Friday, January 06, 2017

Going bananas!

Remember when we had our last big arctic blast of cold air here in Texas just before Christmas? It was almost a full week of chill weather, with temperatures dipping down below--or close to--freezing each night. I set about covering several outdoor plants that haven't quite grown enough to ward off freezing weather, and hauled into the garage a number of other potted plants of a tropical nature. Planted near the swimming pool, however, are a couple of banana plants that've been in the ground a year and a half, and by my thinking, were approaching fruiting maturity. They'd grown quite a bit bigger than they were last winter when a scrap of landscape cloth was enough to protect them. I wrapped them top to bottom using some plant frost blankets picked up at Lowe's, along with a large fabric drop cloth I had from one of my home improvement projects. The freezes were never severe, but as the temperatures were unpredictable, I left them covered for the better part of the week. When I finally uncovered them with the onset of 70-degree weather, I was surprised to find this:

The crazy banana plant decided to flower just as winter began, during the coldest week of the year! Since then, fortunately, we've had two weeks of unusually warm weather--even for Texas--so it's put on some good growth and opened several more petals to reveal several more bunches of proto-bananas.

Alas, the warm weather was not to last, and Wednesday we got a shot of cold air that prompted me to start planning protection (which is actually good news, as my other fruit trees need some more cold weather if they're going to produce any fruit). The previous cold spell resulted in a number of dead banana leaves, as the frost blanket wasn't enough to protect those in direct contact with it. The looming arctic air mass had the weather forecasters predicting temperatures dipping down to the mid-20s for New Braunfels, and I know from experience that we generally run 3-4 degrees colder. Clearly, the flower and bananas would be at risk if I didn't increase the cold protection.

Turns out I had the solution at hand. We've been replacing our old Christmas lights with energy-efficient LEDs over the past few years, but hadn't thrown out the old lights. I had a few old strings of big C9 size lights, and those give off a nice amount of heat. Plus, I picked up a couple more strands post-Christmas at a deep discount. It's a good thing I got the extras, because I discovered our new puppy, Belle, had chewed through two of the old strands. Wednesday night, I wrapped the two banana plants up with C9 lights--the larger, flowering plant getting three strands (it also has two large daughter plants, or "pups," growing with it--and one for the smaller plant. Over the top of each I draped an old, small blanket, then wrapped them with the much larger (and thinner) plant frost blankets. I clamped all the edges and corners closed with plastic shop clamps to shut out any drafts and gaps, then anchored the bottoms with landscaping stones. I plugged it in and went to bed. Alas, three strands of C9 lights strung together proved too much for the older strand's fuse, and it burned out sometime during the night. Fortunately, we didn't get down to freezing. I did get to enjoy the fun of hunting up a 5 amp fuse today. I found one, finally, and restored the old strand to working order. I also ran an additional extension cord out to the banana and connected the two new C9 strands separately. This should reduce the amp load across the board enough for them to burn all night without incident, and even if we lose a fuse, there will be at least one strand powered separately to keep the banana plant, flower and baby bananas warm. This is how it looks:

I'm not a huge banana fan, although I like them well enough on their own. But I remember growing up that my grandmother always had banana plants growing in the back yard, and was always disappointed they never fruited because of winter die-back. The possibility of actually getting a big bunch of home-grown bananas has me surprisingly excited, and if it takes Christmas lights and clamped on blankets to see it across the finish line, then so be it.

Now Playing: Joanne Shenandoah/Lawrence Laughing Orenda
Chicken Ranch Central

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