ll produce their own spears. One spear per plant, that’s just the way nature made them.

Update: Sunday 3 April, I removed the banana and apple from the bag that contained both of them as a primer for my bananas. The hand is still solid green but I read that you only need the priming fruit for 24-48 hours. I’m going to leave the bag with one banana and the other with one apple as is to see which works best.

Update: Wednesday 6 April, Yesterday the bananas with the primer fruit were starting to get a tinge of yellow. The one with the apple is quite yellow today. The one with the banana only has the slightest tinge of yellow (or is it my imagination? I’m loathe to open the plastic bag to really see because I don’t want the ethylene gas to escape – which could have hindered the progress in the bag where I removed the 2 fruits). The other three (fridge, 2 fruits removed, no fruits) are totally green.  I’m not sure if the size of the hand has any bearing (i.e., which is oldest on the spear) as nothing conclusive seems to be showing itself in this realm.

Update Friday 8 April: The bananas with the apple were ready to eat (and incredibly sweet and tasty) yesterday. The hand with the single banana is starting to turn yellow and will be ready in maybe 3 days. The bunch where I removed the priming apple and banana after 48 hours is just getting a tinge of lighter colouring. The unprimed hand and the bananas in the fridge are as green as the day they were harvested.

Update Saturday April 9: We finished the first hand today. I don’t think we’re going to suffer from too many bananas to deal with. The next hand (with the priming banana) will probably be ready to eat tomorrow or the day after at the latest. I put an apple back in with the hand that originally had the apple and banana in its bag to get it going. The hand in a bag on its own remains untouched, it is slightly lighter than when I first bagged it but no need to rush it along. I removed the last hand from the fridge because it’s getting brown spots – it’s still dark green. It will stay in a bag on its own until I want it to start ripening when I’ll stick an apple with it.

Update Monday 11 April: Ate the first banana off the second hand today. Yummy as the first hand. Added an apple to the 4th hand.

Update Thursday 14 April: Ate the first banana off the third hand today. Same taste as the others. The 4th hand is getting a yellow tinge, the bananas from the fridge are turning brownish but still dark green. I put an apple in with them today.

Update Monday 18 April: Ate the first banana off the 4th hand this morning. The last hand is starting to turn but looks pretty awful. I won’t be refrigerating any bananas in the future.

Update Tuesday 21 April: The last hand, the one that was stored in the fridge is covered in mould. I took it out of the bag and peeled one. The flesh is actually okay – soft in parts and hard in parts, but edible. I peeled all the bananas and put them in the freezer. My plan is to turn them into banana bread. I’m not sure what is at the heart of the moisture and mould problem but I’m not putting bananas in the fridge again. The peel colour was awful even if it hadn’t moulded. (The frozen bananas were perfect for banana muffins one month after freezing but were probably too soft and brown to be eaten raw.)

Update Monday 30 May 2011: Today Frank and I each ate 2 bananas from this harvest which put an end to our bounty. Those 2 spears lasted us about 2 months and gave us plenty of fresh bananas to eat and those that I froze were used to make fantastic muffins. It’s sad to think there won’t be more bananas for 10 months. Thank God we’re starting to harvest mandarins!


Lessons learned: Harvesting the whole spear in one go works fine. Place hands in a dark spot where they don’t do much. A week or 2 out from when you want to eat a hand, place it in a plastic bag with an apple and leave it untouched back  spot. This ripens one hand at a time so a spear can provide a month of good eating. Freezing works for storing the fruit you can’t eat but it really is only good for baking into breads after that.


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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