Banana Circle

A Banana Bunch

A banana circle is a great way to grow bananas, or any other tree/herb (bananas are actually a herb) that require a lot of water. So if you don’t like bananas, you could plant papaya or willow (which is great for mulch). At the PDC we learnt how to make one and while working at a farm here on Penang, another one was being constructed, so I took some pictures.

First of all, why would someone want a banana circle? There are many benefits, this is a great way to get rid of kitchen scraps or other organic wastes. In the tropics, it is amazing how fast organic material can break down here. That organic matter will be then utilized by the bananas. Typically there are banana clumps of three or four. In banana clumps, you have to mulch each clump, but with a banana circle you can essentially cut you mulching work in half (a banana circle will have 7 or 8 bananas).

The way the banana circle is designed will cause the organic matter to be leached into the soil and not across the soil (as with clumps). In clumps you may have too many banana plants and as a result your bananas will be small and spread across to many banana plants, thereby creating more work for you.

A banana circle creates edge, edge is important, ask a forester where the greatest amount of diversity of plants are in a forest, and they will tell you it is on the side of the road right of way, near a stream bank or near the shore of a lake. All of these places have edge and edge create a more diverse site which can support a greater amount of diversity. The same is with a banana circle, and as such, you can grow more then just bananas.

Start by digging a hole

The first step is to dig a hole (~2m in diameter and ~1m deep). In the end the hole should look like a mini crater, the hole should be fairly concave and the sides shouldn’t be too steep.

About 2m wide and about 1m deep

The next step is to pull the dirt around the edge of the hole and make a brim or a mound around the hole.

This is a banana cutting

Now it is time to plant. Plant what you want to grow there, whether it is a banana, papaya, willow or something else.

Plant the banana in the ground, that grass looking thing to the right of the banana is lemon grass

This is where permaculture really shines. Now plant some other species, and really you can plant anything you can think of. Near the inside of the hole it will be wetter, this is where you plant something that likes the water, like taro, yam, or ginger. On the crest (where you planted the banana), plant some sweet potato and some lemon grass. Near the bottom of the slope plant some beans (which will climb up the banana trees). To add an extra benefit, place a grate in the middle of the circle and have a shower in the middle of the banana circle and all grey water from the shower will be captured and used for banana growth.

Cover the bare ground with mulch and throw anything into the middle, if you look closely you can see some sweet potato, and there is some ginger planted on the inside of the circle as well.

With the use of a banana circle, there is no need to make compost (which is a lot of work), and there is no need to burn any organic matter. It is unfortunate here, so many people will rake up leaves, twigs, kitchen waste and coconut husks into a pile an burn it. Why would someone do this when they can use this great organic matter to make food? There just isn’t any reason why someone should burn waste in the tropics (or temperate regions for that matter).

Posted from Bayan Lepas, Penang, Malaysia
This entry was posted in Travel and tagged , , , , , , on by .

4 thoughts on “Banana Circle

  1. Jack

    Kelly, your grandmother Rudy is smiling from up above as you describe your conservationist thoughts about composting and utilizing one’s resources to grow things. If she were here, she would just love to read your permaculture experiences.

    Love Ya, MOM

  2. Pramod

    Great information.. do you have any experience where this was followed in a large scale, I mean in a agriculture field which does not have to depend only on kitchen waste?

    1. Kelly

      I have not seen this on a large scale, I think the hardest part about a large scale would getting enough compost to through in there. Banana circles eat a lot of material and having more then 10 circle would require a lot of material. Not saying you couldn’t do it though, if you were to get waste from a market and through it your circles, and if you had a road that had banana circles on each side of it, you could just move you truck or wheel barrow down the middle of them.

      You have to be really careful though, as soon as you start planing for a monoculutre you have to think about adding other inputs (chemical pesticides), which are of course undesirable. Instead of doing a field, you could do an alley crop method, where you would have a row of banana circles, then a row of papya circles, then a nft (nitrogen fixing trees), then a row of mango trees, then a row of avocado trees, nft, then a row a lumber tree, custard apple, nft, then repeat. If the rows were far enough apart from each other you could plant beneficial plants in between them that would attract beneficial insects, and other species that pull important nutrients from the deep soil.

      This is what a permaculture field looks like, you would never have to fertilize (just chop and drop from you nft for carbon), the nft will provide enough nitrogen to keep this thing growing like crazy. Although this might be a lot of work in the begining, by the time these trees are two or three years old, you will have so much food, ready at all times of the year, you won’t know what to do with it.


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