Bananas are called the "world's most perfect food" in a television commercial and that holds true for the garden as well. The primary reason for giving bananas such a distinction for the garden is the very high potassium content, even in the banana skins. The banana fruit itself is normally eaten but if a couple of bananas in the bunch get too ripe to eat, that squishy, brown fruit is potassium "gold" for the garden. More such treasure can be found in the produce department of the grocery store. No, I'm not suggesting you buy bananas at regular or even sale prices but most larger grocery stores deeply discount produce that is overly ripe, including bananas. Even bananas that are completely brown inside and out that would not be eaten are still excellent potassium fertilizer for your garden, flowerbed or container plants. I have found overly ripe bananas on the clearance rack for as little as 5 cents a pound, which is significantly cheaper than any off the shelf potassium fertilizer.

Using the bananas, fruit or peels, in the garden is easy. Personally, if I have only one peel from a banana just eaten, I simply toss the peel under the leaves of dahlias growing outside the kitchen door. The peels blacken and crumble on their own within a couple of days so they don't create an insect problem. A technique presented on a television show quite a while back involved drying the peels in the oven, set to about 180-200 degrees, any higher will destroy nutrients. In practice, the drying takes about a half hour for a full cookie sheet of peels. I personally like the fragrance wafting through the house but beware, the banana peels will burn if left too long or the temperature is too high. The peels are done and ready for the garden when they are black and still retain just a bit of moisture but crumble easily with fingers. The crumbled peels are then worked gently into the soil around the plants in your flowerbed, garden or containers. When I have a large amount of peels or overly ripe, whole bananas from the grocery, I use a blender or food processor to prepare bananas for use in the garden. Just chop up the bananas, peel and all, into one-inch chunks and liquefy small batches in a blender, adding a small amount of water if needed. When you have a pitcher full of the fragrant goo, it's time to go out to the garden. Pouring the goo on the surface of the soil will create a smelly mess and attract unwanted insects so grab a hand trowel or cultivator. I normally use this method prior to any planting so a 3-4 inch deep trench is dug where a row
of seeds will be planted and the goo is poured the length of the trench then covered over with soil. Wait a couple of days for the goo to soak in and the soil organisms to begin working before planting in that row.

Bananas are not the only produce to look for on the clearance rack, just about any vegetable or fruit will provide your compost bin or garden with valuable nutrients. Summer is the time for corn, especially in Indiana, and the ears are often shucked by the customer right there in the store so the store provides a container for the husks. Don't just walk into the store and grab the bag of husks out of the trashcan, ask a produce department employee or manager first. I've never been refused but expect them to watch or check the first couple of times that you haven't tossed a couple ears of corn into the bag. Once you have permission, don't expect the employee to do the work, take it upon yourself to pull the bag, clean up any husks on the floor and put a new bag into the container so that the favor you are asking becomes a favor to them. Other produce is often cleaned in store, such as cabbage and lettuce, before being put out for customers and those trimmings can sometime be recovered if you have developed a good relationship with the produce department manager. Another beneficial aspect of clearance produce can be as a source for seeds. Melons and squash, especially unusual varieties, often end up on the clearance rack so the seeds are easily harvested before the remainder is eaten or composted. If the grocery store you patronize is large enough to have a delicatessen department that prepares fresh fruit salad and such, ask the manager if the fruit scraps and peels can be saved for you in a sealed container that would normally be disposed of anyway. Such favors require building a relationship as a customer and you must be diligent about picking up the container perhaps even daily but the additional organic material for your compost bin or direct use is a precious commodity worth a little bit of effort.

Copyright © 2003, Marty Smith

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Marty Smith, aka the "Crazy Cat Man in the Orange Hat", is caretaker of Feline Gardens in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photos of the garden and the felines can be found at http://crazycatmaninorangehat.home.comcast.net/